Official FEN History

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This document was provided in September 2000 by Doug Smith, GS-13, USAF, Chief, AFN-Tokyo/Det 10 AFNEWS, and constitutes the currently "official" history of FEN/AFN Japan.

INTRODUCTION

AFN Tokyo, formerly known as the Far East Network, is located at Yokota Air Base, Japan.   The current building was completed in 1978.  It houses Detachment 10, Air Force News Agency and Operating Location-C (OL-C). The OL-C is responsible for maintaining broadcast equipment for the entire Pacific region.  AFN Tokyo provides radio and television information and entertainment for military members throughout the Tokyo area. Radio broadcasts, local television news and programs and also Pacific Command information on the news program, Pacific Report, are all products produced by AFN Tokyo.

EARLY HISTORY

Much of the early history of the Far East Network was not officially recorded and a lot of what was recorded was somehow lost in post-World War II confusion.   However, this is an account of what has been pieced together from various sources.

The parent organization, which at one time was known as the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS), originated on the island of Kodiak, just off the mainland of Alaska, in May of 1942.  It was then and there that the medium of radio was used specifically to broadcast coordinated informational activities to members of the American armed forces serving outside of the continental United States.

Evolving from the Morale Services Division of the War Department, the new AFRS also included a combination of such activities as command troop information programs, local command news and information broadcasts and other morale building events.  By late 1942, the new AFRS had begun receiving direct support from both the Army and the Navy with the assignment of personnel who were given the tasks of producing special radio programs.   In 1943, a complex of high-powered radio transmitters was organized to beam programs to military men and women serving in Europe, Alaska and the South Pacific.

AFRS broadcast operations in the Pacific were under two different commands. Those located in the Southwest Pacific were under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Outlets in the Central Pacific came directly under Commander-in-Chief Pacific, Admiral Chester Nimitz.  By July 1943, AFRS was operating a small station on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.   A similar mobile station began broadcasting from nearby Bella Lavella the following month.  Both were Southwest Pacific (SWP) stations.

The first AFRS stations established under the Central Pacific Command, whose headquarters were at Honolulu, Hawaii, were those set up on Tarawa and Makin in the Gilbert Islands in November 1943.  Additional stations went on the air on Kwajalein and Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands and one on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in February 1944.

Teams of military personnel, trained at AFRS headquarters in Los Angeles, Calif., passed through Hawaii to be briefed and pick up equipment, then proceeded to their assigned areas by whatever means they were able to travel. Some of the teams carried with them complete radio transmitting equipment consisting of 50-watt transmitters, turntables, a tiny console and several boxes of records.  A few were provided with shortwave receivers so they could monitor AFRS newscasts from San Francisco, Calif.

Each team usually consisted of an officer and five or six enlisted men.  Upon reaching their destinations, they pretty much had to fend for themselves, requisitioning other equipment where possible.  Power generators were often hard to find and to share.  Seldom was the station provided its own independent power source.

In the Central Pacific, once a station had been set up and was broadcasting, locally-based servicemen were trained to operate the outlet, and the initial AFRS team returned to Honolulu for reassignment to another location. Stations within this region soon became known as the Pacific Ocean Network (PON).

By late spring of 1944, the island-hopping campaigns of the war had made household words out of the names of previously little-known islands in the Central and South Pacific.  The hard fought battles in each area as the Allies moved northward introduced many famous battlegrounds.  AFRS stations were set up on most of them, including Bougainville and New Britain (Solomon Islands -- March 1944), New Guinea, New Ireland, Kavieng and the Admiralty Islands (April 1944) and Rabaul (May 1944).  These were all under General MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Command, and at various times were referred to as the "Jungle Network" or the "Mosquito Network."

AFRS team personnel received mixed receptions from the various island commanders.   Drawn from whatever branch of service was the dominant one on the island, some island commanders were very high on the broadcast idea, and gave support wherever they could.  Others were less receptive, and there were times when the problems that the AFRS teams were confronting had to be "bumped up" to the next higher echelon of command.

