Friday, October 17, 2008

Welcome to my thesis!

When I was doing research for my history thesis, I often found myself cruising the stacks of the library, poking around in dusty corners. As I slaved away for a year on this 70-page research paper, I often found myself struck with terror at the thought of my thesis becoming just another dusty research paper. I would often take something to check-out and the librarian would chuckle, "Wow! This one hasn't been checked out since the 1950s!"

That's a frightening thought. So in fear for the mortality of my poor, little history thesis, I am posting the whole thing here on the internet in the hopes that someone might be interested. I am splitting it into sections and I will post the complete PDF should you prefer it in that format.


The web page that started it all

It is a terrifying prospect to come up with a thesis topic. This is something to which you will be DEDICATING YOUR LIFE for the next year. It should not only be interesting to you, but interesting to other people, also a hot topic in academia, a stepping stone in your academic career, something for which there is some research - but not too much - and preferably with lots of juicy primary source material. That's a tall order.

My starting point: something to do with Mexican-Americans in California. And hey, I really like media and communications.

Naturally I started out by blindly googling. I somehow found this tantalizing page featuring this one little photo:

Thus began the research journey that would take me from rainy Portland all the way to California's Central Valley. Here's to the National Park Service!

A quick introduction to Spanish-language radio

For nearly as long as there have been radio broadcasts in the U.S., there have been broadcasts in foreign languages, everything from German, Polish, and Italian to Native American dialects to Japanese. These ethnic radio programs, usually not lasting more than two to four hours, would generally run about once a week either on primarily English-language stations, or on stations that carried a number of other ethnic programs. The shows served their communities by advertising ethnic businesses, spreading news, playing familiar music from the homeland and helping ease the transition to life in America.

A great number of these early ethnic variety shows were broadcast in Spanish, especially in the southwestern states where there was constant immigration from Mexico. In fact, the market was so strong that by 1960, Spanish-language shows accounted for two-thirds of foreign-language broadcast time in the U.S., with many stations broadcasting exclusively in Spanish-- something that could not have been predicted based on the population of primary Spanish-speakers nor on Spanish-language press circulation, which accounted for a mere 8.6 percent of ethnic press circulation. It seems that Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans had a special affinity for radio far exceeding that of any other ethnic group and of the general populace. This was still the case in 1978; one survey found that Spanish speakers listened to twice as much radio as the rest of Americans on average, about four hours a day.

Despite the unusual popularity of Spanish-language radio, there has been little scholarship explaining this phenomenon, especially in terms of how the stations have changed over time. The work that has been done has largely consisted of snapshots of particular places or times, with the exception of one narrative that only covered from early beginnings to 1976. The goal of my research is to study the particular-- radio station KGST “La Mexicana,” the oldest station in California’s Central Valley-- in order to understand the broader history of Mexican-American radio in the Southwest in the context of both Mexican-American and radio history.

Over the past 50 years, KGST has played an important role in strengthening the Mexican-American community of the Central Valley, by bringing together listeners spread across hundreds of miles through the airwaves, at the station itself, and at sponsored events. The station has kept people connected to Mexican culture while simultaneously integrating listeners into American culture as consumers. Its programming has reflected changes in both the Mexican/Mexican-American population and in the radio industry, initially functioning like other ethnic radio, but moving toward a more mainstream sound in the decades after it became a full-time Spanish-language commercial station, with more listeners permanently settled in the area. More than promoting American mass culture or Mexican culture, in the late 1960s through 1980, the station gave focus to a local Mexican-American ethnic culture that was distinct in musical tastes, interests, values and lifestyles, even as the identity of the station remained “La Mexicana” (the Mexican one).

