REGION : Radio Korea Expands English Programming

Ethnic radio stations prosper in Los Angeles by broadcasting to millions of immigrants in their native languages. But Korean-language station KBLA (1580 AM) is taking a new approach to reach Korean Americans: English-language programs.

Radio Korea has expanded its weekly English program, begun in January, to two hours of English talk and music shows aired nightly.

KBLA is betting that younger Korean Americans not fluent in Korean, along with other Asian Americans, will drive the station's long-term growth. "Almost half of the 500,000 Korean families in Southern California no longer speak Korean as their first language at home, and we don't want to lose them," said Radio Korea President Jay Lee.

While younger Korean Americans may speak little or no Korean, Lee and others at the station believe that they maintain interest in their culture.

Talk shows, for instance, feature Asian American celebrities or community activists, and music programs include Korean and Japanese pop songs as well as American ones.

"We want to create a space for guests and issues that white radio would not want to cover or be interested in dealing with," said Philip Chung, who co-hosts "Cafe S(e)oul," an irreverent weeknight talk show.

"Cafe S(e)oul" is a two-hour show that reflects the eclectic tastes of its hosts and seeks to grab the attention of younger, hipper Asian Americans.

Each show opens with Lionel Hampton's version of "Take the 'A' Train," then moves into several minutes of conversation among the hosts, Shaun Lee and either Chung or Larry Tazuma, a Japanese American writer, on any topic.

Live interviews with guests are followed by listeners' calls. Guests have included George Takei, who played Sulu on "Star Trek," and Amy Hill, who plays the grandmother on the ABC sitcom Cho's show, "All-American Girl." Based on the two to 20 callers they get nightly, the hosts say that most of their listeners are college students or working people in their 20s.

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