Silence in Frankfurt: AFN fades to black, moves to Mannheim
By KEVIN DOUGHERTY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 29, 2004
FRANKFURT, Germany — There was fall foliage on the floor, pastries on a platter and the sounds of the last “AFN Morning Newswatch” wafting through the studio.
“It’s been a long and wild ride,” Army Staff Sgt. Scott Malone, the morning news anchor, calmly announced as the final seconds ticked away.
From behind a nearby mike, Herb Glover, a guest announcer, smiled.
“Stay tuned,” said the retired 43-year AFN hand.
After six decades of broadcast service to troops in Europe and beyond, the American Forces Network pulled the plug Thursday on its operations in Frankfurt. Later in the day, once the afternoon news show wrapped up, Mannheim formally became the new home of AFN-Europe.
While plenty of work remains to close the 38-year-old studio, there are obvious signs of a place in transition. Gear is coming down from the rafters, offices are being emptied and the size of the staff is skeletal. A further hint of change in the air: autumn leaves scattered here and there on the floor, as if to tell everyone that it’s time to go.
“I wanted to close this place down,” said Malone, who was due to leave in May but was granted a six-month extension to remain in Frankfurt. “To be associated with the last show was a great honor.”
In some ways, it was also a bit melancholy, given all the memories.
The last day, Glover said, “is not a celebration but an observance.”
For weeks, if not months, equipment and personnel have been rolling south on Autobahn 5 toward the network’s new home on Coleman Barracks. The Mannheim facility, formerly a mess hall, is equipped with cutting-edge technology that will greatly enhance AFN’s broadcasting capabilities.
“The new facility is, indeed, super,” news director Gary Bautell said during the morning show. “It is state-of-the-art in every way. … It is hard to find an adjective to describe the jump we are taking.”
AFN took the leap to leave Frankfurt for a variety of reasons.
The drawdown of U.S. forces in the 1990s left the AFN folks in Frankfurt largely isolated from its audience. In addition, Army officials grew increasingly concerned about the safety of AFN personnel, given their high-profile mission.
Glover, who was the chief civilian executive for the network at the time, said the network in the late 1990s looked at many potential sites, from a casern named Frankenstein to a former champagne house.
Given where AFN settled when it arrived in Frankfurt in 1945, those options may not have seemed so absurd.
For its first 21 years in the city, AFN-Europe was headquartered in the von Brüning Castle in Höchst, which is now part of Frankfurt. The network moved in 1966 to a site adjacent to Hessischer Rundfunk, the state of Hessen’s broadcast network.
Glover, who along with Bautell spent Thursday regaling listeners with stories from yesteryear, said the new site even included a helicopter-landing pad, which is long gone.
“Everybody was in awe of this new, state-of-the-art facility,” Bautell said during a radio break, referring to the Frankfurt facility.
Glover paid special tribute to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded Allied forces during World War II. It was Eisenhower, he noted, who had the foresight and interest in establishing a radio network for U.S. soldiers and sailors.
“Eisenhower is our godfather,” Glover said.
As U.S. forces were preparing to invade the continent, Glover said, they grew tired of the stiffness of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s radio shows. So much so, he added, “that our guys used to listen to the Nazi propaganda channels because they played better music.”
Those days are long gone.
Today, Malone said, AFN is heard by U.S. military and civilian personnel in more than 60 countries.
Malone is due to depart Europe in a month or so. He said he plans to fill in from time to time, if needed, in Mannheim.
“I’m still not quite ready to leave,” Malone said after the show. “I’ve got some things to do.”