Earlier this year, UT Arlington graduate student LaDonna Aiken (Communication) returned to her former duty station in Okinawa, Japan, to investigate the impact of a U.S. military broadcast station on local residents.
With the aid of a $1,000 Dean’s Award for Research Travel from the College of Liberal Arts, Aiken flew to Okinawa to interview locals and former U.S. military personnel. The research will feature prominently in her master’s thesis work as well as a possible manuscript. Aiken is researching the influence of the Far East Network (FEN) Okinawa during its first 50 years of broadcasting.
“Without the funding from the College, there would be no way [Aiken] would be able to complete the research project,” said Associate Professor Andrew Clark, Aiken’s mentor. “She’s doing oral history, so she needed to visit with people in person and talk to them, witness the changes in broadcasting and do some archival research. The research she conducted there will make up the bulk of her thesis.”
With the grant funds, Aiken flew to Okinawa and conducted field research Jan. 5-17. During her service in the U.S. Marine Corps, Aiken was stationed at FEN Okinawa and worked in both radio and television. The stationed was established at the end of World War II, in May 1945. Now the name has changed to American Forces Network (AFN) Okinawa, and as of 2011, the television signals are no longer broadcast over-the-air. Island residents can still tune in to the AM or FM radio stations, but television is only available to military members via satellite dish. Aiken’s review of the station’s history also includes a look at the impression it has made with Japanese residents in the area.
“I went to Okinawa to get the Japanese perspective,” she said. “I wanted to hear what Japanese living there had to say. I was also able to review existing archival documents – something I could not have done very well from home.”
Aiken, who is also employed by UT Arlington as a broadcast lecturer, said she was able to connect with former colleagues and sources from her time as a news reporter – including former Okinawa governor Masahide Ota. Ota, she said, gave her good insight into the way local residents viewed FEN Okinawa and its American programming.
“[Ota] had a lot to say about the current situation regarding the military bases on island,” Aiken said. “He used to watch FEN Okinawa for the American perspective on issues. When I asked him if he thought it was propaganda, he said ‘no, because it wasn’t in Japanese.’”
Aiken also received a $400 Dean’s Award for Non-Travel Research that she used to procure Japanese news broadcasts about the military station and have those transcribed and translated. As she continues to review her notes and research, Aiken said an early conclusion is that FEN Okinawa not only offered Japanese audiences a look at American culture but also provided island residents with timely weather and typhoon reports.
Aiken, who intends to graduate in May, left the Marines in 1993, moving to Texas to work as an independent video producer. Over the past several years she has returned to higher education to complete her degrees and begin a new career as a college professor.
(By James Dunning/COLA Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org)