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Airman 1st Class Grant Hagman heads up the “Misawa Morning” Top 40 show from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, one of several programming changes to be more family friendly at American Forces Network radio at Misawa Air Base, Japan.
Airman 1st Class Grant Hagman heads up the “Misawa Morning” Top 40 show from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, one of several programming changes to be more family friendly at American Forces Network radio at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — American Forces Network radio detachment here has rolled out new “family friendly” programming in response to complaints that some songs were vulgar and offensive.

Those concerns reached the attention of wing leadership after gaining support at a recent company-grade officers’ meeting, prompting swift changes on the airwaves.

The new EDGE Radio 1575 AM lineup reduces alternative rock and hip-hop from four to two hours a day and adds two hours to the Top 40 morning show, now from 6 to 10 a.m.

Top 40, meanwhile, disappears in the 4-6 p.m. slot, replaced with ’70s, ’80s and ’90s hits.

“Family friendly” radio isn’t watered down, said AFN detachment chief Master Sgt. Ron Przysucha, but it is more scrutinized. Several AFN staffers of diverse ages and ranks now screen music for content before it’s approved for play, he said.

“Under the old way, as long as there were no lyric alerts in the top 30, that’s what music per genre we used,” Przysucha said. “Now we’re scrutinizing those top 30 much more than we were before.”

The station, like all American Forces Radio and Television Service outlets, receives music for live programs from a contractor — about three compact discs and 45 songs per week. TM Century, the contractor, is responsible for ensuring that each single conforms to Federal Communications Commission and stateside broadcast industry standards. Songs that don’t are marked with a “lyric alert.” AFN, by Defense Department regulation, can’t play that music, but the industry screening targets only lyrics, not a song’s overall theme, Przysucha said.

“That’s really, lately, where the challenge is,” he said. “It’s the sensitivity of our family members, the community, to the themes of the music.”

Capt. Matthew Boarts, a Lutheran chaplain at Misawa, said certain songs offended him because of the “raw manner in which the theme was presented.”

Boarts first aired his concerns about AFN’s “vulgar” song lyrics through a letter to the editor in Stars and Stripes in January.

He wrote, “It seems to me an inconsistency to require people to attend a sexual assault briefing only to have them get in their car and hear a song about going back to ‘my place’ where we’ll unzip your pants ‘a little bit’ and pull down your pants ‘a little bit’ and so on. … I don’t believe we need to give vulgarity sanction on our American Forces Network radio waves.”

Boarts, who’s been at Misawa since June, said in an interview last week that he listened to the radio for a long time before going public with his opinions.

“I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a bias against a certain type of music because I actually like some rap music,” he said. “Even some of the vulgar ones, I enjoy the tune, and that’s kind of the danger in it: I liked listening to it but I didn’t like the message at all.”

Boarts said he took the issue to peers at a recent company-grade officers’ meeting, where he found a consensus in his favor.

“I was expecting my fellow (officers) to say, ‘Chaplain, you’re just a prude.’ Nobody said that,” he said.

The new format, officials said, attempts to maintain a delicate balance between sensitivity to listeners and adhering to AFRTS policy, which prohibits censorship.

“Our regulation forbids us from inserting personal taste or preference,” Przysucha said. “We do not censor; we can edit for offensive material.”

But Boarts thinks military radio needs to be held to a higher standard.

“It’s an official outlet of the Air Force and there’s censorship in the Air Force,” he said. “I’m censored from saying ‘Jesus’ in my prayers, so there is censorship. I think it needs to be a deliberate balancing act.”

By DOD regulation, AFN cannot play material that includes offensive swear words, racially demeaning language and lyrics that promote drug or alcohol use, deviant or socially unacceptable behavior, sexual abuse or harassment, Przysucha said.

“The standard itself is subjective,” he said. “That’s why it’s open to so much criticism because everyone interprets it differently. By adding more layers of oversight, we’re trying to get a broader interpretation.”

Also, he added, songs can be interpreted by two different people two different ways, “so it’s a very difficult task.”

Przysucha said the station already has received favorable feedback on its new format. For instance, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific teacher Missy Murphy e-mailed to Przysucha this week that “I really appreciate the better music and it’s so nice not to have to turn the radio off all the time because of the trashy language in the music.”

Some airmen at Misawa agreed that AFN should watch what music it plays in the afternoon when kids are out of school. Others indicated they consider the song lyrics less an issue.

“I don’t listen to AFN but I don’t have a problem with explicit lyrics,” said Senior Airman Nathan O’Neil, 22. “If you have a problem with explicit lyrics, change the station.”

Added Senior Airman Andrew Hanus, 24: “It’s important that AFN play what’s popular back in the States so we feel a part of what’s going on. I hate going to Rick Dees’ Top 40 and not knowing the songs.”

Przysucha said the challenge is finding middle ground: “We have to be cognizant that if we go too far in either direction, we’re going to lose people.”

On the EDGE?

The new AFN radio schedule at Misawa Air Base, Japan:

“Misawa Morning” Show — Top 40: 6 to 10 a.m.

“AFN X” — Hip Hop and Alternative Rock: 10 a.m. to noon

“Yesterday Cafe” — Classic Rock: Noon to 2 pm.

“Country Mile” — Live country music: 2 to 4 p.m.

“Hit the Road” Show — Hits of ’70s, ’80s and ’90s: 4 to 6 p.m.

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