American Forces Network Okinawa’s AM radio tower on Camp Kinser, seen here July 2, 2024, is scheduled for replacement beginning in December 2024.

American Forces Network Okinawa’s AM radio tower on Camp Kinser, seen here July 2, 2024, is scheduled for replacement beginning in December 2024. (Brian McElhiney/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – The American Forces Network plans to replace its AM radio tower on Okinawa, crippled by a series of lightning strikes and out of service since June, and resume broadcasting next summer.

SURF 648 AM, sister station to WAVE 89.1 FM, is off the air “until further notice,” AFN Okinawa announced June 12 on its official Facebook page.

AFN estimates at least eight lightning strikes during four separate storms hit the tower over about 30 days in May and June, Okinawa’s rainy season, AFN Okinawa station manager Master Sgt. Mike Hutchinson said by phone Tuesday.

The first strike hit May 28, and subsequent strikes steadily degraded the signal until it finally went completely off the air, Hutchinson said.

AFN plans to demolish the tower, which was rebuilt in 2008, and build a new one in its place after the island’s typhoon season ends Nov. 30.

Construction will begin in December or January and last for approximately six months; the station should be back broadcasting sometime in July 2025, Hutchinson said.

SURF 648 AM was off the air from March to September 2023 due to a series of repairs to the tower. First, crews needed to repair a support wire, or guy wire, that supports the structure.

During this repair, which took place April 1 through May 26, 2023, contractor KBR Inc. discovered “severe” corrosion on a transformer, which regulates and conducts electricity to the tower, Keith Smith, chief of operations for AFN Pacific, said at the time.

“A lot of the problems we’ve been having with the tower are due to its age,” Hutchinson said. “A lot of the grounding and safety features that are in there to protect the tower itself … (are) past their life cycles, so it was time to build a new tower anyway.”

Plans for the new tower have been ongoing “for several years,” he said. Once it is constructed, it will broadcast at 10 kilowatts — enough to cover the entire island and some surrounding islands, Hutchinson said.

When the station went back on the air in September, it was only broadcasting at 5 kilowatts, “which reaches most of the island but not everywhere,” Hutchinson said.

The AM tower is next to Kinser Elementary School along the base fence line.

Fans of the station, which airs talk radio programs from U.S. broadcasters such NPR, Sports Overnight America and various political commentators, can still tune in to the AFN Go application, available from the Apple App Store, Google Play and AFN Okinawa’s website.

The station also provides critical news and information during natural disasters such as typhoons, but that information is simulcast on the FM station, Hutchinson said.

Brian McElhiney is a reporter for Stars and Stripes based in Okinawa, Japan. He has worked as a music reporter and editor for publications in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Oregon. One of his earliest journalistic inspirations came from reading Stars and Stripes as a kid growing up in Okinawa.

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