Anyone who has served abroad with our armed services will tell you about how important it is to maintain a connection with home. Whether it’s WW II, Vietnam, Afghanistan or any other foreign deployment or posting, the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) has been a big part of that connection.
This year marks a milestone in the history of AFRTS. It was 75 years ago, on May 26, 1942, that the organization had it had its origins as the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS). The U.S. Army’s first broadcast took place on July 4, 1943 in London, using studios and equipment borrowed from the BBC. Programming consisted of a combination of prerecorded shows and BBC newscasts. The broadcasts were sent via phone lines to five regional transmitters to reach American troops in the U.K., as they prepared for the invasion of occupied Europe.
From these humble beginnings, AFRS grew. With the coming of the Korean War, AFRS broadcasters set up shop at the American Embassy Hotel in Seoul. As the number of troops increased, mobile broadcasters followed combat troops, providing news and entertainment. When the armistice was signed in 1953, those mobile units became permanent, and the American Forces Korea Network was created.
As the war in Vietnam escalated, the number of stations grew, and this time, there were both radio and television stations. They became known as AFVN, or Armed Forces Vietnam Network. At its peak, AFVN served over 500,000 men and women in uniform. The broadcasts continued until the fall of Saigon in April of 1975.
Today, the American Forces Network (AFN), a broadcast service of AFRTS, reaches American troops across the globe, as well as Department of Defense and other U.S. government civilians and their families stationed overseas. U.S. Navy ships at sea are also able to receive AFN. Most programming consists of popular American radio and television programs from the networks.
AFRTS will commemorate the 75th anniversary with tours of the Broadcast Center in California and a barbecue.
This story originally appeared on GV's sister publication Radio World.