Though there were untold numbers and types of problems facing the generals and admirals in the war theater, the largest single problem was how to boost and keep up the morale of the hundreds of thousands of servicemen under their command.  The delivery of mail from home was sporadic at best and often took several weeks or months old to reach its destination.  Thus, it wasn't long after the establishment of AFRS that they realized that this was probably the greatest morale booster ever devised, especially if the radio station provided entertainment as well as news from home.  So, even the threat of reporting AFRS problems to a higher headquarters often resulted in quick action by local commanders to do whatever they could to solve them.

Still, some AFRS teams experienced problems that could not be easily solved by local island commanders, and the teams resorted to other methods of getting the job done.   Several Pacific Ocean Network stations acquired high-powered transmitters up to 200 watts in strength through requisitioning procedures.  A few obtained theirs through what came to be known as "midnight requisitions," or simply absconding with them from various sources.  There were times when pieces of captured equipment were modified and used.

During the summer and early autumn of 1944, the Pacific Ocean Network added several other stations to its chain, including those on Saipan and Guam (Mariana Islands in July and August 1944), and on Peleliu and Ulithi (Caroline Islands in September 1944).   The station on Ulithi sometimes operated up to 19 hours per day to serve the gigantic fleets that were anchored nearby.

As the island hopping toward Japan continued, AFRS became more and more popular among the troops. The term "island hopping" is often used to describe the way in which Allied forces advanced toward Japan, mainly due to the fact that many Japanese-held islands were literally bypassed, or hopped over.  Some were neither captured nor occupied by Allied forces until after the official Japanese surrender.

When the Allies eventually took control of the islands, there was little resistance at many of them, thanks to AFRS broadcasts.  Several AFRS outlets, such as the station on Peleliu, beamed special broadcasts in Japanese  to the Imperial troops remaining.   These broadcasts were made by Japanese-Americans.  Leaflets, dropped by patrol planes flying over the islands, alerted the Japanese forces there as to when the special broadcasts would be made.  Japanese music was sometimes included in the broadcasts to get their attention.  It was only after the surrender of the islands months later that captured documents revealed the tremendous successes of the broadcasts in convincing the Japanese commanders that their war efforts were futile.

Extreme hardships were experienced by the broadcasters and maintenance men who set up and operated the mobile stations.  In some cases, personnel, equipment, food and weapons were dropped by parachutes or delivered by PT boats.  Some were brought to new sites by light planes, which landed on dirt strips laboriously hacked out of rain forests.  But those weren't the major obstacles that confronted them.  Other hazards in the tropics were jungle swamps, unabridged rivers and streams, slime-covered pools of unknown depths across which they sometimes had to transit, and patches of mud into which men sank to their waists.  The climate was hot and humid and frequent rainstorms made the atmosphere oppressive.  Malaria-carrying mosquitoes abounded everywhere.

On the larger, foliage-blanketed islands, from which outcrops of rocky mountains extended above the jungles, there was an ever-present, inescapable and all-pervading scent of decaying vegetation that made breathing miserable. Except for the sounds of exploding bombs and artillery shells, the stillness was so profound that an occasional harsh cry from a startled bird seemed to be sinister and awe-inspiring.

Keeping equipment in operating order was difficult at best.  Drifting clouds that wreathed the treetops in swirling mists, fostered the luxuriant tropical vegetation that provided a dense canopy of dripping foliage far above the ever-saturated and almost sunless floor of the primeval forests.  Even though the transmitters were set up under tents, they often experienced problems with short-circuited sets caused by the precipitation that constantly surrounded them.  Back-up units weren't always available, which meant that oftentimes the transmitters had to be "jury-rigged," in order to get anything out of them.  The hot and humid air also warped the discs (records) containing the recorded programming.

