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Extended Interview: Jon Yasuda

October 14, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: Tell me about KSCI — what it does, in what languages, and who it reaches.

JON YASUDA: KSCI is a local television station serving the southern California market. We serve a niche of communities that presently aren’t being served by other television stations, primarily in the Asian languages, that we do broadcasts in 14 different languages.

It’s primarily Chinese; Korean; Tagalog, for the Filipino community; Vietnamese; and Japanese.

TERENCE SMITH: What’s the history? How long has it been around, how did it get started?

JON YASUDA: The station’s been around for 25 years now. And it’s evolved over time. And with the folks — as the Asian communities have grown over the last 20, 30 years — our television station has adapted and our focus has been on the Asian community since about the 1980s.

TERENCE SMITH: And it, too, has grown, the station?

JON YASUDA: Yes, it has.

TERENCE SMITH: Tremendously?

JON YASUDA: Yes. Tremendous growth of this station, evidenced by the growth in the communities.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. From what to what, approximately, in terms of size?

JON YASUDA: Oh, I’d say our growth … has quadrupled over the last five years.

TERENCE SMITH: From what size audience to what size audience, approximately?

JON YASUDA: That’s hard to determine exactly because we aren’t currently being measured by Nielsen. But we know by the size of the community, we know by the response that we get to our local newscasts, we know by the response we get to our community efforts.

TERENCE SMITH: And so how many people do you think you reach?

JON YASUDA: Well, there’s approximately two million Asians in the southern California area.

Approximately three-quarters of all Asians are immigrants to the United States. And so that’s our target. And so approximately one million to one-and-a-half million people are probably watching our station at any given time.

TERENCE SMITH: And it’s different audiences. It’s a different one or one-and-a-half million people because you’re doing it in different languages.


TERENCE SMITH: Any estimate of how many you reach with all these languages?

JON YASUDA: We don’t have exact estimates on how many are watching at any particular time or any particular program. We just know cumulatively over time that we have a good portion of the community that is watching us.

TERENCE SMITH: It’s interesting. And this is a mixture of news and entertainment programming?

JON YASUDA: News, entertainment, information-based programming.

We try to provide a lot of information to community-based organizations so that as people assimilate and acculturate here in the United States, they know where to go for services, they know where to go when they need help or assistance. And so we try to provide a lot of community information and we try to connect people to the community-based organizations.

TERENCE SMITH: Just looking at this very substantial block that you do in Mandarin, I see you bring in the news from Taiwan.


TERENCE SMITH: Is your audience essentially or largely Taiwanese?

JON YASUDA: A good portion of our audience is from Taiwan. So what we try to provide is a mixture of local news and news from their home country. So it gives them a feel for what’s happening here in the Los Angeles and southern California area, but also gives them a feel for what’s happening back home. And that’s what people are looking for. They want to know what’s happening in their new country but also what’s happening in their home country.

TERENCE SMITH: Does that get too wrapped up in the very delicate politics between Taiwan and mainland China?

JON YASUDA: Well, the good portion of our community is from Taiwan. So that’s the community that we’re targeting, and that’s the community that’s being addressed through our programming.

TERENCE SMITH: So it would reflect a Taiwanese view of the tensions between Taiwan–

JON YASUDA: Our Taiwanese programming would, yes.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. I would assume it would. When you cover the news — and you say it’s a mixture of news from the countries of origin to local news — what are you striving to do that this audience couldn’t get from any other television station or newspaper?

JON YASUDA: Well, we’re striving to provide them with information. So many times if an issue comes sometimes we’re giving them more basic information than, say, the general market newscasts are giving them because their audiences are well aware of the situation, have grown up with a perspective on these situations.

Sometimes our communities are brand-new to a perspective or brand-new to a topic. So sometimes we’re giving more basic information. Sometimes we’re giving a different perspective. Sometimes the Asian perspective is a little bit different. So sometimes we’re exposing, or having a discourse between different perspectives, so a lot of it will depend on the subject and the situation and how we handle it.