A review of the literature: In which I find very little and decide Felix Gutierrez and Jorge Reina Schement are my heroes

Although the topic of Spanish-language radio resonates not only in historic terms, but is of interest for the fields of communication, ethnomusicology, ethnic studies, linguistics, and Chicano studies, secondary literature on the subject is limited. Only a handful of scholars have treated it in any way and all have emphasized that it is a topic meriting more attention. Ethnic radio is lucky to get a few paragraphs in most of the mainstream radio histories, which wax nostalgic about radio’s golden days. In its most comprehensive treatment, Theodore Grames’ survey in 1973 for the American Folklife Center, Spanish-language radio was belittled by the author, who found it so commercial he hesitated to call it ethnic. Felix Gutierrez and Jorge Reina Schement’s 1976 dissertation, “Spanish-language radio in the Southwest,” is the definitive narrative on the topic and is referenced by all later scholars. The communications dissertation gives a historical overview and has a detailed case study of one station, as well as statistical charts based on Broadcasting Yearbook showing national trends unique to Spanish-language broadcasting. This source is invaluable, as well as a chapter in Clemencia Rodriguez’s Fissures in the Mediascape, which has original interviews with early Mexican-American radio deejays, many of whom have since died. In addition, there are a few other theses, mainly from the field of communications, treating Mexican-American listening habits in certain cities.

It is evident from existing literature that Spanish-language radio is different from mainsteam English-language stations and much ethnic radio programming in a number of ways, and warrants its own treatment in the scope of both radio and Mexican-American history. Immigration from Mexico has been different from much immigration from European and Asian countries in the sheer numbers of people that have come, the close proximity of the homeland, and the continuous nature of the immigration, which has distinguished Mexican-American radio programming from other ethnic radio programming in some important ways.

Theodore Grame surveyed U.S. ethnic radio programs for the American Folklife Center in 1973. He was the first person to look at the topic on this broad level and define commonalities between radio programs. He felt at the time of his survey that the vibrant ethnic radio tradition had been overlooked by scholars, and also that it was in danger of disappearing as second and third generation immigrants stopped speaking the language and lost ties to their home country. He said that most of the ethnic brokers that he interviewed did their shows because they wanted to serve the community, and that they made little money doing so and were lucky to break even. Unlike deejays, brokers were not salaried by the radio station, but instead paid for radio time, usually just a few hours a week outside of prime time on primarily English-language stations. They recouped costs by selling advertising time, usually to businesses within the community as their audience was usually not big enough to attract national advertisers. The shows usually featured music with commentary and commercials in between. There was news from home, but also information and advice to help new immigrants adjust to life in the U.S. By 1973, many of these radio programs were long-standing, attracting primarily older, first-generation immigrant listeners, and Grame said that the brokers sometimes seemed stuck in a time warp, playing music that was popular at the time they left their home country and maintaining an outdated speaking pattern. The only exception to this was Spanish-language programming, which not only comprised the majority of ethnic programming, but was continuing to grow, so Grame largely left it out of his analysis.

Why Mexican-Americans? Why radio? Why KGST?

As opposed to other ethnic radio, Mexican ethnic programming was constantly renewed by new immigration and immigrants still had close ties to Mexico. The newest Mexican recordings easily made their way to stations in the Southwest, whereas an ethnic broker from Scotland or Italy might find it more difficult to stay up on popular music in the home country, relying mainly on his or her own record collection. Furthermore, Mexican radio brokers had a much bigger audience and could attract national advertisers, to the point that the market could support commercial radio stations that broadcast only in Spanish. The radio stations also did not have as much competition from newspapers as did other ethnic radio programs, especially in rural areas with high illiteracy. Mexican-American radio’s commercial nature has caused it to develop differently from other ethnic radio over the years, becoming more and more like mainstream English-language stations in its sound, format and role in the community.

The Mexican-American community has long preferred radio over print and even after the introduction of television, radio has held its own. Since the 1920s, Spanish-language stations have been viewed and used differently by their listeners, often to make up for a lack of social services or newspapers. The radio stations have served as the formal announcers of events, births, deaths. They have been the classifieds, the source for government information, and often the only outlet for news. Furthermore, they have been very directly involved in the communities, sponsoring events and rallying listeners for charity drives which have helped to build the idea of a Mexican-American and, to some extent, Latino, community. In Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, Susan Douglas writes about the ability of radio to form imagined communities that are separated in space, but united through the broadcast, not unlike the Spanish-speaking community spread hundreds of miles around Fresno.

