Hmong community TV will hit airwaves

It may be the age of the Internet, but the airwaves are still a valuable resource, says Mitch Lee, founder of St. Paul-based Hmong TV station 3HmongTV.

The station has been chugging along since 2005 when Lee decided he wanted to create a Hmong-oriented TV station, combining his engagement with the Twin Cities Hmong community with his passion for producing video.

The modest station has grown significantly and recently hit a milestone - it will be broadcasting over a public high-definition TV signal, on Channel 50.2, starting in April.

The station shows a variety of content, including news coverage, events coverage, community talk shows and arts coverage.

The station will air in most of the Twin Cities metro, reaching far-flung communities such as New Prague, Forest Lake and Buffalo.

The station will also be showing content live at Hmong Village, the indoor Hmong marketplace at 1001 Johnson Parkway, starting in September.

“We’re hoping to catch a lot of those viewers (at the market),” Lee says.

The station has built a solid Internet presence, with over 2 million views on YouTube, but the broadcast signal should be a big step up, Lee says.

He says bringing the station to the airwaves means a lot more Hmong viewers will be able to see Hmong-language news.

For many of the viewers, he says, it can be difficult to access the station’s content over the Internet.

“They’re pretty much at home and all they have is a TV set, and they want to be able to watch.”

“A big resource”

East Side state Sen. Fong Hawj lauded the TV station’s efforts to get a broadcast signal, saying “it’s very useful for the community to have.”

Hawj himself has a background producing Hmong-language TV in the state. Back in 1991, he produced a Hmong show for Twin Cities Public Television’s Channel 17.

He called those years “the golden years of public television,” when funding for programming was more solid.

But he says in a way he wishes he could be in Lee’s position, getting a Hmong station a broadcast signal.

“It will be a big resource for the Hmong community,” he says, explaining that the station could help new Hmong immigrants to feel more at home, and know what’s going on in their new locale.

Hawj has appeared several times on the station, to give legislatives updates in Hmong. He sees the station as one way of putting him in touch with constituents.

“I’m really happy that someone else has helped take another step forward,” he says. He also predicted that Somali and Hispanic broadcast stations could follow, as has happened in other states.

“It seems very new in Minnesota, but if you look in California (and other states),” he says, “they have had whole rounds of ethnic programs for years and years.”

A lifelong passion

Lee has been into video production since he was in high school in the mid-80s, but it got put in the background as he pursued a career in information technology.

Then in 2005, he decided it was time to go back to trying video.

He recalls thinking to himself that he needed “to do something for the community.”

He started the company with his own funds, sometimes paying out of pocket here and there to keep it going, while still working a day job.

More recently, he’s gone to just working at the station. He sometimes works 12-hour days in hopes that it will pay off and that the station will grow.

“I love what I do here,” Lee says. “It’s sort of like a passion for me.”

Skeletal crew

As it stands now, the station’s crew is pretty skeletal, with the seven staffers working mostly as volunteers, doing everything from on-camera work to editing and even sales.

Kabyeej Jeff Wang has been with the station for about five years.

He says he was drawn in because he sees the station as an important resource.

He’s doing everything from hosting a talk show to reporting in the field to selling ads.

Despite the flurry of volunteered work, he says it’s what he wants to be doing, and it serves as a change of pace from his day job as an insurance salesman.

Lee says he’s hoping to pull in more volunteers. In particular, he’s hoping to attract young people, both as viewers and for making TV shows.

It’s been somewhat of a challenge, he says. But he does have at least one willing young person on his team -- his 18-year-old daughter is helping out, and may be playing a part in starting an English-language show on the station.

For more information about the station, visit 3HMONGTV.net.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

 

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