Programming questions flood AFN call session
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 26, 2009
RELATED STORY: Q&A with AFN executives Larry Sichter and Jef Reilly
COLEMAN BARRACKS, Germany — Not everyone in American Forces Network’s overseas audience is a fan of Rush Limbaugh and the NFL, despite their popularity in the United States and their regular airing on AFN.
Programming decisions about the conservative radio commentator and sports were big topics among callers to AFN Europe’s open-line radio show last week.
Representatives of AFN’s broadcast center in Riverside, Calif., were in AFN’s Mannheim studio to take questions. They included Larry Sichter, affiliate relations chief, and Jef Reilly, American Forces Radio director.
First question: “Why is it that AFN shows so many sports programs?”
In what would be an oft-repeated theme throughout the 2-hour show, Sichter explained that AFN programming decisions are based on what’s popular with American television and radio audiences stateside.
“The bottom line,” Sichter said: “Sports is extremely popular. There is a huge audience for the NFL. It is the most popular program on AFN.”
A soldier from Wiesbaden, Germany, followed up with a question about football: “How are the games chosen each week? Who decides which games will be on?”
Sichter said AFN relies heavily on the stateside Nielsen ratings, which measure the number of people watching television shows, and looks at what games the major networks are playing. “If they’re carrying these national games for a national audience, we’re confident our audience is going to want to see those same games,” Sichter said.
AFN also looks at NFL team rankings and records, trying to pick games that will be competitive and exciting. “Sometimes we may not show a game that seems to be popular if it appears it’s going to be a blowout, which is what happened with the Packers game last week, ” Sichter said, referring to the Green Bay Packers’ 26-0 win over the Detroit Lions. “We are making some very critical choices, but we’re basically following the mass audiences.”
Two of the 21 callers to the show complained about Limbaugh.
“My problem is having Rush Limbaugh broadcast in the war zone,” said one caller. “When you have someone questioning the citizenship of the commander-in-chief … and calling him a racist, a liar and a joke, it can’t be good for our soldiers.”
“There are those in Iraq and Afghanistan who enjoy Rush Limbaugh,” Reilly said.
“If you want to talk about popular, he’s bulletproof as far as ratings and numbers of listeners are concerned,” he said, and it’s not AFN’s job to censor.
Reilly said if a commander in Iraq thought Limbaugh was detrimental to his troops, he could take Limbaugh off the local AFN station, but then he would also have to eliminate a liberal political show, such as Ed Schultz or Alan Colmes.
When it comes to news programming on television, Sichter said AFN looks at the most popular news programs or commentators overall and on each network. They include Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck (FOX News Channel), Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann (MSNBC), and Wolf Blitzer (CNN).