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A reminder of home and a link to Anchorage, in Korean

Michelle Theriault Boots
Min Ju Kim is the owner and publisher of the Korean News that covers news mostly from Korea, with some American politics and social issues. Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
Bill Roth
Ted Kim, owner and publisher of the Alaska Korean Community News, delivers his weekly paper to an Anchorage business on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
Bill Roth
Rose Pak of Radio Korea Alaska broadcasts news in the Korean language to the Korean American community in Anchorage from a radio station in Spenard. Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
Bill Roth
Rose Pak of Radio Korea Alaska broadcasts news in the Korean language to the Korean American community in Anchorage from a radio station in Spenard. Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
Bill Roth

On a recent morning glittering with cold, Rose Pak sat wrapped in a fur-trimmed parka in the makeshift studio of Alaska Radio Korea looking over the morning's newscast.

At 7 a.m., she and her husband, Yong Pak, went on-air to deliver the news.

In Korean, they told their listeners about a Seward Highway closure. A missing person. An Anchorage Assembly meeting. An oil company lease sale.

Afterward, Yong Pak went downstairs to vacuum the floors of Rose's Custom Tailoring, the family business.

Alaska Radio Korea can't be found on the regular FM dial: It can only be heard on a special "sub-carrier" radio, available for $40 at her Spenard shop.

About a thousand people in the city have them, Pak said: Grandmothers and taxi drivers who drive around listening to the station's signature mix of Korean news, folk music, Christian preaching and bursts of Anchorage news, culled from local media and translated into Korean.

Their listeners are the same people who read Anchorage's two weekly Korean-language newspapers: mostly older, immigrant Koreans who don't speak or read English. For a generation living out their years in Anchorage, the newspapers and the radio broadcast serve as both a balm to the homesick and a vital connection to the English-speaking world.

GIVE READERS WHAT THEY WANT

Officially, Anchorage is home to 4,667 Koreans, according to the last U.S. Census count. (Leaders across the community put the number at more like 7,000.)

It is an engine of entrepreneurship and tight social connections: A directory of local Korean-owned businesses lists more than 400. At last count, there were 27 Korean churches in the city.

There's enough demand to support two competing ad-packed weekly Korean-language newspapers, each printing between 2,000-3,000 copies on an average week, according to their owners.

Anchorage's Korean media outlets tend to be one-man shows or family operations, run out of makeshift spaces with little more than a couple of laptops.

But their role is vital: For Korean speakers without an Internet connection, they are the only way to find out about things like impending storms and changes in health insurance, how the government is spending its money and who won this week's bowling league match.

The offices of Korean News, one of the weekly newspapers, share space with a contracting business called SUPER Construction.

Shoes are taken off at the door of the one-man newsroom.

Inside, Min Ju Kim prepares the latest issue of the newspaper, which he bought two years ago from its previous owner.

Kim, a 36-year-old with the shaggy haircut of a pop star, was living in Seoul and working for an advertising firm at the time.

He had been aching to move to America for years. He says he wanted to move his family to a place with more space and opportunity.

When a friend already living in Anchorage told him that the newspaper was up for sale he jumped at the chance and applied for a business visa.

Now, he is the publisher, ad manager, editor, reporter and photographer and sometimes delivery man for the Korean News.

His rule is simple: Give readers what they want.

"I don't want to put the bad things, accidents or murders," he said. "I just put the good things."

A recent issue of Korean News included a story on Korean presidential politics, a humorous poem about a strange hairstyle ("This I cannot explain in English," Kim said), a recipe for cherry crumble bars, a column about how to prevent dry eyes in wintertime, an explanation of how to sign up for the Affordable Care Act and the highly anticipated Anchorage Korean bowling league standings.

There were ads from the Open-Door Presbyterian Church, the Alaska Jesus Light Church, the Grace and Peace Full Gospel Church and for rice cookers, mattresses, ginseng herbs, massage, fresh cabbage, appliance repair and dentures.

He's at work on a website. Eventually he'd like to hook younger readers.

"Old people read this," he said. "New generations use the Internet."

NON-KOREAN ADVERTISERS

The Alaska Korean Community News, which was founded in 2003, touts itself as the oldest Korean weekly in the state.

Ted Kim and his son, Peter Kim, run it from the living room of the family's townhouse off Brayton Drive, amid walls covered in inspirational slogans and family portraits.

Kim moved his wife and three children to Anchorage in 2001 from Los Angeles to take Korean tourists on package tours of Alaska, showing them glaciers and northern lights.

He prospered and bought the Korean Community News about two years ago from a previous owner.

He and Kim share a similar philosophy on what to include in the newspaper: Festivals, events and notices relevant to senior citizens go in. Stories about crime or other bad news are out.

The newspapers are packed with ads placed by the city's Korean entrepreneurs: hairstylists, mechanics, real estate agents, sushi restaurant owners, insurance agents, contractors.

But increasingly non-Korean business owners want to advertise in the pages of the newspapers, too.

One auto injury attorney has advertised on the front page lately. Peter Kim throws in some translation services into the deal.

"If the person can't speak English, they'll just call us at the newspaper," said Kim, a Dimond High graduate studying political science at the University of Alaska Anchorage. "We can translate to the client."

For Pak, there's no money in Radio Korea Alaska. She and her husband don't even try to run advertisements.

She says she thinks of her father, who would be 89 now. It would be lonely to be an older person living in a place where you don't speak the language, she said.

Older Koreans grew up in villages where the radio was broadcast by loudspeaker for everyone to hear.

"They grew up with the radio, all the time," she said. "It is a big deal."

Hearing the news in Korean is as comforting as kimchi.

Pak translates a poster hanging on the wall of the studio: The winter won't feel so long and cold, it says, if you can listen to the radio.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

 


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com