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Radio Saigon Houston: A Leader in Vietnamese Radio

NCM Profile

NCM, Peter Micek Posted: Jun 16, 2004

Thuy VuIn the radio business, says Thuy Vu, co-owner of a Vietnamese radio station, the radio is on all the time.

Radio Saigon Houston recently won awards as an entrepreneur and leader among Asian businesses. Vu and her husband, Duong Phuc, have co-owned the station since 1997 and oversee 35 employees, 66 contributing producers, and round-the-clock programming.

But they are not resting. An autobiographical book, edited by their eldest daughter, will be finished soon. And Radio Saigon Houston is meeting with the Houston Chronicle to start a Vietnamese offshoot.

Journalism has always been my passion since the age of twentybeing able to travel places, meet people, and tell stories, says Vu, who won her first award writing from the battlefields of Cambodia.

Vus husband was detained for several years in communist Vietnam before they escaped by boat on the South China Sea. Vu and Phuc were the first to testify in Thai court against the pirates that preyed on refugees, she says. Her journalist background and contacts have made their story known worldwide.

After coming to the United States in 1980, Vu entered the American media spotlight for her activism. She and Phuc had helped rescue some 3,000 immigrants fleeing Vietnam after joining a refugee support group in San Diego. They signed a book and movie contract for their story and appeared on the television news program 20/20.

But her most important recognition came in 1987 when Vu was honored with the 21st Century Woman award from the National Organization for Women.

At that time, I had only lived in the United States for seven years, she says. I was trying to balance my life, being a mother of four childrenyoung kidsand a career woman and also a community activist. The fact that I was offered that award really reinforced my faith in America, in my new home.

She and Phuc moved from San Diego to Houston in 1997 to work at the areas only full-time Asian radio station.

Radio Saigon Houstons programming is a mix of PBS and CNN, Vu says. Its news show Good Morning Houston gives local and world news, followed by education programs, she said, featuring the contributing producers. Shows like Asia Freedom, Immigration Process, and Community and Security deal with subjects from medical to social to financial issues, Vu says, everything -- you name it.

Originally a Vietnamese-language station, Radio Saigon Houston now has seven bilingual programs and callers often ask questions in English.

I am proud to say that we care more about journalism than businesswe care more about editorials than making money, Vu says.

When the station began, she says, I didnt think wed succeed financially. Now I realize that in any kind of business, you first need a good product to sell. Although I wasnt trained in business or marketing, we did it right by putting our professional standard very high and trying to serve the needs of the community.

The station raised more money than any mainstream Houston radio station for victims of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. We started with a goal of $13,000 and got almost half a million in two weeks, just from 150,000 Vietnamese in Houston.

Ive been successful, says Vu, because most people of ethnic media dream of going mainstream, where I went the reverse way.

She also credits family.

My husband and I have been colleagues and competitors on a daily basis but also complement each other a great deal. I believe that is our strength, a lot of Asian couples strength, family values and commitment in family.

Though she wants to work in Vietnam, Vu does not think it is possible under its communist regime. Its very hard to do anything right when you have no freedom. Her children have expressed interest in working there, Vu says. But they are waiting, she says, until we are sure that we can do it freely.

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