TERENCE SMITH: Can you give me an illustration of that — a story that you would cover a little differently, let’s say, than a network affiliate here in Los Angeles?

JON YASUDA: Well, a story that happened yesterday. It’s not a what I would consider a hard news story, but the L.A. Dodgers just brought up the first Taiwanese baseball player into the major leagues.

And that’s big news within the Chinese community. So we gave it a little more coverage than what you would see on general market. General market may or may not cover a story like that, but that’s really big news for our community.

The same as we follow the Asian athletes — whether it’s the Olympics or whether it was the World Cup here — because it was played in Korea and in Japan, because the Korean team was so successful during the World Cup. You saw, you know, the [Los Angeles] Staples Center was full at four o’clock in the morning with Korean-Americans watching the finals of the World Cup and watching Korea play during the World Cup tournament.

TERENCE SMITH: So that’s the story you would cover–

JON YASUDA: That was a story that we would cover extensively that the general market stations would not cover.

TERENCE SMITH: All right. That’s true. What about the politics and political life of California and Los Angeles? Do you cover that any differently than another station might?

JON YASUDA: That would be an example where we would cover more basic information.

Because the politics here, or the style of politics and the processes are different than probably where they were when from their home country.

So a lot of it is education. A lot of it is education, just in encouraging them to become citizens, encouraging the community to register to vote, encouraging the community to ultimately vote and participate in the democratic process.

So here’s an example where we will create a campaign telling the community how important it is for them to become citizens, how important it is and the benefits from registering to vote, and ultimately voting and participating in the democratic process.

TERENCE SMITH: Do you think of yourself, the station, as an advocate for the communities you speak to?

JON YASUDA: We see ourself more as serving the community and providing them with information and news and assisting them in the assimilation and acculturation process.

As opposed to advocating on behalf of them here in this region. There are a lot of community-based organizations that are advocates — and we support the community-based organizations — but we see ourselves more as a conduit for information and a conduit for helping them and assisting them as they become part of this new community.

TERENCE SMITH: Do you have a sense of how much of your audience actually speaks and is fairly comfortable with English?

JON YASUDA: Well, I would have a sense as the generations continue that they will become much more bilingual as we head into the future. As we head into the second generation and third generation, then my sense is we’ll become much more bilingual.

TERENCE SMITH: I’m trying to get at whether or not the audience, from what you know, watches your station exclusively or whether — and gets all their news and information from your station and perhaps newspapers, or whether there’s a mixture, whether they’re also looking at The Los Angeles Times and English-language affiliates here.

JON YASUDA: I think we have both. There’s a certain part of the community that is totally dependent on their native language, and thus dependent on us or the local newspaper that is in language. There is a part of the community, typically the younger folks, that are much more bilingual and bicultural. And those members that watch us because they choose to watch us, because they want to see — or they could be at home watching with their parents, watching as a family.

The strength of the family is much stronger within the Asian communities than I would say it is within the generation market family households.

TERENCE SMITH: Which of these communities that you service is growing most rapidly?

JON YASUDA: Well, we’re seeing a lot of growth in the Southeast Asian communities, but they’re also the smallest. The largest community is the Chinese community, and they continue to grow. We’re still seeing a lot of migration from Hong Kong, from Taiwan, and from mainland China.

TERENCE SMITH: Has the new attitudes, new alerts and sensitivity to the issue of immigration since 9/11 affected any of this?

JON YASUDA: Well, I think here in Los Angeles you’ve seen a significant increase in the number of hate crimes over the past year.

And so I think it’s an issue within the community that has been there and continues to be there. And so that’s part of the community; it’s part of being part of the community.

TERENCE SMITH: And you cover that?

JON YASUDA: Yes, we do.

TERENCE SMITH: And you cover crime and gangs and other developments in the community?

JON YASUDA: Yes, we do.

TERENCE SMITH: In other words, the negative as well as the positive?

JON YASUDA: Correct.

