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Radio and Television Service, Armed Forces

Radio and Television Service, Armed Forces. Since 1942, the mission of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) has been to provide information, education, and entertainment to U.S. military forces everywhere. AFRTS personnel brought American music, news, and network programming (without commercials) to the front lines during World War II and during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War. Just as valuable, broadcasters relieved the boredom of peacetime military duty around the world.

Begun as unofficial radio stations before World War II in the Panama Canal Zone, the Philippines, and Alaska, the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) was founded in August 1942, at the direction of the army chief of staff, George C. Marshall. Relying on the advice of movie director Frank Capra, Marshall selected advertising executive Tom Lewis to create a broadcast unit to provide the same information and service Capra was to do with the film series Why We Fight. Very quickly, Lewis and his staff concluded he could best attract military personnel for the educational broadcasts by airing the same programs they knew back home. In addition, AFRS produced its own programming in Hollywood, such as Command Performance, with the help of the entertainment industry.

Lewis immediately established the principle that AFRTS would not censor news programs (except for security purposes), or broadcast propaganda messages. Consequently, troops as well as foreign nationals have always been able to listen to criticism of the U.S. government. The broadcast service quickly proved a better purveyor of the American way of life than the more propagandistic Voice of America.

Television became an integral part of the operation in the 1950s after Gen. Curtis E. LeMay established a television station at one of his SAC bases in Maine. Since then, AFRTS has followed the troops wherever they were stationed, carrying the most popular radio and television programs. AFRTS can legitimately be seen as the representative of democracy to the world, as well as the predecessor of Cable News Network (CNN), since foreign nationals have always been able to listen to the over‐the‐air broadcasts. Most important, AFRTS has provided the U.S. armed forces with a familiar voice and image—whether in the jungles of Vietnam, peacetime Europe, or the Pacific Rim.
[See also Proganda and Public Relations, Government.]

Lawrence Suid

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