Earl Freudenberg with German friends on a Chattanooga visit in 1974
photo by John Wilson
Radio has been good to me for most of my life. I knew as a small child broadcasting was what I wanted to do. It started as a seven- or eight-year-old while visiting the WDOD studio with my mother in the Hamilton National Bank Building in downtown Chattanooga.
In the 1950’s she would play the piano for the Nazarene hour on Sunday and I would wander off into the WDOD control room and watch Bo Bo Anthony, the engineer. I remember Mr. Anthony telling me something like, “Young man, look all you want, but if you touch anything I’ll send you back down to the studio with your mom.”
During my 55-year career the highlight would have to be the Army assignment in 1972–73 at the American Forces Network, Europe. My original order overseas was Vietnam but President Nixon diverted many men and women to other bases; my new orders were to Germany.
Thanks to a caring sergeant who noted my previous radio experience, I was sent to Frankfurt, West Germany. Five minutes after walking into the large studios on BertramstraBe in the big European city, I was told I’d be hosting the network’s early morning country music show, “Town and Country.” To my knowledge no one at AFN had heard me on the air.
That was a Tuesday morning and the show started the next Monday because the host was rotating back to the states. The sergeant told me, “When you get a chance, make a tape for your personnel file.”
It only could have happened because of a praying mother and grandmother.
1973 provided many memories at AFN and that was all 50 years ago. Not only was I hosting a daily network program, there were many broadcast opportunities including two specials: Hank Williams and Jim Reeves, the “Golden Record Gallery,” “Countryside,” “the Nice Sound,” and a dozen or so interviews with country music artists visiting Europe. They included Tommy Cash, Hank Thompson, Red Sovine, Dottie West and Donna Fargo. There were also daily local programs in Frankfurt.
AFN was our military’s connection to home and I still have many of the letters received from those in the field and our European listeners.
While stationed at AFN, I made friends with a German couple who were devoted listeners, Hoagie and Trudy Lauer. The Lauers took us to the little city of Freudenberg, Germany believed to be the home place of my family.
After the Army, my German friends visited several times with trips to the Grand Ole Opry. The Lauers' favorites included Roy Acuff, Charlie Louvin, Bill Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Connie Smith and George Morgan. Chattanoogan.com publisher John Wilson wrote a story in 1974 on the Lauers visit to the Scenic City.
I still have contact occasionally with some of those also stationed at AFN, but it’s very rewarding when a veteran says how much they enjoyed listening to our AFN broadcasts.
That recently happened while working a visitation at Chattanooga Funeral Home, North Chapel. I noticed this gentleman eyeing my name tag and in a few minutes he came up and told me, “I listened to you on AFN every day.” He was stationed near the German – Russian border and related just how much our music and chatter brought home a little closer. I don’t know how many times this has happened in the last 50 years.
When Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge found out I was stationed at AFN he related to me listening to the station when then Generals Eisenhower and Patten were involved in founding the station in 1943. Mr. Coolidge said, “I always wanted to be near a radio when Glenn Miller came on the air; my men looked forward to the broadcasts when there was an opportunity to listen; I couldn’t forget Command Performance.”
The American Forces Network has changed. The 150,000 watt AM station near Frankfurt (the network's most powerful station) signed off the air May 31, 2013. The department of defense decided one way to save money was by turning off some of the AM radio stations. The station’s signal skipped across the English Channel. I even got a letter from a young lady who milked her cows while listening to my early morning program.
Eighty years later, the American Forces Network, Europe now concentrates on FM stations and Internet radio.
AFNer Trent Christman wrote an in-depth book on military broadcasting entitled “Brass Button Broadcasters.” I was fortunate to spend some time with Mr. Christman and his friend, television producer Jon Ross. Some of the best broadcasters in the business worked for the American Forces Radio and Television service. I learned so much from these professionals.
I’m so glad my radio resume includes the American Forces Network, Europe. It was truly an honor to serve our country in my chosen profession; many, many broadcasters never had this experience.
Here is a short video produced by my friend Ben Cagle about AFN in 1972-1973. AFNer Park Seward made many of the pictures. Click here to watch.