TERENCE SMITH: Is there any effort to strive for a balance in that? I mean, this goes back, really, to my question about whether you’re an advocate or, as you said, a conduit, would be a word you would choose.

Do you look for stories that stress accomplishment and achievement in the communities, or problems, or both?

TERENCE SMITH: We do both. Problems do exist, and part of our responsible is to have a discourse about that.

And that can be done whether it’s through our newscast or whether it’s through one of our talk shows. But we also stress the positive aspects, because that is one of the things that you don’t see in general market news.

A lot of time when you see Asians and Asian-Americans in the newscast in general market, a lot of times it’s negative. A lot of times it’s because something bad has happened or something negative has happened.

So we also make an effort and make sure that we have that balance and that we portray positive aspects about our community because there are so many. And so many Asian-Americans are contributing so much to society as a whole. So we make sure that we highlight those — whether it’s through a newscast, whether it’s through a talk show.

We have a role-model program that we air on our station, where we take community role models and we highlight them. And we try to use them as role models for the rest of the community.

So that as these kids are raised and as they grow up, they feel like there is someone out there that is doing well as a professional, but that they’re also giving back to the communities.

And that’s what we want to relay to them. We want them to be able to aspire to be professionals. We want them to aspire to be good family people, but also to give back, because that’s the American way.

TERENCE SMITH: Who do you consider to be your competition?

JON YASUDA: We really don’t have any competition here in Los Angeles. We’re providing a service to a niche community. It’s a niche service. The other stations, the general market stations in town do not provide these services, so we kind of see us as filling a gap that isn’t being filled by anyone else.

TERENCE SMITH: And there are no other television stations broadcasting in these languages?

JON YASUDA: Not like we do. You’ll see some stations that will do an hour here or there of some programming, but not a station that is dedicated to the Asian-American community.

TERENCE SMITH: Is it prosperous and profitable? I mean, the stations make money? Who owns it, is it a good business?

JON YASUDA: We’re owned by investment banker, and we were previously owned by investment banker and we were recently sold a couple of years ago. I would probably submit if investment bankers are involved, we’re doing okay.

TERENCE SMITH: Do you see any trend lines in any of this? I mean, can you see where all this is going in terms of either coverage or the community?

JON YASUDA: Well, I see the industry as a whole experiencing a lot of growth over the next two, three, five year, ten years time period.

If you look at the demographics of the community, and if you look at the growth in the demographics, if you look at the continued migration here to the United States, all of these are precursors to a growth in our industry.

So we’re going to see — we’re going to continue to experience a lot of growth. We’re going to continue to experience new resources to be able to provide even more news, even more arenas to have discourse about — about different issues, to participate even more, maybe, in the more political process. We’re going to see those opportunities arise as our resources become stronger.

TERENCE SMITH: Who are your advertisers?

JON YASUDA: Our advertisers are many of the advertisers that you see in general market television — General Motors, Ford, Bank of America, McDonald’s, Toyota, KFC, Charles Schwab.

TERENCE SMITH: So they have found you.


TERENCE SMITH: They have come to you to put their ads on there. So they’re reaching out to this audience.

JON YASUDA: Yes, they are.

TERENCE SMITH: Because what I have found in interviewing on this question, repeatedly, is that many people don’t believe that the advertisers get it — that there is a very large ethnic community with a considerable buying power, or spending power, and that many advertisers — in the opinion of people we’ve talked to — just think, well, they’ll reach through the general market stations and English-language publications and so forth, and pay very little attention to the ethnic media organizations.

JON YASUDA: And I would agree with those people. When you take a look at the percentage that the ethnic communities represent of the total population of the United States and when you compare that to the total advertising budgets by corporate America against those ethnic communities, there’s a big disparity between the two.

For the most part, they are not targeting these groups. For the most part, they have not realized opportunities available to them by targeting these groups.

Now, the examples I gave you, those are some examples of companies that do realize that and that are reaping the benefits of targeting these groups. But there are so many that are not, and that’s why you see that disparity there and that’s why you hear those comments.

