Armed Forces Network Yongsan: End of an era
USAG YONGSAN — The American Forces Network (AFN) Korea Headquarters is packing up its belongings and moving to Camp Humphreys after more than 50 years of broadcasting to the men and women of the Armed Forces from Building 1358, Main Post, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan.
The first AFN broadcast went out from Panama and Alaska just before World War II. By the peak of the war in 1945, AFN had about 300 radio stations around the globe. During the early days of the Pusan Perimeter during the Korean War, troops in Korea received radio programming from transmitters that were located in Japan. AFN first moved to Korea in 1950, when the U.N. coalition troops led by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur carried out the amphibious landing at Incheon and set up in Seoul, at the Banto Hotel (the old American Embassy Hotel). But when the Chinese entered Seoul in December 1950, AFN was forced to move to Daegu.
Because of the rapidly changing front lines between the North and South during the war, transmitters and studios had to be set up in mobile vans to ensure continuous broadcasting. Some members of AFN who served during the Korean War gained great popularity. Some of AFN’s esteemed alumni include America’s Top 40 with Casey Kasem, who served in Korea in 1952 as a DJ and announcer. James E. Dooley, also known as Jim Perry, later became the host of the television shows “Card Sharks” and “Sale of the Century.” “Happy Days” creator Garry Marshall joined the U.S. Army in 1956 and was stationed in Korea as a broadcaster and a print journalist for AFN during the Korean War.
When the Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, AFNs mobile units became buildings with transmitters, and American Forces Korea Network (AFKN) was born. AFKN’s first live television newscast aired Jan. 4, 1959. Connie Kang Munnelly worked for AFN at Yongsan in 1958 when it was just one room in the building. “I was a secretary, typing memos for my boss. There were several Koreans working in the building. Everything seemed to shine, and the men in uniform looked so sharp and handsome,” she recalled.
AFKN would become a cultural and educational tool for Koreans across the peninsula. Local foreign language “hakwons,” or institutes, offered “AFKN English” classes, designed to help Korean students improve their English listening and translation abilities. With the advent of digital television and AFN’s efforts to provider better programming to the military community, AFKN disconnected analog over-the-air TV May 1, 2012, making AFN programming available strictly through DODauthorized personnel through cable service sold through the American Armed Forces Exchange Service (AAFES). “This allowed us to provide better programming and popular syndicated shows to our community,” said Hoover.
In the past 60 years at USAG Yongsan, AFN Korea has received numerous accolades, including multiple Keith L. Ware Awards and most recently the Thomas Jefferson first place award in the category of audio spot production in 2015. Many commanders have walked through the halls of AFN Korea to appear on television, have their voices heard on the radio or discuss how AFN can continually improve the quality of life for this community as it has done the past six decades. While the move to Humphreys has been discussed over many years – Sgt. Simon Mctizic said he received multiple orders to move as the move date continued to shift to the right – seeing the sign removed from the building will be a surreal experience, said AFN-Pacific, Korea Division Chief Maj. Robert Hoover.
Everything is all set, and the crew at Humphreys has taken over radio operations. “All that will remain in Seoul, really, is the antenna on Namsan Tower. We will work with the 1st Signal Brigade to ensure seamless transmission of broadcasts that will originate in Humphreys,” he said. All public service announcements will be prerecorded, and radio interviews can be done telephonically. Television appearances could require a commute, but technology will go far in editing and mitigating any challenges for Yongsan to get its voice heard through AFN. Even activities like the AFN radio donut giveaway, sponsored by the Dragon Hill Lodge, can be done remotely, Hoover said.
AFN will enjoy brand new accommodations and equipment, but all garrisons will benefit from AFN’s commitment to improved programming that makes any assignment in Korea home away from home. For example, AFN is currently discussing with AAFES a partnership to provide secure video on demand. “No one will notice that we aren’t in Yongsan anymore,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tawana Starks, station manager for AFN-Pacific, Korea. As is the case with most facilities at Yongsan, an empty building at the top of the hill will not be empty for very long.
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