Bottlenecks, delays and bumper-to-bumper ― in EnglishSome Seoulites say that being a good driver in Korea’s capital city makes you invincible anywhere else in the world. With a reputation, if not notoriety, for traffic jams, driving in Seoul is always an adventure. The situation led to the birth of the Seoul Traffic Broadcasting System ― better known as TBS ― in 1990.
Dedicated to dispensing traffic information, this radio station at 95.1 megahertz FM has cemented itself as the favorite among serious drivers in Seoul. At the prodding of Mayor Lee Myung-bak, the station launched an English language service last month for the rising number of expatriates in the city.
As of June 2003, the non-Korean population in Seoul numbered about 74,000, with Americans in the majority, followed by Chinese and Taiwanese. Foreign tourists to Korea, who stay five days on average, surpassed 4.8 million in number last year.
“TBS is the first radio station that airs shows in English in Seoul,” says Nam Seung-wook, the station director. “At a time when we have an influx of expatriates and a growing number of foreign tourists, traffic information in English is not an option anymore. It’s a must.”
Traffic information in English is broadcast daily except Sundays at 6:55, 7:55 and 11:55 a.m., and 5:55, 6:55 and 7:55 p.m., in three-minute segments as part of the station’s regular shows. Traffic reports focus on areas like Yongsan and Hannam-dong around Itaewon, and Myeong-dong and Gwanghwamun in central Seoul, which are frequented by expatriates and foreign tourists.
Jamie Lee and Cha Kyung-eun, who host the morning slots, arrive at the station by 4 a.m. to prepare. To make their voices more presentable and pleasing, Ms. Lee and Ms. Cha both sing pop songs, by such acts as Christina Aguilera.
“It’s fun to be of help to the expatriates in the city,” Ms. Cha said with a smile, “though it’s a bit embarrassing when I make mistakes like pronouncing Yanghwa bridge as Ganghwa bridge.”
The station’s English programs do not stop at providing traffic information. From Monday to Saturday, at 9:05 a.m., they air general information for expats on “Hi Seoul, the City at Your Feet.” (Who thinks up these names?) Yesterday’s piece offered such news items as the government’s stricter noise standard. To lessen any possible anger from Korean listeners, a Korean emcee gives brief summaries between each story. The station’s online bulletin board posts messages from listeners, who say the show doubles as useful material for their English studies.
At 9:05 p.m., TBS runs “I Love Seoul,” another segment in English. This one, mostly about events and news in the expat community, features a foreigner as guest reporter. “Everyone is welcome to be on the show,” says Lee Sun-hee, the segment producer. Her idea has been well received; so far 10 volunteers are waiting in line to record on the show.
by Chun Su-jin