AFRS stations were broadcasting from the islands of New Guinea, Java and Borneo in the Dutch East Indies as the Allies moved into the Gilbert Islands and Bismarck Archipelago to the east.  Coast watchers and scouts also listened to the AFRS stations for information about what was happening. Coded messages were sometimes included in daily broadcasts to give them special information as well.

As the allies drew closer to Japan, the fighting turned into a desperate island-by-island, hill-by-hill, and even inch-by-inch struggle.  Command of the air over areas changed hands as much as twice weekly, and in a few instances, twice daily.   That made it even more difficult for those manning the AFRS radio stations, because if they got too close to the battlefronts the stations could be destroyed by aerial bombing.  On more than one occasion the operators didn't have time to transport their equipment away from contested areas, and had to abandon the stations where they were.

Following General MacArthur's triumphant return to the Philippines, an AFRS station commenced broadcasting from the island of Leyte in December 1944. During the first three months of 1945, additional stations were established.  One was at Manila on the Philippines main island of Luzon in February, and another was on the captured Japanese Island of Iwo Jima in March.  It was at the South Pacific's AFRS station in Manila that the scattered stations were first referred to as the "Far East Network."

As the war front drew closer to Japan's four main islands, still another AFRS outlet was established, this one being on the island of Okinawa in July 1945. With the addition of solidation of all the AFRS outlets under the newly established Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP), the so-called Far East Network had 18 stations broadcasting daily.

Ten days after the formal surrender ceremonies aboard the American battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the first AFRS station in Japan went on the air, using the identification "This is Armed Forces Radio Service Station W-V-T-R in Tokyo."   The date was September 12, 1945.

RECOGNITION AS A NETWORK

The first attempts at formally organizing the AFRS stations in the Western Pacific into an actual network were made in 1946.  By that time many of the South Pacific stations had simultaneously closed down their operations with the return home of American troops from those regions, and there were only 12 stations still broadcasting.  They were scattered from the Philippines and Guam to Okinawa, Korea and on mainland Japan.

By January of 1947, four more stations had been established in Japan, at which time all AFRS outlets were assigned and used identification call letters.  WVTR Tokyo, WVTM Manila, WLKI Beppu, WVTX Iwo Jima, WLKA Kanoya, WLKH Kokura, WLKF Kumamoto, WLKB Oita, WXLH Okinawa, WVTQ Osaka, WLKD Sapporo, WVTO Sasebo, WLKE Sendai, WVTP Seoul, WLKC Pusan and others, had received semi-official recognition as being affiliate members of the Far East Network.

Official recognition of the Far East Network also came in March 1947 when the first AFRS conference in the Far East was held.  Among the subjects discussed during the meeting was a proposed circular of the General Headquarters of the Far East Command, commonly referred to later as FEC Circular 49.  That directive, dated May 3, 1947, set forth the mission, organization and functions of AFRS's Far East Network of stations.

Prior to August of 1947, the term "network" had been a misnomer when referring to the AFRS stations in the Pacific, as only short-wave radio connected any of the stations.  It wasn't until that month that the key station in the northern area, WVTR Tokyo, began feeding programming to another station via land lines, thus starting a real network.

By the end of 1949, the Far East Network had seven stations in Japan, two in the Marianas, one in Korea and one on Okinawa in the Ryukyus.  FEN stations stopped using call letters, and began using an identification consisting of the local geographical area.   For instance, the former WVTR Tokyo became, "This is Tokyo, your Armed Forces Radio Service Station of the Far East Network."

FEN stations during that period averaged 120 hours of broadcasting each week, from 6:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m.  On Saturday nights, the servicemen were provided with an extra half hour of continuos dance music, after which the stations signed off the air for the day.

Since the Far East Command was essentially an Army command, each FEN station was organized administratively into a numbered Army unit.  Outlying stations from the headquarters were assigned detachment numbers.  Until August of 1950, most stations on Japan were assigned to the 8th Army, after which they were transferred to the Japan Logistical Command, a unit which reported directly to the Far East Command headquarters.

