At 9 a.m. on May 1, the "on-the-air" light flashed in the control room of Radio Korea KBLA-AM 1580, signaling the beginning of the first joint broadcast between the Korean-language station and KJLH-FM 102.3, a station recognized for its service to African-Americans.
"Good morning," said Jacquie Stephens, the visiting KJLH host. Radio Korea host David Y. Park replied, " Anyeong hasimnika? " (The Korean equivalent to "Good morning," but literally means "Are you at peace?")
Park alternated between Korean and English, translating comments by guests and callers.
The two-hour program, "Bridging the Gap," grew out of discussions between the stations on the need to improve understanding between their respective audiences and counter misperceptions.
For the first hour, Edward Chang, assistant professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside, and Cornel West, professor of Afro-American studies and religion at Princeton University, talked about historical similarities and misdirected anger.
"If you look at the histories of Koreans and black Americans, they can be summed up as histories of suffering," said Chang, who's written a new book in Korean on African-American history and culture.
Chang also said that Korean immigrants, reared in a homogeneous country, are often ill-prepared for life in a multiethnic society.
West said Koreans and blacks interact tend to view one another through cultural and media lenses controlled by Anglos, leading to divisive stereotypes.
"When we talk about black-Korean relations, we have to keep an eye on the real estate, banking and political systems that pit us against each other," West said. "As long as white supremacy remains operative, we'll more than likely be at each other's throats."
After two callers raised the oft-repeated myth of special government loans for Korean merchants, Chang said: "That's absolutely wrong. There are no special loans for Koreans from either the American or Korean government. If Koreans apply for loans they are the same ones everyone can apply for."
Chang explained that many Korean-American merchants participate in a rotating credit system called a kye through which members chip in a certain amount of money each month and take turns collecting the large lump sum.
In the second hour, Muhammad Nassardeen, president of Recycling Black Dollars, spoke about establishing an "African-American Village" similar to the commercial district of Koreatown and possible Korean-black joint ventures.
Nassardeen also said opposition in riot-affected areas to the rebuilding of liquor stores, many of which are owned by Korean-Americans, is not a racial issue. Many residents view it as an opportunity to reduce alcohol availability in their communities, he said.
But Ryan Song, executive director of the Korean-American Grocers Assn. of Southern California, said many of the stores sold more grocery items than alcohol. In the absence of supermarkets, convenience stores fill a need, although at necessarily higher prices, he said.