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They Want Their 'M' TV (Multiethnic, multilingual) : With Nearly Half of the County's 8.9 Million Residents Speaking a Language Other Than English at Home, KMET-TV Channel 38 Is Finding an Audience With Its Smorgasbord of Programming.

January 16, 1994|DIANE SEO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With her eyes glued to her 32-inch Mitsubishi TV, Eun Jeong begins to sing a Korean love song, using her telephone as a microphone.

"Eee ma-um tashi yogi-eh," Jeong croons, which means, "My heart is again here for you."

Although it seems Jeong is simply singing along with one of her favorite music videos, her voice is being broadcast over the television. She is live on the air.

The 38-year-old Koreatown resident said it was the fourth time she has participated on "The Interactive Karaoke Show." This time, Jeong received Korean pastries and skin care products for her efforts--a prize she sneered at and offered to give away.

"I watch the show every day," said Jeong, who practices at home with a laser karaoke machine. "Sometimes, I feel shy. But sometimes, I don't."

"The Interactive Karaoke Show" is one of several unique programs on KMET-TV Channel 38, Los Angeles' newest television station specializing in multiethnic and multilingual programs. Despite an already jammed local television market, KMET's arrival has come at a time when about half of Los Angeles County's 8.9 million residents speak a language other than English at home, according to the 1990 U. S. Census.

"I think it's extremely healthy for the public," said Joe Saltzman, a journalism professor at USC who teaches broadcasting. "What's nice about this concept is that you don't need a million viewers. You are only trying to target a small audience."

KMET went on the air in May, after waiting the typical 10 years to receive a license from the Federal Communications Commission. The station, which is owned by Venture Technologies Growth Inc. of Calabasas, is likely to be the last station to be licensed in Los Angeles County because of the lack of available frequencies.

Broadcasting from the Television Center studios in Hollywood, KMET offers programs in English, Italian, German, Russian, Spanish, Korean, French and Hindi and soon will be adding shows in Japanese and Tagalog. It is also the only local station with African and Salvadoran programs.

General manager Charles Lohr said KMET's goal is to offer Southern California's diverse population multilingual shows, preferably ones not being offered on other stations.

"For instance, we don't want to concentrate on Mexican programming because that's being done already,' Lohr said. "We want to concentrate on Central American programming because that's not being done."

"The Interactive Karaoke Show," which airs weeknights at 6, is produced by Korean American Television and broadcast on Los Angeles' Continental Cable's Channel 52, as well as on Channel 38.

Jung Kim, one of the show's hosts, said the show never has a dearth of willing participants. Although most callers request Korean songs, viewers also can choose from a selection of English, Spanish and Chinese songs.

Han Pil Lee, the other host of the show, said people from South Korea love to sing because it's one of the few forms of entertainment they had in their homeland.

"Most entertainment was reserved for the elite class," Lee said. "There's no football or baseball, so singing is one of the few things you can do to have fun."

Unlike other stations, KMET does not pay for most of its shows. Although some of its independent producers run commercials to offset costs, most producers use their own money to pay for production fees.

"The station is going to have to rely on people in the community who have a message and are willing to pay for it to go on air," Saltzman said. "It takes lots of money to produce shows like 'Murphy Brown' or 'MacNeil/Lehrer,' so you won't see shows like that on a station like KMET. You will see the cheapest type of programming."

Although some viewers may prefer watching more high-quality productions, Saltzman said, the station can be successful if it is able to generate a loyal following.

"Sometimes, local television personalities become so popular that (they) gain a large following," he said. "This is what every station hopes it can develop."

To pay for its dozen employees and other expenses, KMET runs its own local commercials and also receives a fee for broadcasting "The Home Shopping Network" six days a week. Although the station's revenues exceeded its $1 million budget in 1993, KMET has not done much to advertise itself. It relies mostly on word-of-mouth to gain viewers.

"We're somewhere between a commercial and a non-commercial station," Lohr said. "We're probably the smallest station in Los Angeles, but not the least important. We try to reach markets that are underserved because our goal is to bring more people into television."

In an effort to reach out to the estimated 500,000 Salvadorans in Los Angeles, KMET in March began televising "Asi Es Mi Tierra," a one-hour Spanish-language magazine show produced and taped in El Salvador. The show, which is on every Sunday morning at 10, used to be televised on four other stations but is now being broadcasted exclusively on KMET.

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