ANOTHER NETWORK IS BORN

With the advent of the war in Korea in 1950, there developed a great need for more radio coverage that the two stations in Korea could provide.  Thus, in the summer of 1950, a new network was born.  There were a number of new stations established on the peninsula, and the two FEN stations were reassigned to "Armed Forces Korea Network."  By the end of 1950, the Far East Network consisted of nine stations.   FEN Guam was placed under Navy jurisdiction and FEN Clark, in the Philippines, under the Air Force.

The loss of the two stations in Korea, coupled with the closing of two others in Japan, left FEN with seven broadcasting locations.  In 1952 a new station was established at Iwakuni.  Additional land lines were procured, connecting Tokyo station with other network stations such as Nagoya, Iwakuni and Sasebo and Sendai.

Throughout this time, most of Japan's stations had been had been using transmitters and studio facilities leased from a major Japanese broadcasting company.  By September of 1953, all FEN stations were housed in military structures on U.S. bases.  FEN Tokyo was moved into what was then luxurious new studio facilities at South Camp Drake.   The new transmitter site and antenna field was located at nearby Momote Village housing area.  The station then became the first FEN facility to provide 24-hour broadcasting on an AM frequency.

In 1954, a new station was opened at Niigata.  There were now nine FEN stations in Japan.  In addition, there were 10 relay transmitters which expanded the area of coverage of the stations.  Counting FEN Okinawa, the network had 20 transmitting facilities, which was the highest number ever attained.  In December, FEN Clark in the Philippines became the second FEN station to broadcast AM 24 hours per day.

Television was added at FEN Clark in November 1955.  TV became a reality at FEN Okinawa in December.

NETWORK SIZE REDUCED

With the phase-down of many military facilities in Japan, which began in 1956, a number of FEN stations were either deactivated, relocated, or modified into relay transmitters.   FEN Hachinohe closed in February, FEN Niigata in June and FEN Kumamoto and FEN Oita in July.  In  September 1957, FEN Kokura ceased operations and the stations at Kobe and Otsu closed in November. FEN Sendai and its nearby relay were deactivated in January 1958 and the equipment was moved to Misawa Air Base where a new station was established the same month.  FEN Camp Crawford near Chitose and FEN Miho near Iwakuni shut down operations in February 1958.  FEN Sapporo followed suit a month later.   FEN Nara and FEN Nagoya ceased broadcasting n June 1958, but a new station was established at Wakkanai at the northernmost tip of Japan the same month.

In March 1958, FEN Okinawa operations were transferred to the local Air Force commander, making AFRTS Okinawa an independent station.

Beginning with fiscal year 1959, Far East Network stations were administratively transferred from the Army to the Air Force, assigned to U.S. Forces Japan, with operational control delegated to 5th Air Force headquarters in Japan.  In 1962, the 6120th Broadcasting Squadron was formed, and FEN was placed under its control.

Armed Forces television was brought to mainland Japan in late 1960 when FEN Misawa TV went on the air officially on Christmas Eve.  That installation was the first UHF TV transmitter in Japan.

The operational control of FEN Clark was transferred to the control of the local Air Force commander in July 1965.  The station became headquarters of the Armed Forces Radio & Television network in the Philippines, known as the Armed Forces Philippine Network (AFPN).  The network included stations at Subic Bay and at San Miguel.

In July of 1969, the name of AFRTS was changed from "Armed Forces Radio & Television Service" to "American Forces Radio & Television Service," but the new name never seemed to catch on with the public, and in October 1982 it was changed back to the more popular Armed Forces Radio & Television Service."

On July 1, 1971, the 6204th Broadcasting Squadron (BRS) was established at Clark Air Base, and AFPN was placed under its control.

With the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in May 1972, AFRTS Okinawa was transferred back to FEN control and once again became FEN Okinawa.

