BUSAN, South Korea — Growing up as a kid near the Windsor-Detroit border, I was afforded the luxury of growing up with one of baseball’s best broadcasters of the game ever – Ernie Harwell. Harwell was considered so good at announcing that he is the only announcer ever to be traded for a player. (In 1948, the Brooklyn Dodgers traded catcher Cliff Dapper to the minor-league Atlanta Crackers in exchange for Harwell's broadcasting contract.)
Listening to Harwell announce Tigers games made me a baseball fan from a very young age, which led me to watch Mel Allen hosting This Week in Baseball religiously. TWIB, as it is commonly referred, focused simply on giving weekly highlights of games before the onslaught of ESPN and 24-hour sports entertainment began. So when moving to Korea nearly 15 years ago, I was pleased to find out that baseball, or yagu in Korean, was at the time, one of the more popular sports on the peninsula.
As 24-hour sports broadcasting grew, so did the personas of some of the game's best callers and program hosts. Erin Andrews, for instance, a sideline reporter for ESPN known for her stunning beauty, has about 1,200,000 Twitter followers – more than most athletes. Albert Pujols, arguably one of the best baseball players in the world, has 37,000.
Recently, sports broadcasting in Korea is on the rise, as its domestic sports leagues gain prominence. The announcers and hosts of shows here haven’t reached the status of those of major US networks yet, but they are experiencing a rise nonetheless.
Kim Min-ah is one of the new wave of sportscasters who are changing the face of sports in Korea. And she’s not just the everyday piece of eye candy – she’s equipped with a knowledge of sports and a determination to succeed.
The 28-year-old announcer for MBC Sports+ is most recognized for her work on Baseball Tonight, a 30-minute highlight show which follows nightly games, and one of the most popular sports shows in the country. With baseball being the most attended and watched sport in Korea, she is a rising star in the field of sports journalism.
The Yonsei University grad didn’t always have sports journalism in her blood, though her interest in sport started at a young age, as she was once was an amateur figure skater. She graduated from the prestigious school majoring in French Literature, and didn’t decide to become an announcer until her junior year of college, a decision many of her fans are glad she made.
“I used to think about being an educator. I’ve learned more when I’m teaching someone. I have completed a course in teaching so I have a license to teach middle and high school students. I dreamed about being an announcer since I started to go to an academy, but I just applied for fun because it’s such a hard field to get in.”
Kim has covered a variety of different sports during her five year tenure with the station. She’s also hosted Kim Min-ah’s European Goals, and has covered basketball, ssireum (Korean wrestling), marathons and figure skating, to name a few.
But it hasn’t always been an easy task. Working as a woman in sports media can be incredibly intimidating, especially in a male-dominated market. While women are becoming regular fixtures on TV sets and on the sidelines at sporting events, as Kim says, there is still a need to prove yourself before you are taken seriously.
“Some people treated me coldly at first. Of course, some people had some prejudices against me but I’ve been doing this for five years, so people know me now. With this development of sports broadcasting, my job is being spotlighted.”
Kim has been recognized by her fans not only for her ability as a host and her knowledge of the game, but also for her beauty. She appeared in a photoshoot for Maxim Korea last year; her beauty is, however, a trait she wants to downplay. She admits there is some discrimination based on appearance in the broadcasting field, but it’s not all negative.
“I would rather say that there’s some positive discrimination. In America, there are so many programs with sexy reporters that interview the athletes. But there are also some programs hosted by reporters in their late 30s who used to be players. Especially in the NBA. I just want to be a reporter who can interview players, not a sexy reporter.”
Kim’s schedule is like most reporters' – hectic. She works 11 months of the year, and during the season she puts in 12-hour work days. Being in the spotlight is something she has learned to accept, but she has no regrets with her choice.
“Everyday is something new, so I can feel this job is more worthwhile than hard. I get a lot of confidence because I don’t have to be compared to anyone. My parents always encouraged and I always think I’m lucky person.”
With the KBO about ready to begin another long season, she remains neutral when asked if she supports a certain team and players, but does have some special players she would like to interview.
“I can’t wait to interview Park Chan-ho, Lee Seung-yeop and Kim Byung-hyun. They will make baseball games much more interesting this year,” she said.
Translation assistance by Jeong Hye-won and Kim Hyun-ah.