Filmmakers Hannes Karnick and Wolfgang Richter offer a unique perspective and some entertaining insights in “Radio Star — The AFN Story,” a well-crafted documentary about the U.S. Armed Forces Network. Pic likely will receive ample exposure on global fest circuit, followed by international TV airings.
While it tries to present a complete history of AFN radio broadcasts, ranging from the World War II era up to the present day, most of “Radio Star” focuses on two decades of the post-World War II period. Specifically, pic details the pervasive influence of U.S. military radio programming on its so-called “shadow audience”– the German civilians who got their first taste of American pop, rock and country music while listening to entertainment programs intended for U.S. servicemen.
One middle-aged German sums it up best when he recalls those days in the ’40s and ’50s when “I could have nailed the knob on my radio to keep it on that station.” Other interview subjects reinforce the notion that AFN won the hearts and minds of impressionable young people in occupied Germany by introducing them to new and exciting forms of music. As a result, one interviewee claims, Germans of a certain age began to think of U.S. servicemen as father figures.
Pic is unexpectedly poignant as it points out how many Germans were bitterly disillusioned years later when the same “father figures” who brought them Bill Haley and Elvis Presley began an unpopular war in Vietnam.
“Radio Star” traces the continued popularity of AFN with U.S. servicemen during the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars. (Adrian Cronauer, the deejay played by Robin Williams in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” and Pat Sajak are among the AFN vets interviewed.) Pic also offers a generous supply of nostalgia-drenched performance footage, featuring such AFN guest stars as Glenn Miller, Marlene Dietrich, Johnny Cash and Judy Garland.
Still, the heart and soul of “Radio Star” is its affectionate examination of how the German public responded to AFN. That sort of specificity may limit the pic’s commercial potential as an export item. But it’s also what gives this documentary its distinctive flavor.