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With the number of foreign residents in Korea surpassing the one million mark recently, the need for local English-language media continues to grow.
In recognition of that trend, the Korea Communications Commission last year selected a candidate to run an all-English FM broadcaster. The result: the Seoul Traffic Broadcasting System, more commonly known as TBS, received the green light from Korea’s airwave control tower to offer all-English radio shows targeting both expats and natives. The station officially hit the airwaves in December of last year.
About 12 programs run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, keeping Seoulites updated on the latest news, music, entertainment and living information. On its Web site, the station has invited praise, helpful comments and harsh criticism - but at least it means someone’s listening.
“Our next goal is to transform TBS eFM into a nationwide radio network representing Korea, not just a station for Seoulites,” Lee Joon-ho, president of TBS, said in an interview with the JoongAng Daily last Thursday.
Lee, whose business card proclaims TBS as the “flagship station for English radio,” spoke emphatically about the urgent need for a unified medium for comprehensive news, entertainment and music in English.
Q. TBS eFM celebrates the first anniversary of its founding on Dec. 1. Share with us your thoughts about the past year.
A. The last year has been very worthwhile. A bright future lies ahead for TBS eFM, as we’re already getting tremendous feedback from our listeners, among them foreign diplomats and businesspeople in Korea. Our staff finds the feedback from listeners very rewarding because they actually set the direction of where TBS eFM should go.
TBS eFM currently serves residents here but we believe the radio channel should not be limited to Seoul residents.
Despite the fact that the Korean government wants to make Korea a globalized country where people from all nationalities can live without difficulty, it didn’t have English language-radio channels geared for expats in Korea until recently.
We feel that we are responsible for making the radio channel broadcast its content nationwide. We have set a goal to become the flagship station for English radio in Korea.
Did you experience some challenges setting up an English-language radio station? What were some of the problems associated with working in a multicultural environment?
When recruiting radio show staff - D.J.s, producers and writers - we hired native English speakers who are very fluent in the language. But later we learned that we need people who have knowledge about Korea and Korean culture.
Without that, the quality of radio shows changed depending on the individual employees’ knowledge about Korea and Korean culture in terms of reporting and explaining insights about news or information happening in Seoul and Korea. Eighty to 90 percent of our staff can now at least speak or understand Korean quite well.
Who is your target audience? Koreans or expatriates living here?
Many people ask us about TBS eFM’s identity. I’m very clear on that question.
Our major target audience is expatriates living in Seoul and our primary goal is to help expats. Expatriates who live in Korea and foreigners who come here for short trips are our main target. We offer helpful information and tips that expats find helpful when they live in Seoul. Our secondary audience is Korean listeners.
When TBS eFM was officially launched I gave my staff a grand mission: to make fun and informative radio shows. The goal is to give our audience members the impression that they are not listening to English-language radio shows produced by Koreans.
I want people to feel as if they are listening to radio shows broadcast in the United States and England. Korean language radio shows are slightly different from English-language radio shows, as most of the Korean-language radio D.J.s are focused too much on not making mistakes. That makes the atmosphere of the show boring and awkward.
Are the demands of Korean and expat audiences in terms of content similar or different? If the demand is different, how did you try to address that?
Many expats tune into TBS eFM because they want to get a glimpse into Korea. They listen to the latest news happening in Korea, living information - such as performances, exhibitions, visa renewal and other helpful tips - as well as songs.
Usually, expat audiences demand that we play more music rather than provide conversation-based radio shows, because they like listening to different genres of music.
For the majority of our Korean audience, however, the primary goal is to sharpen their English skills by listening to TBS eFM on a regular basis.
As a result, they want us to play more conversation-based radio shows and scale back on playing so many pop songs.
Because we have two large different groups with conflicting demands, expats requesting that we play more songs and a Korean audience requesting more talk shows, we cannot solely listen to one side.
As an alternative, TBS eFM provides an Audio on Demand [AOD] service at www.tbsenglish.com. The Web site offers full transcripts and audio records of the radio programs that we offer every day.
The monthly subscription fee for the service is 7,000 won [$6.07] but we offer it free for welfare organizations and students in low-income families.
Lots of expats say they now tune into several different English radio channels, including Arirang DMB radio, AFN, EBS and TBS eFM. Explain how TBS eFM distinguishes i