Yoon Nam bids farewell with final WRAS shifts
Album 88's Sunday Blue Note" and "Jet Leg" host talks about her long strange trip from growing up in Korea to becoming a veteran college radio DJ in Atlanta."
<img src="https://media2.fdncms.com/atlanta/imager/jazzy-lady-blue-note-and-jet-lag-yoon-nam/u/original/14115109/1430068365-img_7213.jpg" alt="JAZZY LADY: Yoon Nam hosts her final installments of "Blue Note" and "Jet Lag" Sunday, May 3 on 88.5 FM/WRAS." title="JAZZY LADY: Yoon Nam hosts her final installments of "Blue Note" and "Jet Lag" Sunday, May 3 on 88.5 FM/WRAS." width="600" height="450" />
- Chad Radford
- JAZZY LADY: Yoon Nam hosts her final installments of "Blue Note" and "Jet Lag" Sunday, May 3 on 88.5 FM/WRAS.
Since 2006, the soothing sounds of Yoon Nam's voice and musical tastes have been Sunday fixtures for Atlanta radio. The host of 88.5 FM/WRAS' “Blue Note” jazz show (noon-2 p.m.) and the psychedelic cornucopia that is “Jet Lag” (8-10 p.m.) has carved out a haven for listeners who have a deep relationship with adventurous music.
Nam has personalized her on-air presence by honing the aesthetics of nostalgia and worldly travel with weekly sets that reflect the expansive moods of her vinyl selections. Sadly, her time on the “Student Voice for Georgia State University” is coming to an end. After successfully defending her dissertation, Nam is graduating with a PhD. in english literature. Her final installments of "Blue Note" and "Jet Lag" air Sun., May 3. Before she signs off, Nam took a few minutes to talk about the long strange trip she has taken from growing up in Seoul, South Korea to her role as a veteran college DJ in Atlanta
Did you come to America to go to school at Georgia State?
Yes it was to study. At first my major was architecture, and I didn’t want to study in Korea. I wanted to get out and explore. I came here and I liked it so much! I went to some program in Boston, and there were some potential opportunities, but moving here was a big step. This place became my home. All my friends are here. When I was in Boston I was at this flea market looking at peaches and this guy yelled at me: “Don’t touch my fruit!” I cried because I never had that kind of experience before. Maybe I’m stereotyping but people are really friendly down here.
How did you get involved with WRAS?
When I came here I was so painfully shy. I had no friends and I just went to school.
Everything was about making good grades, but I always loved music. My first two years here I wasn’t even listening to music. My focus was on getting better at speaking English. I was memorizing words, reading the dictionary. I was a nerd. Then one day I was on the FM dial listening to classical music, and I went this way and here is Album 88. I was listening to a show called Postscript. The host was Beau Johnson, this was 1999, maybe 2000. I immediately fell in love with his voice. He’s one of my best friends now. I was in the English department, it’s called Langdale Hall now, on 9th floor. I was in the hallway and I heard this voice and thought, “Oh my god it’s the guy who hosts Postscript!” He had blue hair, I tapped him on the shoulder, he said “Yes?” I asked if he hosted the show and he started smiling. I told him I identified him just by hearing his voice. We’ve been friends ever since.
Then I met Amre Klimchak, who said. “You’re obviously into the station, you should join.” I started in the winter of 2002, I think. By 2003 I was doing regular rotation. I did graveyard shifts forever. I did one semester but I was so shy and so incredibly bad. I couldn’t project my voice. One of my friends, Wayne Erickson, my other influence in getting to know local music, called me one night and said, “I’m staying up till 3 a.m., and I can’t hear you! Now I’m going to bed.”
He’s always keeping it real with me. I don’t know how I figured it out, it just happened. I think I sound better now, but now I’m graduating. It’s one of those things: You figure it out, then you’re done.
Were you interested in the kind of music you play now when you lived in Korea?
I listened to a lot of jazz — kind of European prog. The thing about psych is it covers a lot of things, anything that sounds trippy or different. My interest in psych started with Korean folk-psych music. But as I started doing "Jet Lag" it got deeper. I would play things from Nigeria, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Lately I’ve been getting into Vietnamese 7-inches from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s so silly: I feel like these people can’t be decoded but that’s the beauty of the records. You put them on, play them, but you don’t need to fully understand the language to be affected by the music.
