Hailing from San Francisco, Joseph Kim always knew he wanted to do something that required having a mic in his hand. Since the days of cracking up his high school peers over yearbook PA announcements and having random women ask for his hand in marriage upon hearing his smooth voice on a company’s customer service greeting, Kim has recently channeled his talents into radio. Currently the host for Arirang’s Wonders of Jeju, Kim brings wit and charm to the airwaves every night between the hours of 10 p.m. and midnight. Part of his infectious charisma stems from his humbleness and enthusiasm for having the chance to do what he loves in a place that he loves. “I know there are more opportunities for broadcasting and recording in Seoul, but I’m so happy here,” he says.

Photo courtesy Joe Kim

Photo courtesy Joe Kim

Have you always known you wanted to be in radio?

Maybe not radio per se, but I’ve always wanted to have a microphone in front of me and not sing. About high school is when I realized maybe radio was for me. I was doing PA announcements and people were cracking up. The PA announcements were advertising the yearbook, but I would do them in fun, entertaining ways.

Similarly, when did you know you had a voice for radio?

I used to work for a company called Red Envelope, an Internet start up back in the late 90s, which is when I started working there. It’s actually currently still a multi-million dollar company. Anyway, they used my voice for the customer service greeting. That’s when I realized I really do have a good voice because people who had no idea who I was were asking to marry me. I was like, “Do they know I’m a 5’6 chubby Asian man?”

Why did you move to Korea?

I used to be a youth pastor back in the States, and I realized I didn’t want to do that anymore. I started working as an extra because I couldn’t find out what I wanted to do. I meant for that to be very temporary, but it turned into a nine-month gig. The first month was a lot of fun, the food was great, but eight months into it, I was ready to murder somebody. So, I found an opportunity to come to Korea and teach English through EPIK.

I didn’t get a job in Seoul like I originally wanted, which now in retrospect, thank God I didn’t. I got bumped over to Gwangju of all places.

Why are you glad you didn’t get a job in Seoul?

If I would have gone to Seoul, I wouldn’t have gotten the radio gig in Gwangju and I wouldn’t have had the stones to audition for Arirang Jeju.

How did you get involved in the radio station in Gwangju?

I went to an international fair that the Gwangju International Center held, and they had an MC who was God awful. He was as emotionless as the bishop from Princess Bride. I told the GIC if they needed anybody to do anything like MC, that I was good at that. They said they actually needed some writers for the Gwangju International Magazine, so I ended up writing an article about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Because of that article, the GIC asked me to go into the Gwangju Foreign Language Network to talk about the story I had written and to promote the magazine for the month.

What happened when you went in and talked about the article?

I went in with another person. She talked for about 10 minutes and I talked for about two. After my two-minute talk the producer of the show came out and asked me, “Have you ever considered being in radio?” I said, “Ever since I was a little kid.” She said they were looking for a replacement host for the show that I was just on and asked if I wanted to do it. I was like, “Oh my God. Ok. Yeah. Sure.”

Joe Kim with reporter Tobias Hewitt. Photo by Andrea Bluteau.

Joe Kim with reporter Tobias Hewitt. Photo by Andrea Bluteau.

What did that show entail?

It’s actually a promotion of the city of Gwangju, so very similar to what I’m doing now with Wonders of Jeju, but I think now I’m on a much larger scale.

Gwangju was your first step into radio?

Yes, I’d never had the chance before.

Why did you end up moving to Jeju?

I got fired, laid off, however you want to say it from my radio job in Gwangju. I’m still good friends with everyone over there. I totally understand radio is an unstable job. You may be hot one minute, but you’re frozen the next. What happened was they changed one of the higher ups, and whenever there’s a new person they want to change things around and put in their own fresh ideas, that includes changing hosts. There were a couple people who were on the chopping block. My show was one of them. So they had a nationwide DJ competition. A bunch of people from all over the country applied and from that talent pool they picked two people.

How did you make the transition to Wonders of Jeju?

I actually became friends with the guy who took my job. He used to work for Arirang, so he initially gave me some contacts. When I didn’t hear anything from anybody I realized, “Ok, maybe I need to do a little more footwork on my own.” I kept on checking all the foreign language radio websites in Korea. Arirang had an opening because they were trying to fill this position at Wonders of Jeju. I had noticed that the position had been open in the past because I checked sporadically and then I saw it was open again. I was like, “Hmmm, is there something wrong with Jeju? Because I would jump at the opportunity.” So I jumped at the opportunity. Six months later, no regrets.

What’s the best part about working in radio?

Well, there are so many positives. Like your voice is heard. I really don’t care about fame or fortune. Comfort would be nice. As long as you have a good group of friends around, that’s all you really need.

What’s the most challenging part of working in radio?

Finding guests. Finding people who want to do certain segments. I would think people would jump at the opportunity, but people are so mic shy.

Who has been one of your favorite guests on Wonders of Jeju?

We just had Eugene Park, the violinist, come on our show for a Christmas performance. He actually had a concert Christmas Eve with 2AM, the big K-Pop group. I felt like there was a kindred spirit there with Eugene.

How do you feel about K-Pop?

I think it’s the same as pop. There’s really good K-Pop and then there’s garbage K-Pop. I think a lot of expats here on the island are too quick to dismiss it. I think if more people understood the lyrics, it would be appreciated a lot more. Of course there are artists who just want to be famous. We have those in the United States as well. K-Pop and Pop, it’s the same thing to me. I like it.

Do you have any favorite Korean bands?

Big Bang, I think is tremendously talented. I also really like the group Miss A. The thing is with K-Pop it’s not just about the music; it’s also about the visuals. That’s something you have to remember. You listen to it, and think, “Ok, it’s whatever,” but if you see the video… seeing the hotpants, that just gets you excited… that comment is going to come back and haunt me, huh?

How is living in Jeju vs. living on the mainland?

Actually when I was living in Gwangju I would look at the weather and I’d always notice it was warmer in Jeju in the winter, so I was always wanting to move here, because I hate, hate, capital HATE winter. In that sense I’m very happy to be here. Wherever you live in Korea, you’re not going to have everything you want, but there’s a good community here.

Photo courtesy Joe Kim

Photo courtesy Joe Kim

You recently got married, why do you think Jeju is a good place to start a family?

Living in the city right now, I don’t think is an ideal place, but eventually I would like to move out somewhere like Aewol and have my own house, a yard, dogs, my own lime tree. Make mojitos. Make mojitos for my kids (laughs).

Do you have any Jeju goals for the new year?

I have a couple resolutions. Go on at least four Olle Trails this year. Go see the crater lake, Baekrokdam on top of Halla Mountain. Pop out a kid (laughs). That will be more up to my wife.

How long are you planning on living in Jeju?

As long as Arirang will have me. I love it here. I know there are more opportunities for broadcasting and recording in Seoul, but I’m so happy here. It’s a great place and there are other opportunities if you make them.

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