TOKYO, Japan — American Forces Network broadcasts at three Pacific locations will go off the air next week ahead of moves by Japan to end all analog TV broadcasts by July 24.

AFN Iwakuni and AFN Okinawa will end over-the-air analog broadcasts on Thursday, with AFN Misawa switching off its analog signal on Friday, according to AFN Japan commander Maj. David Westover. The switch means that viewers in Japan will no longer be able to watch AFN using conventional roof-top aerials or old-style “rabbit ears,” he said.

Those viewers were able to watch AFN’s Prime Pacific channel, which broadcast a line-up of American dramas, sit-coms, talk shows news and reality television along with locally produced news and information. The channel will continue to be available to people watching on-base cable or through AFN satellite decoders.

Station officials in each location have notified their audience through information campaigns and television and radio spots over the past two weeks, Westover said.

The move is part of a transition to digital television that is under way across Japan. According to Japan’s Association for Promotion of Digital Broadcasting, analog television broadcasts will cease on July 24 in all parts of the country except the Tohoku region, which bore the brunt of the March 11 earthquake.

“Even if AFN wanted to broadcast over-the-air the government of Japan has mandated the termination of all analog TV,” Westover said.

Westover said he doesn’t know how many people watch the analog AFN broadcasts, but he added that the stations’ viewers are most likely to be retirees.

Some people living off-base might be concerned that the end AFN’s analog broadcast will make it more difficult for them to receive emergency notifications from the U.S. military, Westover said, but added that over-the-air radio broadcasts will continue. Retirees and U.S. government ID card holders living off-base in Japan are authorized to use AFN decoders that will enable them to continue to watch AFN after the analog broadcast ends, he said.

Decoders are available for sale or lease at Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores and Navy and Marine Corps exchanges, and they can be issued free-of-charge to authorized personnel at base housing and furnishing offices, he said.

The move to digital television will not affect viewers living on U.S. bases in Japan and Okinawa who will still be able to view a number of Japanese channels, even using old-style analog televisions, because on-base cable companies will convert the new digital broadcast to a U.S. analog signal.

While the move will not affect on-base viewers, there is one big change coming to those customers this year: AFN Sports will begin broadcasting in high definition the end of the year, U.S. Navy Capt. Herman Phillips, commander of Defense Media Activity field operations, said in an e-mail.

“Our intent is to upgrade our delivery systems and eventually deliver more HD programming during the next two to four years,” he said. “However, this depends on future funding that is uncertain at this time.”

Westover said the AFN Japan upgrade to HD sports, due in fall, is happening at the perfect time.

“That is when we are all watching football,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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