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The Last American Radio Station in Berlin Reportedly Closes, Ending a Decades-Long Tradition

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A long-familiar presence on Berlin’s airwaves reportedly is now silent.

Founded in 1945 as a way to bring U.S. news and culture to a divided Germany, the American Forces Network (AFN) endured in a variety of forms on radio until it became a victim of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

The station’s final broadcast was last month, according to Politico.

“Like so many media and nonprofit organizations, we couldn’t escape the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic,” the network, known in its final form as KCRW Berlin, said in a statement in November, according to the Berlin Spectator.

After starting as the AFN, the radio station eventually was picked up by NPR and then was in a partnership with California public radio affiliate KCRW and NPR, according to Politico.

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Anne Kuchenbecker, who served on KCRW Berlin’s board, said, “It is by no means a light-hearted decision. It is the likely end of the tradition of American public radio in Berlin for the foreseeable future,” according to Berliner Zeitung.

The station’s Los Angeles parent, also known as KCRW, and NPR “have been hit hard by COVID,” she said. “KCRW had to let go 20 per cent of their staff. This had an impact on us. If those partnerships come under strain and cannot be maintained, we lose the American programming.”

“It’s a sad moment embodying the end of a tradition,” she said, according to Politico.

That tradition began in 1945, when AFN began giving U.S. troops a dose of home and ended up over the years sharing music from Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley and thousands of other American musicians with German listeners.

Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant, who listened to AFN in Britain, explained the station’s attraction.

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“We didn’t have the same cultural exchange you had. We didn’t have Black America,” he told the station in 2013. “We couldn’t turn our dial and get an absolutely amazing kaleidoscope of music. Now and then, if you were lucky, there was this American Forces Network radio coming out of Germany. If you were lucky, you could hear Muddy Waters or Little Richard coming through the waves.”

German radio and TV personality Fritz Egner said AFN “was probably the best ambassador for the U.S. in the post-war era. It was sort of like a radio station from another planet. They played the music we didn’t hear and presented it in a different kind of way.”

The AFN network was “probably the best foreign policy instrument the U.S. had ever thought of,” former U.S. Ambassador to Germany John Kornblum said recently, according to Politico.

The end of the Cold War brought hard times to the station, but in 2006, NPR came to the rescue, keeping the station afloat until KCRW in California joined the fold in 2017.

The station’s program director expressed her disappointment about the closure and talked about the differing reactions in Germany and the United States.

“The pain that we are feeling with KCRW Berlin going away is something that is not necessarily felt in the U.S.,” Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson said, per Politico.

In the end, the station just could not continue.

 

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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