Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Good-bye AFN: Thanks for the memories

The other day I received an email from one of my former FLI colleagues lamenting the disappearance of AFN from cable service in Seoul.

She went onto to say that she contacted the local cable company in Seodaemun-gu and inquired about whether or not Star TV would be added to programming the cable company carried (years ago, Star TV and NHK were “dropped” for no reason—other than, and don’t quote me on this, but according to a cable rep at the time, only so many “foreign” channels are allowed in Korea). 

No more AFN in Korea—at least, not available from cable companies in Korea. I am not even sure if an antenna can still pick up AFN. I’ve been without a TV since I came back to Korea a year ago, so I don’t know what the status is of the “English” programming that is available for expats in Korea. However, there have been times when I have missed AFN—at least the AFN I remember when I first came to Korea. 

Awhile back I blogged about Korean cable companies no longer permitted to have AFN as part of their cable service which got me reminiscing a little about AFN in Korea. 

There was a time, if you were an expat living in Korea, when the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service—better known as AFRTS—and here in Korea, the Armed Forces Korean Network (AFKN) was your link to the outside world and an entertainment, news, and sports lifeline. Even if you despised all the military PSA propaganda as well as a lot of American culture being rammed down your throat, AFKN, which eventually became AFN made living in Korea less insular.

In a time before the Internet, DVD’s, downloading and file sharing, AFN was a very important source for news, entertainment and sports.

I’ll never forget the night I arrived in Korea in December 1990 and was taken to my apartment in Chamsil in Seoul. There was a TV in my apartment and when I turned it on, there was David Letterman delivering his opening monologue.

Well, it looks as though the AFN era—at least for cable subscribers in Korea—is about to come to and end with the recent announcement that Korean cable companies will no longer carry AFN as part of their cable programming.

“South Korean cable companies will cease broadcasting the AFN Pacific Prime channel this month, leaving some U.S. personnel living off base looking elsewhere for the programming they’ve grown accustomed to.

American Forces Network-Korea personnel take a satellite feed of the Pacific Prime broadcast and insert local command information including nightly news broadcasts, Korea-specific commercials and alerts such as school closures and product recalls.

That product is then provided to the on-base cable subscribers and is sent out over the open airwaves, so any USFK member who has an antenna and is within range can pick up the signal.

The purpose of the over-the-air broadcast is to provide another means of emergency-information transmission, a supplement to the primary radio outlet, according to USFK spokesman Col. Franklin Childress.

But South Korean cable companies also capture the signal and then sell it along with their other programs, according to Childress.

American companies attempting to sell their programming in South Korea in recent years raised the issue, saying that you guys have got to do something about it.”

Well, something was done about it and now, AFN won’t be available to expats and the Korean community at large, at least not available from any cable companies. 

You know, there was a time when I joked with some of my former colleagues that if there was no AFN, maybe that would be time to leave Korea. I was worried about what I would do when football season rolled around and I couldn’t keep up with Da Bears and other teams as well as my weekly fixes of my favorite TV shows from Letterman and Leno to Saturday Night Live (when it was still hip). 

For years, during football season, when Tuesday night rolled around it was time for some Tuesday Night Football (Monday Night Football). When I was teaching at Yonsei, I always requested a Yonsei Evening class so I could finish teaching to make it home in time for the kick-off. On many occasions some colleagues and I got together to watch the game.  

Later, when the time was changed to an earlier start time, I often recorded the game and watched it later, around 10:00pm.  

Of course, during the day on Tuesday no one was allowed to talk about the game, which was on during the day here in Korea. That was a no-no. Likewise, those of us interested in watching the game that evening had to be careful when surfing the Internet as not to see the score as well as watching the evening news. 

When I first came to Korea I watched a lot of TV, but then later I didn’t watch it as much, at least didn’t watch AFN as much as I had when I first arrived here. Back then, from 1990-1995 that’s all there was for expats to watch. In 1996 though, when I was living in Yonhui-dong I got cable and could enjoy a few movie channels as well as Star TV and CNN. In fact, the main reason why I got cable was so I could watch AFN; where I lived it was hard to pick up AFN with an antenna. 

Of course, it sometimes depended on where you lived in Seoul as to what cable programming was available or not available. For example, when the cable company in Seodaemun-gu dropped Star TV, it was still carried by other cable companies south of the Han River. 

Well, it’s too bad that AFN is going to be harder to watch now if you are an expat. As much as people knocked AFN’s programming over the years, it is going to be missed by many who need their TV fixes. It sure did make living here a little more tolerable at times. 

I have a lot of fond memories watching AFN over the years from the Bulls NBA Championship seasons to the final episodes of Cheers and Seinfeld. Up until I left here in 2006 for a few months, all those shows, sporting events, and news underscored the time I spent in Korea.

Yeah, thanks for all the memories AFN. 

1 Comment

  1. Robert Gustafson

    July 2, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Can you find out if it is possible to get AFN Korea on the Internet? I will be asking some ef my Korean friends if they can help.
    And if they can help me I will send you the information; that you in turn could post on the Internet for those now stranded without AFN Korea. I am not very good with the computer and so I do not BLOG.

    Sincerely, Robert

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