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KOREATOWN : Protesters Call Radio Deal a Monopoly

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A dispute within the Korean-American media over the operation of a Korean-language radio broadcast has been raging in recent weeks, fueled by competition and concerns about the influence of Koreatown’s largest media company.

Since 1991, KOR-US Community Broadcasting Inc. (KCB) has been broadcasting daily Korean-language news, talk and entertainment shows under an agreement with KFOX-FM 93.5, a Redondo Beach-based radio station.

The impending sale of KFOX, financial problems at KCB and squabbles among its stockholders prompted KCB to seek a buyer for its programming and air-time lease, according to sources familiar with the situation.

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The buyer, Kwang Wook Choi, agreed to keep most of KCB’s employees and retain its popular programs under a new name, FM-Seoul, said Jin Chul Chung, news director and spokesman for FM-Seoul.

But some Korean-language media, six former KCB employees and others in the Korean-American community protested the new arrangement, largely because of Choi’s family ties with and former executive position at the Korea Times, Los Angeles’ largest Korean-language newspaper, and some of its related enterprises. The former KCB employees began a hunger strike Monday that was continuing as of Friday.

An ad hoc committee opposed to media monopoly contends that FM-Seoul will be controlled by the Korea Times, which is also involved in the operation of KTAN-TV, a local Korean-language television station.

Committee members said last week that they have collected about 12,000 signatures of protest and are trying to determine whether Federal Communications Commission regulations regarding cross-ownership apply in this case.

Jin Ho Lee, deputy manager of the news department of Radio Korea 1580 AM, said any Korea Times involvement in programming on FM-Seoul would raise questions about control over advertising and news dissemination in Koreatown. He also said such a relationship would remind some of the media conglomerates that operated in South Korea under former authoritarian regimes.

However, Chung and the managing editor of the Korea Times, Tom Byun, dismiss such concerns as unfounded, insisting that FM-Seoul’s operation is completely independent of the Korea Times.

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“We don’t have any connection between the Korea Times and (FM-Seoul),” said Chung. “That’s Mr. Choi’s policy. We’re absolutely disconnected.”

Byun said the staff of the Korea Times and its now-defunct sister company, Radio Hankook, would “cooperate” with FM-Seoul if asked, but added that the entities are “legally separate.”

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