WEIRTON, W.Va. — When a group of six Marines from Okinawa, Japan, died last month while on a humanitarian mission to Nepal, their deaths were not just a remote news item to Samy Fineman.
The Chester native has lived in Okinawa on and off since 2002 and has just finished a seven-year stint as host of the TV show “Samy on the Street.” A former airman, Fineman is well acquainted with the Marines who call Okinawa home.
“Anything that happens on this side of the world – tsunamis, earthquakes, monster typhoons – the Marines and other servicemen and women here deploy because Okinawa is such an amazing pivot point to those areas,” he said. “I feel like the Marines are the truest and bravest heroes in our country.”
The last seven years have given Fineman, 31, an intimate view of Marine Corps life overseas, even as he has settled into family life as an expatriate from the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.
Fineman just concluded the 100th and final episode of “Samy on the Street,” a man-on-the-street series he started for MCCS TV in 2008 and that reached more than 70,000 servicemembers, military civilians and their dependents in Okinawa. In that time span, “Samy on the Street” also became a phenomenon on YouTube.com.
“We service the largest overseas military audience anywhere in the world. … It has been one of the greatest joys of my life having a television show of this magnitude with such a great reach,” Fineman said, referring to the base cable channel offered by Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS).
With Fineman as its host, “Samy on the Street” was one of three locally-produced TV programs targeted toward a Marine Corps audience in Japan. Fineman also produced, wrote and edited the show, broadcasting in English an average of 14 episodes a year.
“I could have reached 100 episodes a long time ago, but I made sure the quality was in line with the great service MCCS provides to the Marines and other servicemembers stationed here. They deserve it,” he said.
“Samy on the Street” showcased various aspects of Marine Corps life in Okinawa, as well as the MCCS programs offered to service personnel and their families. The hallmark of the show, which varied in length from five to 15 minutes, was Fineman’s casual, jocular style as he approached unsuspecting Marines on the street and interviewed them about the theme of the day.
Fineman hosted shows about, among other things, New Year’s resolutions, job search strategies, softball tournaments, personal finances, family fun nights, holiday traditions, lifeguard training, the Super Bowl, food preparation and individual success stories.
His goal for the show was to help Marines feel “at home” in Okinawa.
“Showcasing a new restaurant, event or concert only makes (Okinawa) better for the Marine who will watch the show and come to the next one,” he said. “Some of the greatest moments were times which just popped up out of happenstance to become memorable. Luckily, I was able to use impromptu skills I learned during my time as a radio DJ to make them indelible.”
Fineman, a 2002 graduate of Oak Glen High School, got his start in broadcasting in Hancock County. The son of Steve and Lily Fineman, of Chester, he used to do the morning announcements at Oak Glen and got involved in broadcasting professionally while serving with the U.S. Air Force in Portugal, Okinawa and Afghanistan.
He was voted the 2007 Stars and Stripes Best of the Pacific DJ in Okinawa by the listeners of the American Forces Network radio station there – Wave 89.1 FM. The voters were fans of his radio show “The Samy Fineman Experience.”
In 2005, Fineman met his wife, Sunshine, a teacher for military dependents in Okinawa. They now have two children of their own, Sophia, 7, and Noah, 5. He counts his family – his parents, grandfather Alvin Fineman, now of Pittsburgh, and in-laws Mario and Maria Tejada, of Oxnard, Calif. – among his biggest supporters.
His sister, Shoshana Fineman, has used “Samy on the Street” as a vehicle to teach English to her private school students in Bogota, Colombia.
“My aunt, Janet Winschel, of Pittsburgh, watches ‘Samy on the Street’ in her office when they want to get a laugh. So my family has been a huge focal point in all of my success,” he said.
Fineman used the 100th episode milestone to feature highlights from the past seven years. It and the other episodes can be viewed at www.YouTube.com/MCCSTVOnOkinawa.
Fineman dedicated his 100th episode to his grandparents, Alvin Fineman and the late Babette Fineman, who died in 2011. “They both blessed me with a great sense of humor over the years of dinner conversations, and always gave me great pointers along the way,” he said. “I wish my grandmother was alive to see 100 shows, but I know she is with me in spirit in everything I do.”