American Forces Network will end sports radio broadcasts

July 07, 2006|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

Play-by-play sports radio is going the way of the dinosaur, at least on the American Forces Network.

Responding to a survey that indicates military personnel and civilian employees overseas would rather watch than listen to sports events, the AFN has decided to drop radio play-by-play broadcasts by the end of the summer.

The decision was based on a worldwide audience survey, conducted by the Department of Defense, of approximately 9,500 military and civilian employees stationed overseas.

"What we found was when our single-channel, local AFN radio station switched from music to a sports event, more than half the audience left," said Robert Matheson, the director of AFN broadcasting in Riverside, Calif. "Music is what they're looking to be entertained with. When they can't find music, they'll go to their iPods or CDs or computers."

And when the sports fans want to see sports events, they go to their AFN television programming or the Internet.

Thanks to advanced technology, the impact on military members should be negligible. Naval Academy sports information director Scott Strasemeier said many former Midshipmen he knows already have found an alternative to radio broadcasts.

"Ten years ago, it would have been a lot bigger deal," Strasemeier said. "Now they just watch our games on the Internet."

Navy Cmdr. Gregory Hicks, a Pentagon spokesman, estimated that 90 percent of military personnel abroad turn to televised sports events over radio broadcasts.

"AFN service is beamed to every facility overseas and every ship at sea," Hicks said. "There's capability among all armed services to receive it."

Among the sports services available are AFN-sports, AFN-xtra and AFN-prime. Though AFN once televised one or two games a week, it now broadcasts nearly 80 a week.

"With our audience, when they have time to watch a game, they aren't off doing something military," Matheson said. "If they are doing something military, they don't have a radio.

"For them to get off work and escape with their favorite pastime, chances are they'll be where a TV is."

Even as AFN continues to add TV channels to its package for 170 foreign countries, radio stations continue to be limited. Matheson said there usually are only one or two radio frequencies available and they're difficult to receive.

Another problem is the timing of live radio broadcasts. A 7 p.m. East Coast event starts at 1 a.m. in Central European Time and 8 a.m. in Japan and Korea.

Matheson said few overseas radio outlets are willing to pre-empt their regular morning shows for play-by-play sports.

When he was stationed in Japan in the mid-1990s, Hicks said he was happy to watch live events such as Monday Night Football and the Super Bowl in the morning.

"I can tell you it was great to watch the Super Bowl at 9 a.m. on a work day," he said. "I didn't have [a] good radio, so I watched more TV than anything. Being in Japan, I was deployed frequently. I caught [TV] when I could."

With the exception of some motor sports programming that runs through Sept. 9, AFN Radio effectively ended its play-by-play sports with the NBA Finals.

"What's happening now is an indication we do care about the audience, we've surveyed them, we're listening to their preferences and we're trying to provide what's most popular to them," Matheson said.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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