Another reorganization of AFPN occurred in 1974 when, in November, the 6001st Aerospace Support Squadron (AEROSS) in Thailand was merged with the 6204th BRS.   The new squadron was designated the 6204 AEROSS.  All AFRTS stations in the Philippines, Thailand, and on the island of Taiwan were placed under its control.  In size, it rivaled FEN.

REORGANIZATION

The next major change came in 1976, when the 6120th Broadcasting Squadron, which controlled FEN operations, and the 6204th AEROSS were merged into one operation.  By that time, they 6204th AEROSS stations had been reduced to only those in the Philippines.  The merger again created a squadron known as the 6204th Broadcasting Squadron which controlled all AFRTS stations in Japan proper, on Okinawa and in the Philippines, making it one of the largest military networks in the world.

With the merger of the two former squadrons into one also came major reorganizations within the new command.  The FEN Clark station became headquarters for Detachment 1 of 6204 BRS, and FEN Okinawa became Detachment 2.  FEN Misawa was designated as an Operating Location of the Japan part of the network, as were the stations at Iwakuni and Sasebo.

Television for those living on U.S. bases in the Kanto Plain area of Japan became a reality in November 1978 when FEN Channel 11 signed on the air.  A closed-circuit cable operation, it supplied TV programming to other military bases on the Kanto Plain via a microwave system.

CURRENT ORGANIZATION

In 1997, FEN changed organizational structure.  FEN Tokyo changed its name to the American Forces Network Tokyo, and is now Detachment 10, Air Force News Agency.

Now, AFN Tokyo, which is based at Yokota Air Base, provides six television channels and nine channels of audio to Yokota residents.  In addition, AFN Tokyo provides local information radio broadcasts to each base in the Tokyo area, including Yokota, NAF Atsugi, Yokosuka, Camp Zama, Camp Fuji and other small stations.

Also in 1997, AFRTS changed the way customers view their television entertainment.   In years prior, shows were shipped to each individual station on tape, delaying the broadcast by months.  Now, shows are sent by satellite from March ARB and shown soon after their broadcast in the United States. The change to satellite allowed AFN Tokyo to provide four channels of television, rather that one with local news and command information, as well as military news from around the Pacific region on "Pacific Report."  "Pacific Report" is produced at AFN Tokyo but supported by other broadcast detachments in Japan and Korea.  It is also supported by public affairs offices from around the Pacific theater.  It is produced each weekday and is transmitted via commercial satellite to the Broadcast Center at March ARB.  It is re-transmitted by AFRTS satellite to AFN outlets and naval ships worldwide. 

RADIO

AFN Tokyo's "Eagle 810" AM radio provides on-air broadcasting to audiences throughout the Tokyo area around the clock.  On weekdays, local DJs can be heard playing music and distributing local command information.  On evenings and weekends, satellite programs offer a variety of music, talk shows and sports programs.  The station broadcasts at 50,000 watts of power to reach the many military installations it supports.

Eagle 810 also does on-site remote broadcasts.  During special base events throughout the Kanto Plain, DJs broadcast live on location.

TELEVISION

The television section is responsible for producing the local newscasts, as well as the regional newscast, "Pacific Report."  They also produce local command information commercials and make sure satellite programs are aired around the clock.

NEWS

The news section is responsible for gathering local and Pacific Command news and information to air on the local news program and Pacific Report.  News gatherers travel to several places in the Pacific from Alaska to India.  Pacific Report is aired to more than 340,000 people in the Pacific and worldwide on AFRTS.

OL-C

Also at Yokota, Operating Location C, a subsidiary of Air Force News Agency at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas.  The OL-C has been operational in its present form for three years. 

The 25-member maintenance team, which includes Japanese employees, has one mission: to provide support for AFN Tokyo and all other Air Force broadcast detachments in the Pacific theater.  That support includes maintenance, engineering and computer support.   Without these people working behind the scenes, the mission would simply not be accomplished.


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