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MANNHEIM, Germany — American Forces Network officials have hit the pause button on plans to add a pair of television channels to the programming palette.

The new channels — AFN Family and AFN Movie — were scheduled to debut by year’s end. But AFN officials in Europe and Washington, D.C., said last week that the expansion has not progressed as scripted.

“It’s a delay in contracting for equipment and the people to operate it,” said Mel Russell, director of the American Forces Radio and Television Service. The expansion “will be delayed a few months,” Russell said.

AFN officials wouldn’t hazard a guess as to when the expansion might occur, other than to say “sometime next year.”

The delay “is not a budgetary issue,” Russell said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “It is a contractual issue.”

The upgrade represents the latest step in a decade-long effort to upgrade and expand AFN radio and television programming.

In the mid-1990s, technological advances, in particular the ability to digitally compress signals to create more bandwidth, enabled AFRTS to beef up its TV lineup. In addition, radio programming expanded.

The upgrades represent “a tremendous leap” for AFN customers, said Lawrence Sichter, chief of affiliate relations for the Defense Media Center at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.

While some back home might chuckle over the hullabaloo caused by the addition of two new channels, it wasn’t that long ago — December 1996 — when AFN had just one television channel and two radio stations. Today, there are a variety of radio stations, especially on base, and six TV channels, excluding the program guide and the Pentagon Channel, which will get more robust next year, according to Sichter.

Next year promises to be a watershed year for AFN-Europe, too.

The network headquarters is moving from Frankfurt, Germany, its home since 1966, to a renovated facility on Coleman Barracks in Mannheim. AFN is spending $8 million on renovations and $5 million for new equipment, said Roger Williams, a spokesman for AFN-Europe.

“The customer won’t even notice,” Williams said.

The new broadcasting facility, which is currently being wired, should supplant Frankfurt as the headquarters by November 2004, Williams said. That target date could slip either way, depending on how work progresses over the next several months.

“Nothing is nailed down now,” Williams said. “It’s all still fluid.”

AFN-Europe’s pending departure from Frankfurt means that its studio mate, AFN-Hessen, must move as well.

The affiliate, which serves the 104th Area Support Group and the 233rd Base Support Battalion in Darmstadt, is in the process of relocating to Wiesbaden Army Airfield. Officials had planned to finish the $1.5 million effort by the Fourth of July, but have since moved up the time line to the Memorial Day weekend.

Fun for the family, movie buffs

AFN-Family: Programming will be directed to a demographic audience ranging from 2 to 17 years old, according to Mel Russell, director of the American Forces Radio and Television Service. The level of programming will become more sophisticated throughout the day as more teens tune in. Some programs currently aired on AFN-Spectrum would move to the new channel, freeing up space on Spectrum for some educational shows, such as those seen on the History and the Discovery channels.

AFN-Movie: This channel will air movies and short features on acting and the art of movie-making, said Lawrence Sichter, chief of affiliate relations for the Defense Media Center. Among other things, the short features will allow AFN to fill time gaps between movies.

— From staff reports

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