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A Major Loss for Words

The Filipino American talk and variety show “Kababayan Today,” with host and producer Giselle Tongi (left), is one of the multi-language programs that will be replaced by English-language infomercials on KSCI.

Rafu Staff and Wire Service Reports

The television landscape in Los Angeles will take a major cultural hit on Saturday, when KSCI Channel 18 replaces nearly all of its foreign-language programming with sponsored infomercials in English.

The decision means the local multi-language Asian community will soon be losing a valuable TV voice in Los Angeles, as economic challenges combine with high-tech changes to end more than 30 years of local programming on KSCI, whose flagship station is LA18.

LA18 will cancel all of its programs in Chinese, Filipino, Spanish and Armenian, and severely cut back on Korean programming, the station’s general manager confirmed. In place of the canceled programs will primarily be infomercials – paid program-length advertisements that are broadcast in purchased airtime slots.

The Sunday evening block of programs in Japanese, however, will continue to be broadcast at their usual times, from 6 to 8 p.m., from broadcaster UTB.

“We used to be an Asian-language station for 30 to 40 years and we are changing our format now. We will still have a little Korean though,” said KSCI general manager Dennis Davis. He declined to offer any one specific reason for the format shift.

Davis said the changes will be implemented beginning July 1 and continue through late this year or early 2018.

Many local TV stations across the country have seen evolutionary changes in the way people watch television, leading to financial hardships. KSCI is no exception, having filed for bankruptcy in 2012 while laying off several dozen workers.

Blame Your Cell Phone: The Need for Transmission Capability

Another major factor has been the federal auction of communication bandwidth, parts of TV stations’ channels to be reused for cell phone transmission. The selling of broadcast capability raised significant funds for owners of TV stations, but has reduced airwave availability.

KSCI is owned by Texas-based NRJ TV, which bought Ch. 18 as part of the restructuring by the previous owner, International Media Group, then headed by Dennis Davis.

In 2012 and 2103, NRJ was one of several investment companies that was buying up smaller, under-performing TV stations with an eye toward turning a profit by selling portions of their broadcast spectrum at auction, chiefly to wireless providers that included AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

Last August, a representative at NRJ told The Rafu that there were no plans to sell KSCI at the FCC auctions.

“The thing we hate to lose is we do produce local programs for the Filipinos, Koreans and Chinese and unfortunately we won’t be doing that any longer,” Davis told City News Service.

As of 2015, Los Angeles County was home to 1,463,000 Asians, more than any county in the nation, according to a 2016 U.S. Census Bureau report, which also found that Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in the nation.

LA18 was founded in 1977 and broadcasts on 12 digital channels in five languages – Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Spanish and Armenian. It airs a mix of its own programs and shows produced in other countries, on channels 18.1 through 18.12, and 18.88.

Starting July 1, the station’s main channel, 18.1, will cease all Asian- language programming except for broadcasts in Korean from 8 to 11 p.m. The programs will be those produced by Seoul Broadcasting Systems in South Korea.

The station’s other channels will continue airing their normal programming after July 1 but will be cut back over the next year from 12 channels to five and eventually only feature Korean programming produced by international providers.

UTB’s Sunday Schedule of Japanese Programs to Continue

UTB President Toru Mihara confirmed to The Rafu that KSCI will no longer produce original programming and instead focus on selling blocks of airtime.

For now, UTB’s Sunday schedule will not be affected.

UTB’s locally produced news and current events magazine “SoCal Japan” will continue to air Sunday nights at 7 p.m. on KSCI Ch. 18.

“It’s sad to hear that they will stop making their own Asian programs,” Mihara said. “Nowadays, we are able to get a lot of information on what is happening in the other side of the Pacific Ocean through websites in those countries. But I do not think we are able to get enough information about what is happening in Asian communities here in L.A., especially in our own languages.”

Mihara reaffirmed UTB’s commitment to bringing Japanese-language programs to Southern California, including shows from Japan and their original news and current events magazine, “SoCal Japan.”

Another reason for the changes is the station’s recent channel-sharing agreement it inked with PBS SoCal’s KOCE-TV, which earned the public station $49 million earlier this year by auctioning off some of its spectrum to the FCC. KSCI earned $89 million under the new arrangement, according to Variety.

As part of the agreement, KOCE will take over seven of KSCI’s digital channels sometime later this year or early next year, Davis said.

“The real reason we changed is the spectrum auction is going to take effect at the end of this year. We are just looking to adjust our format before this takes place,” Davis said.

Davis further said it was up to KOCE as to when it wanted to take over the channels, but the result would be the eventual ending of all non-English programming except for Korean.

Locally-produced Programs to Disappear

One of the programs produced at KSCI that is set to end this week is “Kababayan Today,” which bills itself as the only daily Filipino-language talk show produced in North America.

The show’s host and producer, Giselle Tongi, has set up a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising enough capital to resurrect the program as a weekly feature.

“The program aims to propagate pride of the Philippine diasporic culture and plays an important role in the representation of the Filipino community in media,” read a statement in the GoFundMe campaign. “G. Tongi understands the crucial need to continue a platform that informs, uplifts and inspires the community to continue organizing and discussing topics relevant to our sensibilities as Filipino Americans.”

The goal is to raise $20,000 to air existing “Kababayan Today” content, with more funds needed later to produce new segments.

Other popular programs produced by LA18 slated to be canceled on July 1 include “Tsou LA,” a program aimed at introducing Chinese speakers to Los Angeles, the Chinese talk show “Juliett,” and the station’s two local news shows in Chinese and Korean.

Davis said SBS planned to continue to produce its own local news program in Korean, and that he has been in talks with other stations interested in continuing to produce some of the local shows, including “Kababayan Today.”

The changes at KSCI are coming while the Asian population in Los Angeles County continues to grow. The Greater L.A. area contains the largest number of ethnic Koreans living outside of Korea and the largest number of ethnic Filipinos living outside of the Philippines.

As UTB considers its own future, Mihara is glad the Japanese broadcasts – however limited – will continue for the time being.

“I think KSCI had to make this tough decision reluctantly, but I’m still sorry to lose locally-produced information sources for the Asian communities of Los Angeles,” Mihara said.

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