While AFN-Europe continues with its online survey, its parent organization is planning a worldwide review for later this year that will help set the agenda for radio and TV programming well into the next decade.

By then, the American Forces Radio and Television Service will be navigating through changes that, among other things, may include high-definition TV for its overseas audience.

"At some point, we will have to address high definition, or HDTV," said Mel Russell, director of the service. "We would probably look at that coming in 2012. That is a target."

Aside from the surveys, 2009 will be a relatively quiet year for the service, Russell said in a wide-ranging phone interview. No new channels — TV or radio — are in the offing, nor is there any significant technological upgrade.

Russell said he and his staff regularly assess the popularity and placement of programs. With a new administration, tastes may shift enough to require minor programming changes to TV news or talk radio. Or, on the entertainment side, Jay Leno’s departure from the "Tonight Show" this spring could affect its nightly slot, particularly if "The Late Show with Dave Letterman" overtakes it in the ratings.

"With all the changes, it’ll be interesting to see what happens," Russell said. "The popularity of a show is very important to us, but equally important is the demographics."

AFN’s audience tends to be much younger, on average, than viewers in the States, Russell said. Surveys are that much more important for AFN.

The AFN-Europe online survey is not directly tied to the pending worldwide review, though its findings will be sent to AFRTS headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Russell said the global survey would start in the early fall, perhaps September after the peak moving season for military households passes.

With a month to go on the European survey, the level of participation is well above what officials anticipated. George Smith, the AFN-Europe operations manager, said about 1,500 people have already completed the survey, which is geared solely to what AFN produces in theater. Going into it, the goal was 1,200.

"We are quite pleased with the online responses," Smith said. "Currently, we are receiving about 100 responses a day."

The worldwide survey will seek the views of 10,000 to 15,000 people, Russell said. AFN wants to include the views of sailors and Marines at sea, but doesn’t yet know if it will happen, which explains the range in numbers.

"The focus will be split between radio and television," Russell said.

He estimates the survey would take four to six months, from start to published report.

Three years ago, when the last global survey was conducted, the emphasis was mainly on radio listeners.

It found that talk radio, both sports and politics, wasn’t popular with troops under 34 years old. Their preference was Top 40 and hip-hop music. The survey consultant, Lund Media Research, even recommended dropping talk radio in many overseas military markets.

Ultimately, AFN opted to keep Rush Limbaugh, National Public Radio and other talk shows on the air, but it yanked live sports from the lineup.

"Very few people depend on radio for live sports when it is available on television," said Russell, adding the audience amounted to just a few percentage points. A significant audience "is just not there. The surveys reinforced that," referring to the 2002 survey.

He said AFRTS would revisit the issue if the upcoming survey indicates there is broader interest, though he doubts it will.

Russell doesn’t anticipate any more TV channels for at least a few more years. The last two added to the lineup were AFN-Family and AFN-Movie in August 2004. AFN-Xtra preceded both by six months.

Russell and Smith said no decision has been made on where AFN-Europe will be headquartered after Mannheim closes, which may be in 2012 or 2013. AFN began broadcasting from its current facility at Coleman Barracks in late October 2004.

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