Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: K-Town Tonight

Vital stats:
Format: freeform conversation among Koreatown people, plus Korean pop music news
Episode duration: ~1h
Frequency: twice a week

After the years of Podthinking, I thought I’d tried every method of finding new podcasts: word of mouth, browsing of the iTunes store, and, uh... further browsing of the iTunes store. But only last week did I discover a new podcast geographically. See, I’ve just moved to Los Angeles. Specifically, I’ve just moved to Koreatown, my favorite neighborhood here, a 2.7-square mile region of the central city filled with many Koreans and almost as many Oaxacans. Hence all its delicious food, which I should really wait to get an income first before gorging myself on, but hey.

When my non-culinary explorations of Koreatown kept taking me past the Radio Korea building, I couldn’t fight the intrigue. I’m into radio, obviously, and I wouldn’t have moved to Koreatown if I wasn’t into Korea. Tuning into the station at home to hone my Korean-language listening skills, I soon realized that it airs an English program too, and, what’s more, one all about Koreatown. When I found out that K-Town Tonight [RSS] [iTunes] also comes as a podcast, I knew I had a Podthinker’s mandate to investigate.

Podcasting has, to my mind, become one of the great non-local forms; I still almost can’t believe how much fun it is to regularly listen to radio/audio entertainment from every country in the world. But if you’ve never felt the weird thrill of listening to a podcast that makes frequent mention of places mere yards from your home, do seek one out. K-Town Tonight co-hosts Mike and Elli keep their show firmly rooted in Koreatown not just by discussing their lives here but by bringing on guests who all have some connection to the neighborhood: locally based comics and rappers, a movie producer who knows a lot about what you do at all these Korean spas, an L.A. club promoter.

Yeah, I felt a little dirty typing “club promoter,” the same type of dirty I feel when I typing “SEO consultant.” I’ve had the luck not to run into any SEO consultants in Koreatown, but the fact remains that a great many people do seem to approach this place as little more than 2.7 square miles in which to get their drank on. K-Town Tonight tends to veer back to this sensibility over and over again too, perhaps not without reason, but I get the sense that Mike and Elli don’t quite have their hearts in talking about this particular brand of hedonism 100 percent of the time. They do seem to enjoy their respective roles, Mike playing the occasional buffoon with stories about passing out after drinking home alone or turning out to be too fat to play a policeman in a music video and Elli playing the okay-let’s-get-back-to-the-point faux-naïf, but they do their best radio in the moments they step away from the broad and/or base.

One of these moments comes when a second guest doesn’t show up, so they improvise a discussion about the validity of plastic surgery in beauty contests. Others come when they get into the quirker ways that Korean culture operates when transplanted into Los Angeles, or, even better, when they explore the sort of cross-culturality and hybridization that drew me to Koreatown in the first place. You hear this when they talk about the differences between Koreatown and actual Korea, the viability of Korean phở joints,and the variegated origins of guests like the Korean rapper born in Argentina but in the States by way of Mexico or the half-Korean-half-black guw with the half-Korean-half-white girlfriend. There’s something to be said for gorging oneself on barbecue, singing at a noraebang, getting tremendously sloshed, and falling asleep in a booth somewhere, but each episode of K-Town Tonight comes closer to taking full advantage of the much more interesting conversational material Koreatown provides.

(Elli talks a lot about Korean pop music, too, if you’re into that.)

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to host and produce The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], a public radio show and podcast dedicated to in-depth cultural conversation. Please hire him for something.]