The History of FEN - Tokyo

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(follow this link for the "official" FEN/AFN history)


FIFTY YEARS AND COUNTING

FEN Tokyo first began radio broadcasting as "WVTR" September 12, 1945 and continues to operate more than 55 years later as a provision of the Status of Forces Agreement.  The original networked consisted of seven stations covering most of the larger Japanese cities.  The "Number 2" network of NHK were commandeer for the original network by orders of General MacArthur.  His orders also specifically left the 80-station "Number 1" NHK network intact with directions to continue "business as usual" with scripts subject to U.S. censorship or supervision.  By approximately October 15, 1945, FEN operations were expanded throughout the Japanese Islands and Korea.  Truck-mounted mobile transmitters, used earlier in the war in several locations were dispatched to Japan's west coast area.

Early programming included four, fifteen-minute news roundups each day, as part of the sixteen-and-a-half-hour broadcast day.  FEN operated under the auspices of General MacArthur's Information and Education Services at GHQ in Tokyo. 

As originally conceived, the Far East Network, part of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, covered the entire Pacific Rim region including Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, Korea, the Phillipines, and a number of Pacific islands. During the 1960s, broadcasts for Japan originated from studios located on South Camp Drake near Tokyo. The signal was transmitted over a powerful 10,000 watt AM station located at 810 on the AM dial. FM radio in Japan has a unique history all of its own, but suffice it to say that FEN was never allowed to broadcast an over-the-air FM signal. The same was true for television (at least in the Tokyo area).

While FEN's mission was to "Serve American Forces Overseas," audience estimates approaching 10 million for the most popular shows were common. The Japanese people, teens in particular, seemed eager for Western culture and FEN was a favorite source. They even formed FEN fan clubs! I'm told that FEN's popularity continues to this day for many of the same reasons.

BEYOND TOKYO

For many years, FEN also broadcast regionally and internationally over a shortwave outlet that was also located at Camp Drake. The programming paralleled that heard over the Tokyo transmitter. As the need arose, low power relay transmitters were installed up and down the Japanese island chain. While Okinawa was also considered part of the Far East Network, programming there was locally produced.

A "QSL Card" from FEN circa 1959

fen2

The FEN Tokyo studios were large by today's radio standards. The primary studios were built to accommodate the live production of radio drama, comedy, and to allow live musical performances. As late as 1967, remnants of those live productions remained, including a number of mechanical devices used to create sound effects!

In 1966 one of the larger studios gave way to technology. FEN was one of the first stations in the world to utilize a computer programmed automation system.

As the United States consolidated it's military operations in Japan, FEN was moved to its present location on Yokota Air Force Base.

The shortwave broadcasts have also ceased. They began to be phased out in the late 1960s as satellite communication became more commonplace. The first sporting events relayed by satellite were broadcast circa 1967. Previously, stateside events were recorded off a shortwave receiver from broadcasts originating at AFRTS Los Angeles and tape delayed for broadcast during "prime time" in Japan. The exceptions were the World Series and some breaking news events which were broadcast directly by looping the shortwave program into the local transmitters. Forces in Asia unsympathetic to American forces attempted to "jam" the incoming shortwave broadcasts. A came of "cat and mouse" often ensued as technicians at FEN jumped from one shortwave frequency to another to avoid the jamming. The re-broadcast over FEN's own shortwave outlets were also frequently jammed.

TELEVISION

Television service on the Kanto Plain began in 1977, with programming sent to military bases via a microwave system and then distributed to quarters using traditional cable system technology.

Television viewers now have access to three channels of television programming on their base cable systems, delivered by satellite from the AFRTS Broadcast Center in California. The new channels include: AFN-Pacific, which contains the same programming currently offered by FEN Tokyo; Spectrum, which features syndicated TV shows oriented toward families and education; and NewSports, dedicated to news and sports programming from the United States.

FEN NOW AFN

On August 30, 1997 the Far East Network Tokyo officially became the American Forces Network Tokyo. The AM outlet in Tokyo is now know as Eagle 810.

According to a story released by AFNS, the formal name change was one of the final steps in an Armed Forces Radio and Television Service project to bring multichannel television and radio services to Department of Defense personnel and family members stationed overseas.

Eagle 810 continues to broadcast a variety of radio programming 24 hours a day. Residents living on base also have the advantage of getting several AFRTS radio services directly from the satellite on their base cable systems.

SOURCES

This material was compiled through the courtesy of Pacific Air Forces News Service, AFNS, and personal recollection.

(follow this link for more history)

(follow this link for the "official" FEN/AFN history)

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This page last modified on Saturday, 25-Oct-2003 10:05:55 EDT

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