Essential guide to Korean radio for Korean language learners
Image above: Younha’s Starry Night, an MBC radio show
When you are learning a language, one of the most important things to do to improve your skills is to surround yourself with as much of that language as possible. If you live in a country where it is spoken this is fairly easy but if you don’t you need to find ways to create that kind of environment for yourself. Luckily for Korean learners, one of the easiest ways is to surround yourself with media – something which Korea has plenty of! Radio is a really useful tool for this as, compared to other forms of media, it requires relatively little attention and can really help to improve your understanding of spoken Korean (probably without you even noticing).
However finding Korean radio to listen to can be a little bit daunting at first and so we’ve created an easy guide to the main national radio channels and how to access them from outside of Korea.
Most of the radio listed in this guide is commercial music radio. The main reason for this is that it is one of the best types of radio for language learners (certainly beginner to intermediate level) as it gives you the chance to practise your listening skills without overloading your brain. Although in general most people would agree that the radio commercial is one of the most irritating things ever created by humans, the simple, emphasised language can be quite good practice for learners. And don’t worry – it’s not all K-pop!
Unfortunately there seems to be no way to access KBS radio from overseas but if you are in Korea you can access KBS’s various stations here.
KBS World does provide a Korean language service but it is not immediately obvious when you visit their website. When you access the website at first, it will probably be all in English and it will appear that there is no Korean service. However I only recently found out that they do indeed have a global Korean service but to access it you have to first change the website’s language to Korean in the top right hand corner. Then all you need to do is click 우리말 방송 24 HR. As I have only just discovered this, I can’t yet say how good the service is.
If there is a particular show you want to catch from one of KBS’s four domestic channels, you can find a lot of their programming on iTunes as podcasts. There are some good ones there including Yoo In-na’s Let’s Crank Up the Volume (윤인나의 볼륨을 높여요), Super Junior’s Kiss the Radio (슈퍼 주니어의 키스 더 라디오) and Book Reading Night (책 읽는 밤). Although because of licensing, all the music is removed which can make it a little strange to listen to and it might also become difficult to focus after a while with no gaps to let your brain rest a little.
SBS is a commercial radio broadcaster with two separate stations: Power FM and Love FM. Power FM is definitely the station I listen to the most and it seems to have a younger target audience than Love FM. Prime time for Korean radio (like Korean TV) is a little later than a lot of western countries. The biggest evening shows seem to broadcast from 6pm to midnight KST (or even later)and my personal favourite SBS shows to listen to are K.Will’s Young Street (케이윌의 영스트리트 8pm-10pm) and Jang Kiha’s Amazing Radio (장기하의 대단한 라디오 10pm-12am).
Young Street is a show K.Will recently took over from Boom after his gambling scandal arose and it’s quite a good show to listen to if you like Korean popular music and culture but aren’t necessarily crazy about idol pop – he often has slightly left-of-K-pop-centre guests like Brown Eyed Girl’s Miryo, Juniel and Norazo. Anyone who is familiar with Korean indie music should know Jang Kiha’s name from his band, Jang Kiha and the Faces. This is a great show for people who like both Korean and western indie music. It also has some extra K-pop, ballads and classic rock added in to please everyone.
You can listen to both of SBS radio live streams here and you can also see the full schedule for the stations here. SBS also has most of its shows available as podcasts (although without the music or ads).
MBC also has two commercial stations: MBC Standard FM and MBC FM4U. I don’t personally listen to MBC a huge amount but it does have some good programmes. Younha’s Starry Night (윤하의 별이 빛나는 밤에 10pm-12am) can be a really good show, particularly if you like non-idol Korean pop and popular indie and rock music. She often has indie bands on her show as guests and there are a lot of great live performances on there.
If idols are your thing, the ultimate idol radio show is, of course, Shindong’s Shimshimtapa (신동의 심심타파 12am-2am) which always has some kind of idol on as a guest. Usually they are regular guests from newer mid-ranked groups like BTOB and Ladies’ Code but almost everyone in K-pop will go on the show at least once while they’re doing music promotions. Even if you’re not a huge fan of idol groups this is quite a good show to listen to as a Korean learner. This may sound terrible but idols are not really paid for their intellect (I’m not saying they are stupid, just that K-pop is supposed to be light entertainment) and the conversations on the show tend be relatively basic and easy to follow.
You can listen to MBC’s radio stations through their mini player or on tunein.com. The full schedules can be found at the bottom of MBC Radio’s homepage. They also have many podcasts available on iTunes.
Useful words and phrases:
Korean website design tends to be quite busy and a little bit counter-intuitive so here are a few useful words that will help you go directly to where you want to be on the website.
편성표 – Radio schedule/guide (although it other contexts it means “organisational table”)
선곡표 – A list of all the songs that have been played each day on each show (literally means “song table”). Very useful for deciding which shows you want to listen to.
보이는 라디오 – Visual radio is quite a big trend in Korea and if you really want to watch your favourite DJ as they sit in front of the mic, this is the word you are looking for.
다시듣기 – Listen again is another way to listen to shows after they have aired if you don’t want to download podcasts.
Hopefully, you will find this guide useful and let us know which radio shows you like to listen to in the comments!