posted with permission
Posted on Wed, Mar. 08, 2006
Chung: Chu Lin paved path for journalists
By L.A. Chung
Irascible, abrasive, utterly professional and exhaustingly demanding, Sam Chu Lin would have been hard to duplicate. And now that he's gone -- too soon -- at age 67, that high challenge is nigh impossible.
The Sunnyvale resident died suddenly Sunday in Burbank, where he worked as a television reporter -- commuting, as he had for more than a decade, from the Bay Area. Locally, he hadn't been on TV since the mid-'80s on KRON-TV, but he was unforgettable.
If you worked for Hewlett-Packard, you might have seen him as host of that company's in-house video magazine. His trademark bass voice was heard on KQED Radio's Pacific Time program and he wrote intelligently for Asian Week or Nichi Bei Times or the San Francisco Examiner.
``He is someone whom I was lucky to call a peer, but even more blessed to call a friend,'' Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta said in a statement. In Chu Lin, Mineta and U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, no doubt shared a history, a view of the world and a time-earned respect.
Chu Lin's broadcasts on CBS News out of New York was the network's first word of the fall of Saigon. His discovery of the creators of Superman living in destitution brought them late-won money. And his tireless reportage for decades on the civil liberties issues of Asian-Americans loomed large in their lives. He interviewed presidents and world leaders. He was a son of Mississippi done good.
In the parlance of some, Chu Lin was also ``a pioneer,'' another word that both Mineta and Honda used. And indeed he was.
Sure, a lot of us have heard of Connie Chung, and seen the legions of female TV newscasters her popularity begat. But Chu Lin was one of the first Asian-Americans in television news, along with Mario Machado and Ken Kashiwahara. As a high schooler who convinced his hometown radio station in Greenville, Miss. that he could find sponsors and host a show in 1956, Chu Lin was on his way when Chung was still in knee socks.
And of course there was That Voice. Chu Lin had that ultimate broadcaster's voice -- deep, authoritative, commanding.
``When you were in a room with Sam, his voice preceded him,'' said Felicia Lowe, now a documentary filmmaker and then, in 1975, a young reporter at KGO-TV when Chu Lin came to San Francisco.
Kashiwahara and Chu Lin were among the first Asian-Americans to rise to network news. Other things, however, came with being a pioneer. Chris Chow was a newcomer at KPIX-TV in 1971 when he first talked to Chu Lin over the phone, a sort of ``welcome to the business'' call. ``He said: `I hear you're doing well. I heard you've done a documentary on youth gangs. I hear you have long hair.' ''
Tenacity and advice
Then he said in Toisanese: ``Jeen tow fat'' or ``Cut your hair,'' if you want to make it in this business.
Those were the days when Chinese-Americans were so few, they mostly spoke the same dialect and took a family-like interest in helping each other succeed.
Chu Lin recalled proudly, when he was honored in Salinas by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance last year, how he persuaded Walter Cronkite to tell the story of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the forgotten creators of Superman.
``I will never forget visiting the shabby apartment of Joe Shuster,'' Chu Lin said. The story resulted in Shuster and Siegel receiving retirement benefits and having their creative bylines restored. It restored his faith that Superman once again stood for ``Truth, Justice and the American Way.''
For Chow, no longer a journalist, Chu Lin's career echoed that well.
He was, indeed, a son of Mississippi done good.
For more than a decade Sam and I worked together producing a ‘video magazine’ for some sillydotcom valley icon and shared a level of personal intimacy (and for those dirty minds out there – you know who you are…) nothing physical – well, nothing beyond placing the lavaliere microphone. The intimacy that comes from spending 12 or more hours in a dark room hammering out something resembling a sow’s ear out of spun gold to mangle a metaphor or three, from doing the endless takes in the announce booth and “walkie talkies” on location and the inevitable editorial changes from on high.
Always the consummate professional (there was a antidotal report of a mistaken celebrity identity incident in LAX that possibly triggered aberrant news pack reactions but as I was not there I won’t vouch for it). He was gifted with a set of pipes that commanded attention with the education and discernment to use it well.
Thanks to Sam I have an audio tape of Sir Author C. Clarke saying hello to me personally - a bit of my own hero worship frustration as there had been an opportunity to interview Sir Author in person that for various reasons (local revolutions, economic down turn, piddling things) did not work out.
I last worked with Sam in the early 90’s, we kept in loose touch for a long time and about a year ago started threatening to ‘do lunch’ damm.
My deepest condolences to the Chu Lin family