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Shock Jock's Listeners Aren't All Talk

Little Saigon radio host says his foes' invective sometimes escalates to threats, vandalism and violence.

March 12, 2004|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Vietnamese talk radio host Long Vo has had to call police to his Little Saigon studio 17 times in the six years he has been on the air spouting his colorful, free-flowing commentary on everything from communism to the local mayor.

In the most recent incidents, Vo called police last week to report being beaten in front of his Westminster studio by four angry listeners and Monday to report receiving in the mail two silver bullets, which he turned over to police.

Though Vo said he had been targeted because of his bare-knuckle style on the air, the incidents are reminders of the stormy and sometimes carnival-like relationship between the Vietnamese media and listeners and readers in immigrant communities such as Little Saigon.

Vietnamese journalists and radio commentators dating back to the early 1980s have been confronted, threatened and even attacked by fellow expatriates because of political disagreements, said Jeffrey Brody, a Cal State Fullerton professor who teaches about the Vietnamese American experience.

"Sending someone bullets is a way to silence the freedom of the press in America," Brody said of Vo's most recent complaint.

Vo, 61, is the director of the "Saigon Cali Radio" program, which airs in Vietnamese on Sundays from 2 p.m. to midnight on KXMX-AM 1190. Like hosts of many late-night Vietnamese talk radio programs, Vo takes strong -- and sometimes shifting -- positions on hot-button topics such as politics and foreign affairs. The show sometimes turns personal, leaving the host or callers enraged.

The envelope with the bullets was delivered to the station Monday afternoon. It had a fake return address and originally was marked "insufficient postage." Vo said he opened the letter and another envelope inside and found two silver bullets folded in a piece of paper. There was no written message.

"I thought it was part of a key chain or some advertisement," he said. "I'm shocked. It's very unsettling."

Westminster police said they were examining the bullets for fingerprints. Though mailing bullets would seem sinister, it is not a crime, said Westminster Police Lt. Ron Coopman.

"We all know what it implies and what the intent is," Coopman said. "But the law states that there has to be a verbal or written statement to charge someone with making a criminal threat, and there was none."

Vo was attacked and beaten just after midnight March 1 by four men in a black car, said Westminster Police Lt. Kevin Baker. The men yelled, "Is that him? That's him, right?" then jumped Vo and punched him before fleeing in their car, police said.

"I was screaming for help, but no one heard me," said Vo, who was returning to the station after running a late-night errand.

The radio host was taken to Huntington Beach Hospital and treated for cuts to his stomach, neck and legs.

Vo said he is being singled out by angry listeners or detractors because of his strong political views. He told police that he believes his attackers have ties to a local communist group.

Most of the 17 times police were called to his studio were for vandalism, annoying phone calls and what police classified as terrorist threats against Vo. In a series of incidents, his tires were slashed, his car sprayed with paint and the locks to his office sealed with glue.

Vo was imprisoned in a "re-education" camp for five years before he fled Vietnam with his family in 1980 and settled in Mission Viejo. He later moved to Westminster.

Even by the volatile standards of the Vietnamese media in Little Saigon, Vo is considered something of a shock jock. He rants without restraint and admits he doesn't always choose his words with care, as a politician might. He often hangs up on callers whom he opposes and ridicules community figures.

Recent fare on Vo's evening show has included lively discussions on people such as Nguyen Cao Ky, the former premier of Vietnam who returned to his homeland to make peace with the Communist regime, and Bang Kieu, a Vietnamese singer who immigrated to Orange County after he married a Vietnamese American singer.

Vo is prone to shifting views. In one broadcast, he chastised Ky, 73, for returning to Vietnam. He later condoned the trip because of Ky's age.

"I'll just have to accept it," he said. "There's hot issues, and there are people who love you and those who hate you."

Brody, who has written a manuscript titled "Analysis of Political Violence Against the Vietnamese American Press," said it is clear that Vo has made enemies. "It's intimidation and terror tactics, and it's a message that he needs to keep quiet or they'll harm him," said Brody.

A series of what authorities called political attacks against Vietnamese editors around the country from 1981 to 1993 left five dead.

One of those editors was Tap Van Pham, who started a Little Saigon publication called Mai Magazine in 1981. He was killed in a firebomb attack at his Garden Grove office in 1987 in an apparent political assassination after publishing controversial advertising in his Vietnamese-language entertainment magazine. The ads allegedly were bought by companies that did business with firms in Hanoi.

"If they didn't like the [newspaper's] views, they'd intimidate or threaten them," Brody said. "At one time, they placed dead dogs in driveways to threaten journalists."

Vo is unfazed by the threats.

The show, he said, "has to be hot, hot, hot."

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