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WASHINGTON — American Forces Radio this week began airing “The Ed Schultz Show,” nearly two months after the controversial host was originally scheduled to hit the airwaves.

The first hour of Schultz’s daily show, along with the first hour of the Al Franken radio show and the Sean Hannity show, will be broadcast Monday through Friday over the network’s Voice Channel. The decision to add the shows is designed to “provide a balance of popular political viewpoints,” AFR officials said in a statement.

American Forces Radio and Television Services director Mel Russell said all three shows have substantial U.S. audiences, and that officials try to reflect that popularity in their programming decisions.

But Russell said not everyone may be able to hear the new shows.

Anyone living on a military base with cable or satellite service receives all AFR stations, and will be able to listen to the new additions. But Russell said regional affiliates, who offer just a sampling of the AFR programs through over-the-air broadcasts, will decide on their own whether to add the new shows.

AFN Europe is receiving the three programs but has not decided which, if any, it will be putting on its AM Power Network, which broadcasts across Germany.

Air Force Capt. Jeff Clark, public affairs officer for AFN-Europe, said that the radio station has to decide how great the demand is for the three programs, because if it decides to broadcast one or more of them, it will have to remove programs on the schedule, and it thinks it has a popular lineup.

He said the staff uses a variety of tools to gauge interest, including surveys and listener feedback, and will be considering the new programs but cannot give a timeline on when a decision will be made.

Clark said AFN has “lots of services available that we do not air” over the radio, but that are available to listeners through audio channels on TV decoder boxes or through cable-TV services on military bases. He said the programs are listed on www.afneurope.net, although exact times and channels can vary from place to place.

That has been a point of contention for congressional Democrats, who have accused defense officials of keeping liberal voices off the military radio network.

In October, producers for “The Ed Schultz Show” were preparing to debut their show on AFR after months of negotiations with network officials. But on the day the show was scheduled to premiere defense officials put those plans on hold, saying the proper paperwork was not yet finished.

Show producers accused the Bush administration of political payback, since Schultz had been critical of the Defense Department’s handling of a White House press conference just days before. House Democrats have called for an investigation into the department’s actions.

On Monday, when the show premiered, Schultz spent his first segment criticizing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then spoke to retired Gen. Wesley Clark about U.S. failures in Iraq.

Show producer James Holm said he is still concerned with the premiere delay and with the possibility that many affiliates might not pick up the show.

“But this is a start,” he said. “We’re pretty much going to do the same show, because we feel it’s the one progressive talk show out there that really has a handle on military issues. We think that will speak to those (AFR) listeners.”

AFR’s Voice Channel already features other controversial talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schlessinger, as well as news and sports updates.

Franken is a liberal comedian who helped launch the Air America Radio in 2004; Hannity is a conservative co-anchor of a Fox News talk show.

Stripes editor John Taylor contributed to this report from Germany.

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