TERENCE SMITH: And you’re talking about groups with increasing spending power.

JON YASUDA: Absolutely. And whether you’re talking about Hispanic-America, African-American community, or the Asian-American community, these are all groups with tremendous amount of purchasing power, purchasing power that’s growing by leaps and bounds, and opportunities for corporate America to reap the benefits of targeting them specifically.

Asian-American households relatively are younger than general market households, they have the highest household income out of any other group in the United States, and because they’re young — because their household size is second only to the Hispanic household — you have young, impressionable families just waiting to hear from corporate America to establish habits and traits that they’ll have with them the rest of their lives.

So there’s an opportunity here for corporate America if they would just do the research and investigate the opportunities and, hopefully, leading to reaping the benefits of targeting them specifically.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay, I was just curious. I mean, we don’t have to go into all that detail, but I was wondering why. I mean, it’s so costly that it won’t work economically?

JON YASUDA: It will not work economically for us.

TERENCE SMITH: Interesting. I wonder what you think about this: By broadcasting in these languages and covering the news the way you do, the way you’ve just described, with a lot of news from the country of origin and ballplayers of interest, does this ethnic media, and this broadcasting, does it contribute to assimilation of these groups into U.S. society, or does it impede it?

JON YASUDA: I believe it assists, because what we’re doing is we’re providing news, we’re providing information, helping them in that process. Because as they come to the new country, they have to know what it means to operate in this new culture of theirs, in this new society of theirs. And the only way they’re going to know is to be told, or to be shown. And that’s what we do through our newscasts.

That’s what we do through our public service announcements. That’s what we do when we connect them to community-based organizations. So we assist them in that process, because we all have an inherent benefit from them assimilating and acculturating as fast as possible.

TERENCE SMITH: And you believe that’s the bottom line, rather than people being comfortable in this world of broadcasting and simply not reaching out to the English-language based world outside?

JON YASUDA: Well, it’s important for us to play the role that we are playing within the Asian-American communities. When you talk about competition, we don’t see general market as our competition. We serve a niche, but we really don’t think about what they’re doing over there. We have a role here. We want to — it’s providing news, it’s providing information, it’s providing entertainment.

And it’s giving them a window to this new world, but it’s also giving them a window back to where they came from, so that there is some comfort there. We’re helping them ease into the process. Because there’s a lot of passion from where they came from. And so we want to be able to provide that, too. And so it’s a combination. It’s a balance between the two.

TERENCE SMITH: There is one other thing. You’ve got a political campaign going on right now.


TERENCE SMITH: Including statewide, including a governor’s race. Do the political candidates pay much attention to the communities you serve?

JON YASUDA: No, they do not. No, we receive virtually zero dollars from the political candidates on our station.

TERENCE SMITH: They don’t advertise?

JON YASUDA: No, they do not.

TERENCE SMITH: Do they come and debate on your station or anything like that?

JON YASUDA: Well, to the extent that we’re participating in the gubernatorial debate today, yeah, we participate in that process. But from an advertising perspective, for the most part they do not.

TERENCE SMITH: And do you know why?

JON YASUDA: I believe that the reason they don’t is they do not see the Asian-American voting block as a large-enough block to affect the vote — for their benefit or to their detriment.

So until they see that, I don’t foresee a large amount of political dollars coming towards us.

TERENCE SMITH: And is that assessment of theirs accurate, in your opinion?

JON YASUDA: Well, we believe that it’s large enough to be a swing vote. Certainly we can’t carry a whole race, but certainly in a tight race, we can be a swing vote. And so I think a lot of it will depend on the race itself and whether or not it’s a tight race or whether it’s a runaway. And that might determine whether or not political dollars come our way.

But in the future, as the community continues to grow, as we continue to promote becoming citizens and registering to vote and actually voting, then that voting block will become stronger and stronger in future years.

TERENCE SMITH: That’s great, thank you, Jon. Appreciate it.