How a Grand Prairie couple is keeping Vietnamese radio alive in D-FW

This story is part of Asian American Bustle, an occasional series publishing during Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

grand prairie — Inside a large corner office space at Asia Times Square, passersby can peer through a rectangular window and get a peek at a studio with a unique mission.

From sunrise to sunset each day, hosts broadcast in Vietnamese news, music, sports and their passions on 1600 AM and online. The station’s name — Voice of Vietnamese Americans — is fitting for the mission of serving the dallas-Fort Worth area that roughly 90,000 Vietnamese call home.

As economic headwinds have shuttered other non-English-speaking outlets, Peter Dao said he hopes to use the station to teach people about what Vietnam was like before 1975, when the communist party took control.

“We want to preserve our way of life… for our children and grandchildren,” Dao said.

Asian American Bustle is The Dallas Morning News’ community-based reporting effort examining the development, culture and future of Asian American enclaves in North Texas. Over a few months, two reporters, two photographers and an editor spent several days in the communities’ gathering spaces to meet the public and hear their stories.

Dao and his wife, Lien Bich Dao, took control of the station this year, shortly after their station in arlington closed in 2023. Starting in 2003, the Daos ran Dallas Vietnamese Radio, near what is now Ben Thanh Plaza. The station rebranded in 2017 before shuttering as their contract with the owner of the radio frequency expired last year, forcing a change. Some mementos from their former station sit in the new office: a lunar new year award from 2008 and a framed map of their native country with the South Vietnam flag.

In the fall of 2022, Voice of Vietnamese Americans began broadcasting under a different owner inside Asia Times Square, considered an anchor for the Asian American enclave in eastern Tarrant County. When the station struggled and the former operator had to leave to care for his family, the property’s CEO invited the Daos to take the reins.

The couple brought about two decades of experience to Voice of Vietnamese Americans and 1600 AM, a frequency that had long been a Vietnamese-language station.

“I felt like that [the station] is one of the key components to have at Asia Times Square, so the radio station can be at a location that’s more well-established and to be able to make their broadcast and reach out to more people,” said Matthew Loh, the strip mall’s CEO and property manager.

Voice of Vietnamese Americans, VVA 1600 AM General Manager, Lien Bich Dao is seen their radio studio, Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Grand Prairie.(Chitose Suzuki / Staff Photographer)

‘Refugees from communism’

Many of the staff at the station had no background in radio.

Peter Dao said he didn’t know anything about the industry, joking he couldn’t tell the difference “between the mixer in the kitchen and in the radio station.” A former engineer, he worked stints at Texas Instruments and American Airlines before retiring and helping his wife with the radio station, he said.

Duc Pham, the deputy manager and one of Voice of Vietnamese Americans’ announcers, said he worked odd jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area before a 20-year stretch in the U.S. Postal Service. Pham retired then worked at a local Vietnamese television station until it closed down during the pandemic.

“After that, I had nothing to do,” Pham said. “In 2022, this station reopened. 1600 AM is very strong and then I came here and worked as a news anchor.”

Minh Tuan, a reporter, sought work at the station to highlight stories of Vietnamese soldiers and what the country was like for them growing up.

“You need to know your parents, your grandparents from the original form of Vietnam,” said Tuan, who is also in retirement.

Not all staff members are retired. Hien Van Vu, a host for Voice of Vietnamese Americans, says the station is a part-time hobby on the weekends. During the week, he works at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth.

Lien Bich Dao, the general manager, is one of the few on staff with prior experience. She worked at a Vietnamese station in Garland before starting Dallas Vietnamese Radio more than 20 years ago.

For many of the staffers, the Vietnam War and its lingering impacts connect them. Lien Bich Dao’s parents were killed by Communist forces when she was 17, she said. Some of the staffers fled during or shortly after the war: Peter left in the midst of it, Tuan left in 1975 and Vu left six years later.

“After 1975, the communists [tried] to erase what was Vietnamese culture for thousands of years and want to replace it with their own kind of culture,” Peter Dao said. “We are refugees from communism.”

Grand Prairie Police Sgt. Thai Nguyen, speaks during an invited show at Voice of Vietnamese Americans VVA 1600 AM, on Friday, April 19, 2024 in Grand Prairie. He has been focused on hiring Asian Americans for the police department and is one of the sources on the department's efforts to make connections with the Asian American community in Grand Prairie. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Helping the community

The programs, which record live from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., can vary, with news, music and how-to sessions, Peter Dao said. Included in those are collaborations with local colleges like Tarrant County College and University of Texas at Arlington.

The station does public announcements for various community organizations plus a monthly talk show with the Grand Prairie Police Department. During election season, Dao said, he has invited candidates and urged people to come vote. Reporters will also cover special events.

“We have announcements from the city of Arlington and around here to inform people about the many different programs for seniors, about housing, health care,” Peter Dao said.

Staff members also highlight things they’re passionate about. For Tuan and Pham, that means stories of soldiers and poems and music. And for Vu, that means talking about professional sports — especially baseball, football and basketball.

Peter Dao said listeners range in age from early 20s to 90 and the station’s talent aims to be “the teachers for everyone.” Pham said seniors turn on the radio and listen to it all day until they go to sleep.

Dao doesn’t have an exact number of how many people tune in but estimates, between the radio and online audiences, it’s tens of thousands given the 200,000-plus Vietnamese people who live in the state.

“At first, I’m a listener,” said Y Linh, a sales associate and announcer with the station. She said she turns on the frequency “because I miss my country a lot.”

Peter Dao knows the niche is not a particularly profitable business. Dallas Vietnamese Radio originally sat alongside a cosmetic business that Lien Bich Dao owned, and some of that store’s profit went toward the station.

“I told [my wife], ‘If we didn’t have the radio station and if we had like three cosmetic shops, we’d be probably much wealthier,’” he said with a laugh. “But this is just a matter of helping the community.”

Still, he believes in his staff of about 16 and hopes he can receive more buy-in from the growing Asian American community in North Texas.

Related:Diversity, buy-in from younger generation spell success for North Texas’ Asian American enclaves

“That’s what I’m optimistic about — is that as long as you do it right, you will attract people,” Peter Dao said.

One business, he said, committed to advertise on their station for a whole year. But there’s more work to be done.

Inside the studio, a message hangs on the back wall in black script on a red background that speaks to their devotion. Lien Bich Dao pointed at the Mandarin script and asked, “You know what that means?”

“Heart,” she said.

Voice of Vietnamese Americans VVA 1600 AM General Manager Lien Bich Dao, fourth from left, and her husband Public Relations Manager Peter Dao, fifth from left, pose for a photo with other managers and announcers at their office, Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Grand Prairie.(Chitose Suzuki / Staff Photographer)Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders cultures celebrated in North TexasRichardson’s Chinatown: The history, development and needs of an Asian American enclave


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