Broadcasting through the bamboo ceiling: The remarkable story of Rob Fukuzaki

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aving recently celebrated 25 years at ABC7 Eyewitness News, Los Angeles sports anchor Rob Fukuzaki has done it all. He’s covered everything from Lakers championships to Kings Stanley Cup finals; he’s interviewed the late great NBA broadcaster Chick Hearn; and he’s serenaded 50,000 people at Dodger Stadium to the tune of the national anthem. He’s got a distinctive, well-modulated voice, a camera-ready smile and a charming personality exuding nothing short of confidence.

He also happens to be Asian.

Born in LA and raised in Honolulu, Fukuzaki developed an unwavering passion for sports as early as the age of 9, regularly cheering on LA sports teams and admiring the craft of broadcasting legends on-air. He started his career with humble beginnings.

“There was a radio station in Hawaii that had a special Dodgers package from LA. Whenever a game was on, I always sat right up next to the radio and listened,” Fukuzaki said. “My mom remembers me telling her, ‘When I grow up, I want to be just like Vin Scully.’ ”

In high school, Fukuzaki wrote for Mid-Pacific Institute’s newspaper, Na Pueo, as the one and only sports columnist. By attending games, gathering quotes and writing articles all in time for periodic publications, he was instantaneously introduced to the demanding — albeit rewarding — world of journalism. Nonetheless, Fukuzaki found his bearings. 

“Writing for the newspaper gave me the invaluable opportunity to explore the ins and outs of journalism,” Fukuzaki said. “Because of that, I knew that I wanted to eventually do something in the media.”

In college, he found himself in LA, continuing to pursue his interest in sports at the University of La Verne. Starting his sophomore year, Fukuzaki served as a designated play-by-play sports commentator for the student radio station, KULV. For him, there was always room to improve. 

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One long night in the studio at a time, he would constantly refine imperfect speech patterns and experiment with the delicate intricacies of his stellar voice. After his tenure at KULV, Fukuzaki earned his medal, winning not just one, but three straight broadcaster of the year awards from the school.

When graduation rolled around, he wanted to stay in LA but job openings were scarce. Time was ticking; Fukuzaki knew he had to make a decision. 

“I remember talking with one news director while applying for jobs,” Fukuzaki said. “He told me, ‘If you want to do something in sports, just be patient.’ ”

So he decided to head back to Hawaii, where he would eventually find a part-time job with Honolulu’s KITV. Eager to take advantage of a professional opportunity with the media, Fukuzaki allowed his charisma to shine through, helping him rise through the ranks yet again. As the station’s new weekly sports anchor and reporter, Fukuzaki had now evolved his initial hobby into a full-fledged commitment. 

Five years later, in 1994, a vacancy at KABC-TV in LA opened up for grabs and Fukuzaki was ready. He managed to land the job, catching undoubtedly the biggest break of his career. With spirits at an all-time high, Fukuzaki flew back to LA, only this time, with a one-way ticket. 

Yet despite the promise ahead, Fukuzaki would be the first to tell you that it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. 

He likes to compare the transition to a freeway. In Southern California, entire cities bustle at a remarkably fast pace; commuters jam-pack the highways of the LA city landscape on the regular. In Hawaii, everything moves at half the speed. The culture is laid-back. People are easygoing. Life just slows down.

Now, Fukuzaki was in the second largest media market in the nation, while Honolulu didn’t even reach the top 50.

But perhaps most importantly, the populations themselves couldn’t be more different. LA County is diverse. Of its 10 million residents, 49% are Latinx, 26% white, 15% Asian and 8% Black. In Honolulu, Asians total a whopping 43%, dominating the ethnic majority of its 970,000 residents.

For the first time in Fukuzaki’s career, being Asian was an anomaly. It’d take some getting used to. 

“Knowing that I also looked very young at the time, I came to realize that there wasn’t anybody doing what I was doing who even remotely looked like me. When reporting at various sporting events, I could tell that others were thinking, ‘Where’d they get this guy from?’ ” Fukuzaki said. “I felt extra motivation to prove myself and validate the work I had done to get there, no matter who I was, no matter what ethnicity.”

For the first time in Fukuzaki’s career, being Asian was an anomaly. It’d take some getting used to. 

At the same time, unprecedented popularity was inevitable. As the first male Japanese American anchor in LA news, Fukuzaki saw his mailbox flooded with messages from local Asian American organizations. 

“I got so many different inquiries from all over. ‘We’d love for you to speak at this event, be part of this panel, emcee for this,’ ” he said. 

To each and every one of those organizations, Fukuzaki never said no. 

“I was honored, humbled, really,” he said. “As time went on, I felt a responsibility to represent them, including all the Japanese American viewers in the area.” 

Although Fukuzaki had seldom faced any explicit racial discrimination, he realized the greater meaning behind the waves of support. Asian Americans looked up to him. He wasn’t just another news anchor on TV — he was one of them. He opened up a new road of possibilities for viewers at home, and because of this, being Asian was now more empowering than ever before. 

“I never really dealt with anything like this in Hawaii. As an Asian American, you’re not really a minority over there,” Fukuzaki said. “So for me, being on TV wasn’t a big deal. For others, it was.” 

Nowadays, he said, times have changed. Over the years at ABC7, he’s seen firsthand an increase in the number of other Asian broadcasters, such as David Ono and Veronica Miracle.

Yet in 2019, local TV news workforces nationwide were 77% white, 12% Black and 9% Latinx. Asian American? About 2%. In the country’s overall population, Asians account for three times this number, hovering around a steady 6%.

What Asian Americans experience ultimately reflects a broader pattern of inequity that should be examined. It could be due to institutionalized racism in the hiring practices of today’s newsrooms. Or maybe it’s a lack of Asian Americans entering the media in the first place. There’s an endless number of complex hypotheticals.

We should also realize that it’s not just Asians. Black and Latinx individuals account for 32% of the country’s population, yet only make up 21% of the news workforce combined. In a truly equitable society, these two groups would make up the same percentage of newsrooms as, if not more than, they do the U.S. population. An 11% discrepancy means that millions of viewers don’t see themselves properly represented on camera.

But for Fukuzaki, numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As an Asian American majoring in media studies myself, seeing these statistics and recognizing barriers can be discouraging. But for Fukuzaki, numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Yes, he felt self-conscious during his first days on the job. And yes, his stereotypically “youthful” Asian appearance may have had something to do with it. 

But the backing of the surrounding Asian American community proved to be far more powerful. Taking pride in his identity, Fukuzaki didn’t see his ancestral roots as a setback, but rather as an opportunity to inspire others.

This is the kind of optimism that makes Fukuzaki all the more exciting to watch. Growing up in LA, I didn’t have a lot of Asians on TV to draw inspiration from, mostly because there weren’t that many to begin with. But Fukuzaki was the one constant role model I could always look up to. Always on Channel 7, always ready to deliver recaps of games, never a minute late. 

After talking with him, I am now hopeful that a bright future for Asian Americans lies just around the corner. Maybe the stats won’t show it within the next year, or maybe the next few. At some point, though, there will be more Rob Fukuzakis. It’s only a matter of time.

Contact Ryan at [email protected].