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Going Worldwide

L.A. station KBLA--'Radio Korea'--is the first ethnic broadcast company in the United States to be available live on the Internet.

May 14, 1996|K. CONNIE KANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Radio station KBLA (1580 AM) already was the biggest Korean-language station in Los Angeles. With its entry into cyberspace last month, its cramped studios on Olympic Boulevard are now the home of a potential new media power.

"The power of the Internet is simply astounding," said Janghee Lee, president of KBLA, better known as Radio Korea. "We are getting e-mail from listeners from across America, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, Australia, even Germany."

Radio Korea, with 47 full-time staffers, is the leader of the three local Korean-language radio stations. It also is the first ethnic broadcast company in the United States to distribute its signal on the World Wide Web, according to Lee. It joins a small but increasing number of English-language stations nationwide using the Internet to extend their geographic reach.

The Web site (http://www.radiokorea.com/) offers a wide range of information and services in Korean and English. Visitors have access to Radio Korea's programs 24 hours a day. They can read stories from major Korean-language newspapers in Seoul, as well as link to on-line services of the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and USA Today.

They also can explore business opportunities, make medical appointments and travel plans, check bulletin boards and discuss politics--a favorite Korean pastime.

KBLA's recent live Korean-language broadcast of a Dodgers game, featuring Korean-born pitcher Chan-Ho Park, drew a strong response from the player's fans.

"It was simply wonderful," Sang-Hwan Koo messaged in Korean from Seoul. "I pray that you will continue."

And from Pittsburgh, first-time visitors to the Web site Ray and Janet Smith messaged in English:

"Sounds great here in Pittsburgh. . . . Bye and God loves you."

The launch of the Radio Korea Web site on April 16 was brought about by an unusual partnership of Lee, 48, and David Chung, 25, a computer scientist who moved to Los Angeles from his native Seoul only a year ago.

To create the site, Lee, who founded Radio Korea seven years ago, and Chung, general manager of a computer software firm, formed a third company--Nissi Radio Korea. Chung is its president.

A fourth-generation Christian, Chung chose the name Nissi--from a Hebrew passage in the Old Testament meaning "the Lord is my banner"--because one of his missions is to use the media to help create a spiritual global society, he said.

A component of the Web site is Korea Plaza, an Internet gathering place for Koreans that includes a forum designed to provide information about Christianity through books, gospel music and religious literature. There is even a message center for missionaries to communicate with each other, Chung said.

(South Korea is the most Christian nation in Northeast Asia, and has missionaries around the world. A quarter of South Koreans consider themselves Christians, and in the United States more than 60% of Korean immigrants belong to Christian churches.)

"Korea Plaza is a Korean community from around the world to which anyone with access to the Internet can belong," he said. "In cyberspace, we are not bound by geography."

Beyond the goal of reaching "netizens" among the 75 million ethnic Koreans around the world, Chung says anyone interested in learning about Korea or issues pertaining to Koreans can benefit from the Web site.

For now, visitors can send e-mail in English or Korean, but the radio broadcast and dispatches from Korean-language news organizations are available only in Korean. By summer, however, English translations will be available, the partners said.

Lee said he also wants to do some of Radio Korea's programs in English, if he can find professionals proficient in both languages.

The Lee-Chung partnership represents a departure from the Korean norm. With Koreans, age is an important consideration in personal relationships because of the hierarchal nature of their culture.

*

But age was no barrier in this "uncertain but exciting" venture, Lee said, because "I am too old in the computer world and David needed my [financial] backing."

The two see God's handiwork in their meeting because they were introduced to each other by a mutual acquaintance who is a Korean pastor.

They discovered that both loved music and had attended the same university in Seoul.

Lee dropped out of the prestigious Yonsei University in his sophomore year to pursue a singing career.

Chung, who holds a degree in computer science from Yonsei, had studied music since preschool.

"Having the love of music in common was a real plus," Lee said. "Musicians are smart and creative people."

Lee, who came to Los Angeles in 1980, had been looking for someone to help him explore the market, he said.

After moving to Los Angeles last year to join his parents, who operate a clothing store in Lomita, Chung established Nissi Media with six Christian friends.

Chung sees a tremendous responsibility in his work.

"There is a potential to do so much good," he said, "but also potential to abuse the system.

"My goal is to use it in a positive way--to help create a positive value system."

As for Lee, his hope remains steadfast: to play a "supportive role" for the Korean community in Los Angeles and beyond. "Radio Korea is a constant companion to so many Korean immigrants because a lot of them own mom and pop stores and like to listen to the station while they work," said Lee.

The thought that his station can be heard around the world is still too new to sink in.

"From now on, when I go to Seoul on a business trip, all I need is a laptop to hear Radio Korea," he said. "Things are moving almost too fast for me."

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