Jean S. Suh
, now 62, has dedicated her
life to broadcasting in Korean to fellow expatriates in the United States.Ms. Suh
was the first to begin Korean language broadcasts there, in the mid-1960s. Forty years after leaving Korea with $30 in her pocket, escorting 33 orphans who were being placed in adopted U.S. homes by Holt Children's Services, Ms. Suh is now the president of Radio Hankook, an AM radio service that broadcasts to the Seattle and Tacoma areas in Washington state.She
was in Seoul this month for a conference of Korean-language broadcasters from around the world. Ms. Suh began her career as a radio actress at the Korea Broadcasting System in 1959.
Five years later, she
called it quits because she
did not like the atmosphere there.She
said delicately, "At that time, there weren't as many programs, and we had to curry a producer's favor to get a part, and I just did not like the idea of doing that."At the time, radio actors stood by in a waiting room at the station.An employee periodically came into the room and wrote the names of some actors on a chalkboard.If the actor's name was not listed, back home she
felt miserable."That's when I decided to study in the United States and then return to Korea as a director," Ms. Suh
said. After quitting KBS, Ms. Suh
flew to Los Angeles and enrolled in Columbia College
in Hollywood in 1964.But the life of a foreign student with little money on hand was difficult.Not only did she
have to pay her
living expenses, she
had to earn money for tuition. "I asked a school official how I could manage to work as a foreign student," Ms. Suh
said."Since it was illegal for a foreign student to work, he
told me to get a housekeeping job." That job, she
said, lasted only 15 days.It was so hard that she
could not bear it anymore.But she
met a kindhearted laundry owner who was willing to pay her
in advance to help her
wages were a munificent 79 cents an hour. "None of the Americans wanted to work overtime on weekends, but I worked on Saturdays and Sundays to earn my tuition," Ms. Suh
said."As a poor foreign student, I could not buy new clothes.I bought used clothes for 10 cents or 25 cents at the Salvation Army
or the thrift shop and wore them after washing them."
But the following year saw her
first breakthrough.Ms. Suh
started airing a 30-minute program every week of news, music and interviews on a radio station in Los Angeles.The next year, the program was extended to an hour a week, then to two hours daily in 1967. In 1970, she
had a chance to strike out on her
and two partners started up an independent radio station using a subcarrier of another radio station in Los Angeles.That technique, now widely used to broadcast stereophonic sound, piggybacks a second radio signal on top of the main signal.Ms. Suh
was the on-air talent, and her
partners handled financial and technical matters. This venture, Korea Broadcasting of America, was the first independent Korean-language broadcasting station in the United States, Ms. Suh said, adding that a congratulatory message came to her from President Park Chung Hee in Seoul.
"Old ladies chipped in a few dollars that they made from selling buckwheat jellies and kimchi," Ms. Suh
Meanwhile, music from home was hard to come by; record companies in Korea were releasing only one recording per month.Her
mother in Korea bought up the new releases and sent them to her
had Korean newspapers delivered, but they were a week old by the time they arrived.She
turned to listening to shortwave radio broadcasts from Korea and taking notes. Working alone, she
couldn't take even a day off for illness."At that time, most Korean records were compilation albums containing songs by different performers.If I was sick, I laid a blanket on the floor at the studio and broadcast a series of names of the performers whose tracks were on one side of the record.Then I lay down on the floor while the songs were playing until the needle reached the end," she
recalled. But after two years, she
had no choice but to sell the station.The buyer was a son of Lee Hu-rak, then the head of Korean intelligence, and he
$80,000."If I'd only had $10,000 a month, I wouldn't have had to sell it," Ms. Suh
said. The new owner, however, had a tough time, and before long shut the station down.She
recalled the negotiations to sell the station to Mr. Lee. "The buyer's lawyer said to him, ¡®If you hire Jean Suh
, the station will last.She
is passionate about broadcasting and she
cried a bucket of tears because she
had to sell the station,'" Ms. Suh
said. After the station was closed, Ms. Suh
tried to repurchase the programming content, especially the records her
mother had sent her
.She visited the owner of the shuttered station and asked him to return what were once her cherished belongings.
...In 1996, with some financial help from her friends, Ms. Suh was able to acquire two former country music AM radio stations ¡ª KSUH 1450 AM and KWYZ 1230 AM, both located near Seattle ¡ª and launched Radio Hankook.
"The opportunity couldn't have come at a better time.The stations were on the market and were incomparably cheaper than those in Los Angeles," Ms. Suh
said."I was lucky."
Most Korean broadcasters in the United States, whether television or radio, do not own their own stations but rent time on existing stations, Ms. Suh
said."Korean radio stations in Los Angeles, where there is a big Korean community, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per year," she
continued. Of the 26 U.S. radio stations airing Korean language programs, only three stations, including Ms. Suh's
, are owned by Korean-Americans; one is partly owned by Koreans."Their advertising revenue comes from small Korean businesses like grocery stores.The money does not circulate within the Korean community; it all vanishes," she
said of most of the stations. During the last eight years, she
managed to turn around her
own stations, which are now profitable.But it was never easy.
"For the first three years, major advertisers didn't give me any advertisements," Ms. Suh
said.As the stations became more established and the listener base grew, corporate clients such as Asiana Airlines
, Kia Motors
and Hyundai Motor
started blocking out steady advertising time.
According to Ms. Suh
, while radio stations in general have lost their luster because of competition with other media, radio stations for minorities are expanding in the United States.
"There are 800 laundry shops in the Seattle and Tacoma area run by Koreans, and a number of Korean restaurants," Ms. Suh
said."They start every morning by turning on the radio." First-generation Korean immigrants listen to the program to obtain legal, immigration and education information, because many have difficulty understanding English-language programs, Ms. Suh
said."Our goal is to help them achieve the American dream, for the second and third generations to make inroads in mainstream American society."
said, young Korean-Americans use the station to learn the language."More and more young Koreans listen to Korean pop music, and become interested in learning Korean and Korean culture," Ms. Suh
comes to Korea every year to attend the World Korean-Language Broadcasters'
Conference, sponsored by KBS.The most recent conference ended on Nov. 12.Ms. Suh
has won several grand prizes for programs presented by Radio Hankook
, including one from 2002 titled "100 Years of Korean Immigration: Another Challenge Ahead." As part of this year's broadcasting conference in Seoul, she
traveled to Mount Geumgang in North Korea. "Visiting North Korea brought back childhood memories," she
father was a district judge before the Korean War; she
said communists in the South took him away and later executed him. "I went to look for my father at the Seodaemun prison.There I saw a pond full of bodies and the water turned black because of blood," Ms. Suh
said.Because of that experience, she
is strongly anti-communist, she
said. Ms. Suh
still produces a two-hour program every day on stations that reach as far as western Canada. "I have fan e-mail from all over the world, even from Korea, thanks to our Internet broadcasts," she