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Sam Chu Lin, 67; Asian American Broadcast Pioneer Joined CBS News in 1970s, Worked for KTTV in L.A.

March 09, 2006|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Sam Chu Lin, who became one of the first Asian American newsmen to go to work for a major network when he joined CBS in the 1970s, has died. He was 67.

Chu Lin spent the last decade as a reporter for KTTV-TV Channel 11. He became ill Sunday at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank after flying in from Phoenix and was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, said his son, Mark Chu Lin. The cause of death was still unknown.

As a child growing up in Greenville, Miss., Chu Lin listened to radio reports from around the world and resolved to be a witness to history. In the segregated South of the late 1950s, the high school student started out by reading the news at a local AM radio station when he couldn't even get a haircut in a white-owned barbershop.

With his deep, commanding voice he eventually covered many of the major stories of his time. He announced the fall of Saigon in 1975 from the CBS News desk in New York, and he was in Beijing for the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising.

He also made a point of filtering the issues of the day "through the lens of the Asian American experience," said Gwen Muranaka, an editor at the Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese American newspaper for which Chu Lin regularly wrote.

"It's a chance to use your roots for a positive purpose," Chu Lin once said.

His syndicated TV documentary, "Chu Lin Is an Old American Name," which told the story of the Chinese American experience through one family's eyes, won a National Headliner Award from the Press Club of Atlantic City, N.J. Chu Lin also helped persuade ABC's "Nightline" to produce a program in 1999 called "Asian American -- When Your Neighbor Looks Like the Enemy."

"He was a reporter who went the extra 10 miles to make sure people knew who their Asian neighbors were," Stewart Kwoh, executive director and president of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said in a statement.

Chu Lin came to California as a reporter in the 1960s and worked for KTLA-TV Channel 5 and KFWB-AM (980) radio in Los Angeles and KRON-TV in the Bay Area.

Since 1995, he had commuted from his home in Sunnyvale, Calif., to work for KTTV-TV.

He wrote on Asian American affairs for AsianWeek and the San Francisco Examiner, among other publications, and contributed to the nationally broadcast radio program "Pacific Time," produced by the National Public Radio affiliate in San Francisco.

The Mississippi-born Chu Lin had degrees in journalism and communications from Michigan State University.

"His death really comes as a shock," Muranaka said. "Sam covered the Asian American community in a way no one else did."

His last name went back only two generations and was the result of a mistake. When his grandfather came to the United States, immigration authorities combined his given and last names, creating the Chu Lin family.

In addition to his son, Mark, Chu Lin is survived by his wife, Judy, and another son, Christopher.

Funeral services are pending.

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