Song Hae, Beloved South Korean TV Host, Dies at 95


SEOUL — Song Hae, who fled North Korea as a younger man through the Korean War and have become a beloved tv persona in South Korea, acknowledged by Guinness World Records as the world’s “oldest TV music talent show host,” died on Wednesday at his residence in right here. He was 95.

His demise was confirmed by Lee Gi-nam, the producer of a 2020 documentary on Mr. Song’s life, which charted a tumultuous course that mirrored South Korea’s trendy historical past. No trigger was given.


A jovial Everyman determine identified for his cheeky grin and folksy wisecracks, Mr. Song grew to become a family title in South Korea when he took over in 1988 because the host of “National Singing Contest,” a weekly town-by-town competitors that mixes down-home musical expertise, farcical costumes, poignant life tales and comedic episodes.


His expertise present, which he introduced with a booming voice, ran each Sunday for greater than three a long time. Mr. Song traveled to each nook of South Korea, to the Korean diaspora in locations like Japan and China, and even to Paraguay, Los Angeles and Long Island. He continued as host till the present went on hiatus through the coronavirus pandemic, and he was nonetheless formally at its helm at his demise.


Without a weekly outlet whereas the present was on maintain, his well being appeared to deteriorate, stated Jero Yun, director of the documentary “Song Hae 1927.”

“It was, in some ways, the driving force of his life, meeting people from all walks of life through the program and exchanging life stories,” Mr. Yun stated. “People would always recognize him, crowd around him and want to talk to him.” Referring to the Okay-pop megagroup, Mr. Yun added, “He might as well have been BTS.”

Mr. Song was posthumously awarded a presidential medal for his contributions to South Korea’s tradition, the president’s office introduced on Wednesday. He was entered into Guinness World Records in April.


Mr. Song was born Song Bok-hee on April 27, 1927, below Japanese occupation in what’s now Hwanghae Province in North Korea. His father was an innkeeper.


A number of months after the Korean War broke out in 1950, when he was 23, he left residence to keep away from being drafted to battle for the North, and made his method south. He ultimately boarded a United Nations tank touchdown ship, not understanding the place it was headed. Staring out at the water, he would later say, he renamed himself Hae, that means sea.

He left his mom and a youthful sister behind in North Korea. Well into his 90s, he could be decreased to tears by any point out of them.

After the ship took him to the South Korean metropolis of Busan, on the peninsula’s southern coast, he served as a signalman within the South Korean Army. He stated in interviews that he was one of many troopers who tapped out the Morse code transmitting the message in July 1953 that there was a cease-fire.

After his discharge from the military, he peddled tofu in impoverished postwar South Korea earlier than becoming a member of a touring musical theater troupe. He sang and carried out in selection reveals and ultimately grew to become a radio host, anchoring a site visitors call-in present that catered to cab and bus drivers. It included an occasional section by which the drivers would dial in for a sing-off.

In 1952, Mr. Song married Suk Ok-ee, the sister of a fellow soldier he had served with within the battle. They had three youngsters. After 63 years of marriage, Mr. Song and his spouse held the marriage ceremony they by no means had, having initially married amid the poverty and turmoil of their youth. She died in 2018.


He is survived by two daughters, two granddaughters and a grandson. In 1986, his 21-year-old son was killed in a bike accident, and Mr. Song couldn’t bear to proceed engaged on his radio site visitors present. Around the identical time, he was tapped to host the singing contest for the nationwide broadcaster, KBS.


With Mr. Song at its heart, the present shortly grew to become a nationwide pastime, significantly amongst older residents and people in rural communities — teams that this system spotlighted, and that have been seldom seen on tv.

Grandmothers break-danced and rapped; grandfathers crooned sexy K-pop numbers. Countless younger youngsters, a few of whom went on to turn out to be stars, charmed the host onstage. Once, a beekeeper covered in bees performed the harmonica whereas a panicked Mr. Song cried out, “There’s one in my pants!”

Mr. Song by no means fulfilled his lifelong dream of revisiting his hometown in North Korea. But due to his present, he got here tantalizingly shut.