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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 02:30 GMT 03:30 UK
'Our aim is to entertain and inform'
By Chris Summers
BBC News Online in Herford, Germany

British Forces Broadcasting, or BFBS, has been the launching pad of many big careers in the media.

David Jacobs, Raymond Baxter, "Diddy" David Hamilton, Gerald Sinstadt, BBC Radio 3's Petroc Trelawny and voiceover artist Mitch Johnson all began life as BFBS broadcasters.

Facts about BFBS
BFBS DJ Jamie Gordon in studio in Herford
BFBS belongs to the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC)
BFBS radio began operating in World War II
There are two channels. BFBS Radio 1 is a pop music channel. BFBS 2 combines music and talk radio
BFBS TV began broadcasting in 1975. It now produces two 24-hour channels, received by satellite by servicemen in 17 countries and on board Royal Navy ships
SSVC also runs cinemas on British Army bases
But BFBS is not about celebrities or big egos.

It acts as an aural umbilical cord keeping British servicemen and their families in touch with events both in the UK and back at base.

Patrick Eade, BFBS's general manager in Germany, explains: "Many troops who are based in Germany spend their time away on tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, or training in Canada or Belize.

"We are very conscious of our audience and our presenters are often eating, drinking and showering with our audience. There can't be any radio station which is closer to its audience."

Many of the civilians working at BFBS's studios and offices in Germany are married to soldiers.

Last year it became a vital information supply line for families waiting to hear news of loved ones on active duty in Iraq.

The 7th Armoured Brigade, better known as the Desert Rats, are based in Germany, and they were at the forefront of the invasion of Iraq.

Mr Eade said: "Our role changed during that time because the audience that was left behind wanted to know how their husbands were. That was the primary reason for listening to BFBS.

'Mindful of our audience'

"We had to be mindful of that and we were careful about what we broadcast, and did it in a sombre manner.

"We had our own embedded reporters with German-based units and were careful not to exaggerate reports of fighting coming in from other sources."

BFBS TV listings in British Army newspaper
BFBS in Germany shows all the troops' favourite TV shows
Now the war is over and the Desert Rats are back in Germany, although they may face a second tour of duty in Iraq later this year.

For many wives and girlfriends based in Germany the radio becomes a welcome companion.

Arriving in Germany I switched on the radio in my hire car and tuned it to BFBS Radio 1.

As I drove down the autobahn, a foreigner in a foreign land, I found the sounds of British pop songs and DJs Richard Hatch and Lynne Duffus bantering in English strangely comforting.

People are used to feeling in contact. It keeps normal life going. TVs and radios are not luxury items any more - they are integral to good morale
Kate Adie
Kate Adie, who recently joined the board of BFBS's parent company, SSVC, said: "People are used to feeling in contact. It keeps normal life going. TVs and radios are not luxury items any more - they are integral to good morale."

It is for this reason that BFBS is funded by the Ministry of Defence, as part of its welfare budget.

Mr Eade said: "There was a moment during the battle for Basra when there was a break in the fighting and someone got his transistor out and some Geordie lads from the 1st Battalion Light Infantry gathered round to find out how Newcastle got on in the football."

No commercials

Advertising is not allowed on BFBS Radio but it does carry public announcements, such as fetes, sporting events and civilian job vacancies within the bases.

Petroc Trelawny
BBC Radio 3's Petroc Trelawny cut his teeth on BFBS
Mr Eade said: "If you are a young family with a young child and dad is away they are effectively single-parent families and it can be difficult, what with everyone speaking a different language and driving on the opposite side of the road."

BFBS TV is also there to give the troops, and their families, what they would get at home. The schedules are full of small screen staples such as Coronation Street, Casualty and Match Of The Day.

Both BFBS Radio channels buy in output, such as the Today and PM programmes from BBC Radio 4, and live sport from BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Live sport can be a problem occasionally, because of rights issues. For example, we may not be able to take coverage of Chelsea against Stuttgart in the Champions' League because a German radio station might have exclusive radio rights," said Mr Eade.

Patrick Eade with map of Germany
Over the years we have built up a very loyal German audience. They like our music and they like to be able to brush up their English skills
Patrick Eade
He is conscious the so-called "entitled audience" of 20,000 British servicemen and their families, is augmented by around four million German listeners.

"Over the years we have built up a very loyal German audience. They like our music and they like to be able to brush up on their English skills," said Mr Eade.

But BFBS's radio coverage is strictly limited to areas around British Army bases, which are all situated in northern Germany.

As long as British troops remain in Germany both networks will continue to do their best to keep the men, and their families, informed and entertained.

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