From the S&S archives: Around the clock, AFN watches the drama unfold
January 22, 1981
FRANKFURT (S&S) — Waiting, watching and listening.
AFN film crews, reporters, technicians and engineers — like hundreds of other media representatives — stood by, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 52 American hostages Tuesday.
They listened for word that the captives' flight to freedom had finally begun with the takeoff of two Algerian aircraft in Tehran.
"Right now there's kind of a lull, a letdown,' said Frank Mortensen, news director. "Yesterday, it looked like the release was imminent, only hours away. Now, we're like everybody else — just waiting."
Mortensen's comments came as eleventh-hour snags in final negotiations postponed the hostages' release.
By late Tuesday night, AFN radio had broadcast satellite reports from the U.S. on the hostage situation for more than 35 continuous hours.
"We're picking up everything we can from the radio networks in the States," said Trent Christman, broadcast director. "We'll cut into regular programming as news of the hostages comes in."
On TV, AFN hoped to transmit live coverage of the hostages' arrival at Rhein-Main AB. "We're working on picking up NBC's live coverage as they transmit it back to the States by satellite," said Paul Van Dyke, television operations chief. "We won't actually be getting a satellite transmission. We'll ,just be picking up the signal as it is relayed through a microwave transmitter here in Germany."
Mortensen said anchorman Paul Macko would be in AFN s Frankfurt studios to augment NBC coverage. "We really don't know how well all this is going to come off, until it happens," he said. "We think there may be breaks in NBC's live coverage as they go back to their studios, periodically. In that case we'll probably go back to our studios here."
While studio officials prepared for live coverage, two mobile AFN film crews worked to record the hostages' arrival on video tape.
"We're going to focus a lot on the military's involvement in this," said Spec. 5 Mark Van Treuren, a film crew reporter. "The Air Force, especially, has been given the job to get them (the hostages) here and take care of them."
Van Treuren put in 13 hours Monday preparing to cover the hostages' release. He said the massive media crunch at Rhein-Main AB and Wiesbaden hospital — where the 52 Americans were to be taken after their arrival in Germany was smothering, but exciting.
"On an event like this, you've got to approach it just like the other members of the media," Van Treuren said. "We're being treated just like everyone else. I think it gives you a chance to show your reporting talents, and what you can do creatively under pressure."
Like other American media in Germany, AFN was flooded with calls from other news agencies, television networks and magazines wanting information about coverage of the hostages.
"I got a call from Greece wanting some information," said Lee Hilliard, a member of the network's coverage team. "That's the way these events always are — everybody's in on it.
AFN officials said both radio and television coverage of the hostages' release and arrival in Germany would continue as long as events warranted.