Where do you dig for Vietnamese 7-inches?
A lot of them come from France. You can’t really just find them. But when you have the will and the Internet, the roads start showing up. I was buying records from a dealer in France who liked my taste. He said, “Here are things I never post online, but I think you might like them.
Then there are some dealers in Korea. My family had a lot of records, because my sisters all play classical instruments and my dad has some records. He has records from this business called a dah bang, like a coffee shop or a tearoom with record booths. The DJ’s are so cheesy and great, they play great music and make announcements like, “These guys at table three send you free drinks.”
My dad got some records from a dah bang when it closed, so we had a lot of ’60s and ’70s Korean folk and psych.
My dad had a lot of records because he was into audio and stuff. He got the sort of “what the kids were listening to” kinds of records — Korean folk and garage in the ’70s and ’80s. Now in Seoul they actually have the retro movement thing happening and they are opening old fashioned dah bangs again.
I started buying my own records when I was 13 or 14 years old at a record store near my house, called Wooden Horse Records. It’s gone now. When I started getting my first allowance money the first thing I bought was a tape and then records.
What was your first tape?
It was a jazz musician, like Mingus or something. First record was by Leslie Cheung, cheesy, but I am one of those Asian kids who grew up watching Hong Kong noir and Leslie Cheung was a heartthrob. He later became big and made that movie Farewell My Concubine. He killed himself though, sometime in 2003.
Did WRAS play an important role in how you assimilated to American culture?
Obviously, you can tell with the show titles, anything I do has something to do with nostalgia. The thing is, I’m home here, but I am always away from home. That mindset governs everything I do, especially artistic things like drawing and playing music. I hope I never fully assimilate to this culture, as my parents always yell at me, “Oh you’re already an American.” For example, in the school, when the elevator door opens and there’s a professor standing next to me I can’t go before them, out of respect. My friend Wayne was talking to my husband about it: “For many years I had to turn around and look for her because she won’t walk next to me or ahead of me. She always used to walk behind me.” I was like, “I don’t do that anymore!?”
Music keeps me centered in a way I can carry two homes. A lot of listeners notice I play a lot of Korean music. I get calls asking “Are you from Korea or what?”
It’s an important part of how I listen to music, but also how I understand distance and culture. That’s how I build those sets, too. It’s always about texture and the sound. I like things that make me feel sad. That sadness is sort of the nostalgia. It’s where you’re missing something so much, then that intense feeling becomes bigger than sadness. It becomes excitement or something.
Do you want to go back to Korea?
I love going back. I love going to record stores I used to go to. When I travel it’s priority one. I want to see this guy who supplies to Madlib. He said, and I don’t know if this is true, but there was a Polish artist that I was dying to get. I asked, “How can I get it?” He said it will be available in three months, but it has to go to Madlib to be sampled.” I don’t care if it takes six months! I want the one that was touched by Madlib! It doesn’t matter. I need to have a really good job so I can keep buying records. It’s a problem.
Spotify just doesn’t do the trick, huh?
It’s important for me to have records. It’s a different thing — personal aesthetic maybe. Records provide you with something extra. It’s visual, you get the audio, but it’s visual and it’s haptic. It gives you that sensation that you’re doing something with it. I always like how you take the record out, look at the jacket, put it on the player, put the needle on. Whenever I do that I feel like I’m cooking for somebody. I’ll build a set with one record on my mind. I’ll be walking down the street and the tune comes to me. I show up with 40 records and build around it. You have one main ingredient and the rest is whatever you have and you put them together and it’s wonderful. When I leave the station I feel like I cooked a good meal! Sometimes I think maybe I add too much salt.
And now your final WRAS shifts are approaching? Are you doing anything special with your sets?
I’m just going to deliver the best shows that I can. You do these shows for so many years and there’s something about how my shifts have always fallen on Sundays: I’m there form noon till 2 p.m. Then I have lunch and do something, then I go back to the station at 8 p.m. For the final shifts, it just feels right to go in and do what I’ve always done and then it will end. I felt like it would be nice to end that way. Here I am, it’s 8 p.m. and I say bye at 10 p.m. It’s been about nine years, but I feel like I just now got better.