A new contender has entered Los Angeles' morning drive-time radio market, only this one stands apart from the others: it's in Japanese.
Broadcast from 7 to 9 a.m. weekdays, "Bridge USA" premiered this month on KMAX-FM (107). "Bridge USA," an offshoot of the monthly magazine of the same name, originates from Torrance with a Japanese and Japanese American on-air crew who provide the latest in news, traffic and weather for the local Japanese-speaking community.
Bill Gallagher, vice president of marketing and programming for Douglas Broadcasting, which owns and operates KMAX, said "Bridge USA" will provide local and national news from a Japanese perspective: "If the story plays on issues like racial bias, or if a news story involves someone Japanese, then the story will get attention."
Advances in technology have made it not only easier to provide highlights from the previous night's Yomiuri Giants game, Gallagher said, but, more significantly, to help people "maintain a cultural and linguistic identity, even while they operate in different environments."
The program also features breaking news and cultural reports via a live feed from Japan-based correspondents.
Kanna Iizuka, 28, one of the show's local on-air reporters, said so far listener feedback has been positive. "Some people call to say it's good," he said, "and some call to give advice or to request more sports, or more music, whatever they want to hear."
Four popular Japanese songs are broadcast every half-hour, Iizuka said, because "we can hear American music everywhere."
KMAX hopes to reach Japanese business people working here, students, recent immigrants and second-generation Japanese Americans who still speak Japanese.
Shunji Shinoda, a 64-year-old business consultant who emigrated from Japan in 1971, said the show is a welcome alternative to American programming.
"I'm very interested in what happens in Japan, with where it stands politically and economically. There's not very much about Japan on the American news. But mostly I miss news from a Japanese perspective: What do the Japanese think about O.J. Simpson?"
According to the 1990 U.S. Census, the 52,000 people of Japanese descent who live in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area have a median household income of more than $44,000.
KMAX anticipates the number of expatriate Japanese will only grow, a significant argument for devoting coveted drive time to Japanese-language programming.
But Lynne Choy Uyeda, 55, founder of the Asian Business Assn., said the audience for an all-Japanese show will swiftly become "limited as the Japanese economy continues to shrink and fewer and fewer Japanese are assigned to the U.S."
Uyeda, who also runs a public relations and advertising company in Los Angeles, added: "They're going to have to be really creative to keep their listener level up."
Listeners shouldn't expect a Japanese answer to Howard Stern or Rick Dees. While the show features several personalities, there's no bantering or what Gallagher calls "that cutesy stuff."
"There's nothing really controversial," he said. "We're aiming for a wider audience, not to overly targeted groups. We're casting for both teen-agers and older adults, not to anyone in particular."