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Chris Chow

Asian American Broadcast Pioneers
"Casting Our Voices"

By Christopher Chow

     What makes a pioneer broadcaster?
     Guts, ability, and intelligence - and, lots of luck.

"Casting Our Voices," was originally printed as part of the gala benefit program by the Chinese Historical Society of America. AsianConnections.com thanks the Chinese Historical Society of America and its author Christopher Chow for granting special permission to reprint online this landmark article documenting for the first time Asian American broadcast pioneers.

The gala benefit raised more than $183,000 towards the goal of matching the City and County of San Francisco's half a million dollar grant. The proceeds will be used to build a museum of Chinese American history in San Francisco, a project that was begun more than 36 years ago and is now close to completion. To learn more about this project to preserve this important history for future generations, please go to the www.chsa.org


     Today we have Asian American on-air reporters in the major media markets of the United States: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, Honolulu, Boston, Washington D.C., Houston, Denver, Chicago, etc.

     In San Francisco, each major television station has multiple Asian Americans on-air: Heather Ishimura, Terilyn Joe, David Louie, Kent Ninomiya, and Kristen Sze at KGO; Terrence Chung, Sue Kwon, Vic Lee, Wendy Tokuda, Diana Yee, Linda Yee, and Emerald Yeh at KRON-BayTV; Sharon Chin, Cynthia Gouw, Sherry Hu, Rick Quan, and Pamela Tom at KPIX; Robert Handa, Lloyd LaCuesta, Amber Lee, John Sasaki, Thuy Vu, and Kim Yonenaka at KTVU; Lorna Ho, Sharon Katsuda, Janet Kim, and Arlene Sison at KNTV; Lisa Kim at KBWB; and Mei-ling Sze who anchors the Cantonese News at KTSF-TV.

     Just thirty years ago, there were none in major broadcast news. Nowhere, no how.

     That perception began to change in 1970.

     When Christopher Chow debuted on KPIX Eyewitness News in November 1970, he said the station switchboard got telephone calls from curious viewers immediately following the 6 O'Clock News. "Are you Chinese?" one caller asked. "Yes, I am," Chow gladly responded.  Chow's proud parents also received phone calls from friends and neighbors who said "Isn't that your son? Look at the Chinese man on television!"

     Nine years later and halfway across the country, the switchboard at WMAQ lit up also when Linda Yu, the first Chinese American evening news anchor in Chicago made her first appearance there. "What is she?" one caller demanded. "How dare you put that thing on air!"

 

First On Air

     When Mario Machado first went on the air as a news reporter in Los Angeles (KHJ, 1967), some people presumed he was Mexican, not knowing he was born in China, his father Portuguese and his mother Chinese. Yet he was good enough to be hired in 1968 as a CBS network sports commentator.

     For Sam Chu Lin, breaking into the radio was made possible by his own wits - he used signed petitions from fellow students and the presence of Chinese American stores along the river to convince his hometown station WJPR of Greenville, Mississippi to let him get sponsors and host his own radio show while in high school (1956). He Anglicized his name to Sam Lin and went on the air. To get into television, he had helped put a new public television station on air as an announcer (KCET Los Angeles, 1965). While he was at it, he helped launch KFWB as one of the nation's first all-news radio station as an anchor/reporter.

     The Chinese American broadcast pioneers, like all Americans in the media, came from different walks of life - children of laundrymen, restaurant workers, mom-and-pop shopkeepers, chop suey houses, intellectuals, farmers, and working stiffs.

     Virtually all now acknowledge that they benefited from affirmative action.

 

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