Old Foreign TV Shows in Korea

Last week, I was coming home from Seoul by taxi, because I’d missed the last train, and I happened to hear a series of old TV show themes. From the commentary — what little of it I could understand — it was a kind of late-night retrospective on (American) TV shows that had aired back in the old days of Korean broadcasting, before Korean-made media had expanded to the point where it could dominate the Korean airwaves. It was pretty interesting, and the cabbie and I chatted a little about the shows, as each theme played. Some of the ones I remember from that ride home included:

  • Popeye (the cartoon)
  • Batman (the live-action show)
  • Spiderman (the cartoon)
  • Hawaii 5-0
  • Matlock
  • Kojack (Yes, with Telly Savalas! Too bad the bald hairstyle never caught on here!)
  • The Six Million Dollar Man (and I think, but I’m not sure about, The Bionic Woman)
  • The Young and the Restless (which they simply called “Young and Restless”)
Kojack image in Paris. Click to see source.
Kojack image in Paris, by Chusta Ai. Click the image to see its source page at Flickr.
An excellent book.
An excellent book.

They also mentioned a few non-American shows, though they didn’t play the themes, including “Ultraman” and “Atom.” All in all, it was quite an interesting slice of broadcasting history, and another piece of a puzzle I first realized existed when I looked at a paper (by Michael Robinson) on the development of radio in Korea in Gi-Wook Shim and Michael Robinson’s Colonial Modernity in South Korea. I’d be very interested to know about how foreign genres impacted on the formation of genre in Korean TV since, as we all know, there are a few kinds of shows that seem, at least to me, to be relatively un-Western on Korean TV and other media… the over-the-top prime-time melodrama (screaming, ajumma fistfights, and leukemia) being just one.

While I’m on the subject,  It’s not the first time I’ve run across unusual things on Korean radio. One night, very late, I heard “The Stars of Track and Field” (or whatever that song by Belle and Sebastian is called).

Odder still, sometime within a few weeks of arriving in Korea for the first time, I heard a long chunk of the Jeff Wayne rock opera The War of the Worlds, based on the H.G. Wells novel of the same title, in the taxi to the office from downtown. I’d thought perhaps I was misremembering, given that I’d heard it for the first time ever not more than a week before I left for Korea — the guy at whose home I stayed in Vancouver while getting my visa processed had been shocked to hear that I’d never heard it before, and had insisted on playing it for me — but then my co-worker Kimberly wandered into the office singing the famous line, “Ul-la! Ul-la!” (which is the sound made by the Martians in both the novel and the rock opera). I was absolutely stunned, and said, “Did you just hear The War of the Worlds on the radio?”

She was surprised that I was surprised!

"Drawing by Henrique Alvim Corréa for the novel The War of the Worlds, showing a Martian fighting-machine battling with the warship Thunder Child." Click the link for the source of the picture and the quote.
"Drawing by Henrique Alvim Corréa for the novel The War of the Worlds, showing a Martian fighting-machine battling with the warship Thunder Child." Click the link for the source of the picture and the quote.

The oddest thing I’ve ever heard on Korea radio, though, is call-in-karaoke. It’s one thing when people in the studio — radio DJs and announcers — insist on singing rather long chunks of songs that come up in conversation, but when you have people calling in on their cell phones and singing to karaoke tracks in the studio, it borders on unreal. But these shows stay on the radio, meaning, I suppose, that they must get enough ratings or approval or whatever to avoid being cut. Something keeps people tuning in, despite the fact that lots of callers are no better singers than average (and some are worse), despite the sound quality (great backgrounds accompanying a so-so voice on the cell phone), and so on. I guess some people really like hearing non-professionals sing karaoke tracks of famous, well-loved songs. That’s the only explanation I can find.

(Well, unless a lot of the people tuning also make up a lot of the people calling in. Hmmmmm. Not a theory, just idle musing.)


Anyway, it’s a reminder to me to tune into the radio a little more often. In this age of MP3s and podcasts, a little open-minded randomness might still pay off with interesting things. Now, if only I knew which radio station was the best to find this kind of thing on. (The TV retrospective, I mean.)

For the record, the station I heard the TV retrospective on is 95.1 FM. Which, according to this site, is TBS radio. And if you happen to be using Windows, you can even listen to that station online. (It crashed my Firefox in Linux, of course.)

4 thoughts on “Old Foreign TV Shows in Korea

  1. Probably… I’m a bit behind on everything these days, including podcasts. (Mope, whine.) But “Ulla” is definitely a famous reference…

    … rivaled, mind, by Poe’s “Tekeli-li!” which Lovecraft also used, in a very clear reference, which all SF geeks recognize instantly. Heh, I need a tekeli-li T-shirt.

    (Too bad the only things that comes up on google searching “Tekeli-li” are Second Life stuff designed by someone using the phrase as a handle!)

  2. You might want to check out Radio 365 at http://www.live365.com/index.live

    You can find music from all eras. I love the theme song channel. There area also channels devoted to cartoons, sci-fi, and the classic recordings from the golden age of television. There are also countless Christmas channels.

    Most are free, but you are subject to commercials. I became a VIP member and have been enjoying the service for years.

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