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The Southern Command Network

The Armed Forces Network is the television branch of the Armed Forces Radio, which is the U.S military’s official radio channel. The organization’s origins date as far back as the 1940’s, a few years prior to World War II; this wasn’t a government initiative but rather local bases in different parts of Europe trying to send a little piece of home to the soldiers who were preparing for the inevitable invasion of a Nazi-occupied Europe, sending news and recorded radio shows of various interests, from soap operas to Buck Rogers and music. The first official branch of what would become the AFRS (Armed Forces Radio Service, founded in 1942) was in this very country, naturally in the Panama Canal Zone under station PCAN… it would later be swallowed up by the AFRS and in 1952, when the television branch of the organization was created then it became the AFRTS, or the Armed Forces Network (AFN) for short. How original.

In the 1960’s a lot of stuff happened, but what’s most important to this history lesson is that the Panama Canal command went through some shifting and during the mix-up the AFN became the Southern Command Network (SCN) with both TV and radio channels broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from Fort Clayton, right in the outskirts of Panama City. The SCN would also broadcast to troops stationed in Honduras during the late 80’s up until 1999, when they closed operations as part of the Torrijos-Carter deals that had the U.S give back the Panama Canal to us… so lets see: SCN’s first television broadcast was on May 9th, 1956 while it closed its doors December 31st, 1999. Not bad, considering it was the first TV channel available in the country; ironically, it was all in English so everybody that wasn’t military couldn’t understand a word of what they were watching… the broadcast schedule was as follows:

2:15 p.m.

Programa especial

2:30 p.m.

Película

3:00 p.m.

Lluvia de estrellas

4:00 p.m.

Arthur Godfrey y sus amigos

5:00 p.m.

Salón de la Fama Hallmark

5:30 p.m.

Burns y Allen

6:00 p.m.

Noticiero

6:15 p.m.

Jane Froman

6:30 p.m.

Conferencia de Prensa Colegial

7:00 p.m.

Jack Benny

7:30 p.m.

Teatro de Directores de Cine

8:00 p.m.

Escogencia de la Ciudad

9:00 p.m.

Cita con la Aventura

10:00 p.m.

Readers Digest

10:30 p.m.

Vida con Papá

11:00 p.m.

Noticiero

11:05 p.m.

La Hora de la U.S.Steel

12:05 p.m.

Buenas noches

I’m done with the history lesson, but if you would like to know more about the SCN’s (as well as television in Panama) history you might want to click here; it’s in Spanish, but it’s very thorough and worth finding a translator. Anyway, my point is this: If you read this and many of my previous rants on the subject of politics or Panamanian history you’ll notice that the United States and us are intricately linked, whether we like it or not. I’ve come to realize that it’s a very touchy subject for generations past in the sense that people’s opinions concerning the U.S are very polarized, depending on who you talk to: my father, for example, is anti-American. Well, let me rephrase that because that’s not entirely true; he’s very resentful in regards to America and it’s government, specially if we talk about the 1989 invasion. He was shot at, treated like a criminal and was almost sent to jail along with my mom and that, along with the virtual genocide armed troops unleashed on the district of Chorrillo have left him with somewhat of a sore spot in regards to them. He gets to the point where it’s almost scary how anti-military he is and sometimes we have these conversations where I don’t know if he’s serious or just kidding:

Dad: “Hey Robert, guess what I saw on the news today?”

Rob (shrugging): “Whatcha see?”

Dad: “We took our 4 more soldiers in Iraq today.”

Rob: “Who’s ‘we?'”

Dad: “THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS, Robert!”

Rob (confused, nervously snickering): “huh?”

Dad: “The gringos went in there for NOTHING and now they’re getting spray-canned like cockroaches!”

Rob: “Oh, God…”

Dad: “They’re all cold-blooded murderers, the lot of them! They don’t care about anyone! It was about time someone put them in their place and now they’re being killed off one by one in a meaningless war by an enemy much more capable than they are with their bombs and tanks… THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS, Robert!!!”

Rob: “It’s not the soldiers’ fault, though…”

Dad (out of his chair, arms blazin’): “They’re all coked up and all they can think about is ‘KILL, KILL, KILL!’ and that fucking Bush, it’s his fault! He’s made them that way and he’s sending them out to die for oil! Ridiculous! Hopefully they’ll realize soon they lost the war… they lost the war and they never should’ve gone there.”

Rob: “Uh-huh…”

Dad: “Did Bush’s father ever do anything to help the THOUSANDS of families that lost loved ones in 1989? Tell me, Robert! No, you couldn’t tell me because you were too small… almost 3,000 people dead and a whole community reduced to rubble and for what? Noriega wasn’t even near Chorrillo… they’re assassins, the scum of the earth! To this day, Robert! To this day no one’s ever mentioned what happened… I almost went to jail because of them. I got shot at because of them!!! I will never forget!”

This drives my mom up the frickin’ walls. His limitless supply of resentment and paranoia know no bounds, and whereas my mom has always liked American culture and the lifestyle and what not… quite a couple huh?

The Southern Command Network was probably the TV station I watched the most as a kid. It was the only station growing up that I could listen to programs in English and learn the accent, and the channel was packed to the gills with the most excellent cartoon lineup I have ever experienced, all in English. I was like a kid in a candy shop, watching stuff like the Thundercats, the Visionaries, MASK, honest-to-God awesome Looney Toons, the Centurions, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe… hell, they even had American Gladiators, Nickelodeon’s GUTS, and shows like Star Trek and Get Smart! I also saw my first movie with my dad in the history of my life when I was 5: Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.” If you can’t tell already, I have pretty fond memories of the channel. As I grew up and my tastes in television were increasing in terms of scope I’d stay late and watch the late night talk shows that I’d be hooked on even to this day; first was the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, then was the Late Show with David Letterman and after that they aired the Late Late Show with some old dude who’s name I don’t remember but later it was replaced by Craig Kilborn. After them shows, I’d get Star Trek: The Next Generation. All in all it was fun, entertaining TV with stuff I was sure I wouldn’t find anywhere else whether it was local access or cable… It was just better. This leads me to my next point…

I will touch on this in tomorrow’s editorial but I’d like to point something out: whenever December 20th comes around (that’s the date when the Armed Forces blitzed the capital “looking for Noriega” in 1989) and the news crews take to the streets to ask the public if things in Panama are better now that the U.S is gone, the responses are very polarized… the subject draws many parallels to the way we do politics in this country or in any country for that matter: you’re either with us or against us. Many people think that the U.S should come back. Others pray to the Lord every day for ridding us of the U.S military but personally, I see 2 things: the Panama Canal is running just as great with us as when they had it, but the Panama Canal Zone areas are 5 times dirtier and unkept than they were when the troops were here. I suppose that for those who favor the notion of the U.S taking over again is because they put things in order and aren’t lazy or sloppy like we Panamanians are; which kind of explains why many Panamanians would like their big brother to come back and take care of them like in the good ol’ days. All I know is that the day SCN closed its broadcast a little part of me died. To quote the commercials the station would put come Friday and all through Sunday, from the Porto Diao Headquarters in the Town With No Name…

HAVE A NICE WEEKEND!!!

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