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Master Sgt. Mike Burnette, AFN Misawa section chief of detachment operations, has rolled out new "family-friendly" radio programming at Misawa Air Base, Japan.
Master Sgt. Mike Burnette, AFN Misawa section chief of detachment operations, has rolled out new "family-friendly" radio programming at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It may sound like a radio station without an identity, playing Christina Aguilera, Boston, Kenny Chesney and the Black Crowes.

But behind recent programming changes at Misawa’s American Forces Network radio is a plan aimed at capturing and keeping more listeners, said Master Sgt. Mike Burnette, the section chief of detachment operations.

In the five months that Burnette has been at AFN Misawa, he’s introduced a new, eclectic music lineup for EDGE Radio 1575 AM.

Gone are the two straight hours of country music, the 120 minutes of hip-hop and rap each day. In fact, no genre gets played for that long continuously anymore. Instead, top tunes from an array of music charts — including Top 40, classic rock and hot adult contemporary — are woven together for a variety of popular songs all day, Burnette said.

The new programming is based on the “Jack FM” format, an iPod shuffle style that broadcast radio stations in the States are adopting to compete with satellite radio, Internet audio feeds and other new technologies.

Unlike a typical radio station that regularly plays 300 or 400 hits of a particular genre, Jack stations rotate anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 songs of different genres, Burnette said.

“We’re slowing down the repetition and giving them more music,” he said. “We’re playing hits within a 35-year span, all the way up to today. We believe if we have a good strong format, that will beat out a focused format in a mixed community.”

At EDGE Radio, the more diverse format still falls under “family friendly” radio, Burnette said, a trend that’s catching on elsewhere.

“AFN worldwide is going to more family-friendly programming,” he said, while also embracing the Jack format “because of having one radio station serving multiple life groups overseas.”

The purpose is “to pull the audience together, instead of segregating listeners,” Burnette said.

“If we get music that we consider to be lyrically offensive to our community standards, meaning it’s demeaning to a human being, we have to make a call,” Burnette said. Choosing not to play a certain song isn’t censorship but smart business, he said. “If you turn your radio off, we’re not serving you. We have a mission of entertaining and informing the community. We have one community and one radio station and we don’t want to divide our formatting or divide our community.”

Misawa airmen who listen to the radio said they’ve noticed a difference. “It’s better,” said Senior Airman William Wilson, 32, of the 35th Civil Engineer Squadron. “Before it was just all country, rock and pop.” With all the diversity on base, a lot of listeners were turned off, he said.

But Staff Sgt. Robert Lilly, 26, of the 35th Communications Squadron, a fan of country and ’80s music, prefers the old way.

“Now, if I listen for an hour, if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll hear two songs I like in that time,” he said.

And then there are some airmen who rarely tune in, such as Staff Sgt. Jeremy Putnam, 24, who said he listens to mostly techno on his iPod. “Every time I turn the radio on, something a little bit before my time is playing,” he said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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