Morale: The Armed Forces Radio Revolution


June 5, 2006: Since World War II, the U.S. Armed Forces Radio (AFR) has broadcast to the troops, no matter where they are. But declining ratings, caused by iPods and changing tastes, has resulted in massive changes in what will be heard. Surveys and focus groups were conducted among the military audience, and it was found that a lot of the current programming was not well liked, or listened to. Troops would tune in for the news, and then go back to their MP3 players for music or podcasts. On the way out are talk radio and country music. The country music has been a staple of AFR for over half a century, partly in recognition of the fact that troops from the south and west have always been overrepresented. But rap music has spread far beyond its original urban (black and Hispanic) market and now dominates the pop charts. In fact, the new playlists will follow the pop charts more closely. Also out are local DJs, with professional (and more widely known) DJs being used. Since much of the programming is delivered to local stations by satellite feed, this will not be a problem. Local military announcers will still handle local news, military alerts and information and some special programming.

Also gone is most of the talk radio (NPR, as well as more conservative shows). Talk just never caught on big with the troops, and many were turned off by the strident anti-war attitudes found on many NPR shows. Broadcasts of sporting events will also be largely gone. The troops rarely listened. In areas where there are multiple frequencies available, some of the older programming would still be available on the second and third channels.

While AFR has been losing a lot of its American military listeners, the stations are still enormously popular with the locals. AFR has often been the first exposure, especially for youngsters, to American radio, Many who later migrated to the U.S., or simply came to visit, noted that they learned a lot of their English listening to AFR. But even that isn't what it used to be, because with podcasts and radio stations streaming their content on the Internet, foreigners have more ways to listen to American style programming.


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