Even as it has forged its own way, Spanish-language radio has been affected deeply by the changes in the American radio industry over the past six decades. Its history is that of a complex relationship between serving the community and satisfying commercial forces. Sometimes the two line up well; carrying advertisements for local Mexican-American businesses is a service for listeners who want to know where they can buy certain products, and it makes money for both the station and the business. KGST must turn a profit to survive and the more advertisers the station has, especially national brands, the better programming it can offer. Carrying a lot of beer and cigarette ads may not be healthy for the community, but the money they bring in also makes better programming possible, particularly news programming. It is expensive to support a newsroom, whereas music programs are very cheap and more popular with listeners. It is even more expensive to have an in-house reporter, but local and regional news is the information most likely to directly impact listeners. Most English-language stations have carried little news as their listeners can look to newspapers and, more recently, television for that purpose. However, Spanish-language stations have often been the only place in an area that listeners could find news and information, giving them a somewhat greater responsibility to listeners than mainstream English-language stations.

There is no better way to understand this marriage of service and commercialism than a case study. Radio station KGST “La Mexicana” is an interesting station to study for a number of reasons. It was the first full-time Spanish-language station in the Central Valley and the second in California, the first station with Mexican-American ownership, and the first and only with programming of its kind for a decade. KGST broadcasts from the heart of California’s Central Valley, an agricultural area that has always been heavily Mexican-American giving to the migrant farmworkers who pass through seasonally and over the years sometimes choose to stay. Furthermore, it is in a more rural area than KCOR in San Antonio or KALI in Los Angeles, which have both been treated academically. The research about California stations has mainly dealt with Los Angeles, which has long been the hub of U.S.-produced Mexican and Mexican-American music. There has also been some treatment of Cuban exile radio out of Miami, as well as Puerto Rican or Ecuadorian radio in New York City, but these have developed differently from Mexican-American radio in the Southwest.

The importance of doing this research now cannot be understated. Unlike newspapers, which create an impressively detailed paper trail, much of the content of radio stations goes out into the ether never to return. Stations keep some records, but they are only required to hold onto papers such as official correspondence for a few years, and many documents disappear when the station moves facilities. Often the only sources of a station’s history are the people that have worked there. Nearly all of KGST’s deejays and owners from the 1950s have passed away. Others have moved and cannot be found. Their stories have been lost forever.

The people behind the station - the whole history in a single paragraph

At the start of my research, I contacted the current general manager of KGST, Dan Crotty, who was eager to help. He directed me to Ben Gutierrez, who worked at KGST from 1968 to 1991, initially as station program director, then as general manager, who gave me the number of the original station accountant, Jack Kazanjian. I found Stella Romo’s name in some early newspaper articles and was amazed to find she is still news director at KGST, nearly forty years after she beat out over thirty other job applicants to become a translator and announcer. These people were the sources that made this project possible, bringing the story to life, patiently telling me their own stories and the history of the station.

It is quite a story how a small station broadcasting out of an upstairs apartment on Broadway in Fresno became a top station in one of the country’s strongest radio markets, pulling in $100,000 a month in advertising. The first section of this thesis places KGST in a broader history of radio in Mexico and early Spanish-language stations in the Southwest, so as to give an idea of the musical and radio traditions with which KGST’s first broadcasters were familiar. There is quite a bit of continuity between radio broadcasts in the 1930s and 1940s and KGST’s first decade of operations. The second section of this thesis details KGST’s start in 1949 as an “international station,” up until it was sold and moved toward a full-time Spanish format in 1961. During its first decade, it ran on a broker system according to which deejays were not salaried, but instead paid for radio time. Brokers had complete control over the tone, theme, music, and language of their shows, and programming at this time was much like other ethnic radio programming in its close ties to the community, that it was amateur, and not initially profitable. The third section deals with the station’s heyday—the 1960s and 1970s, as KGST grew both financially and as a force within the local Mexican-American community. There is discussion of what it was like to work at the station, as well as how KGST was involved with the community beyond the airwaves. As more listeners settled permanently in the valley and there were more second-generation immigrants, programming began to reflect distinct local tastes, rather than simply playing the top hits from Mexico. The fourth section details the period from 1980 until today, particularly the aftermath of the 1980 census, which showed the Latino population to be the fastest growing in the U.S., piquing big business’ interest and leading to more pointed targeting of this “new” market. Coupled with the Federal Communication Commission’s loosening of station ownership limits, Spanish-language stations became increasingly corporate-owned with programming more dictated from national music charts, rather than local preferences. Spanish-language stations started to sound and act more like mainstream English-language radio and the addition of over a dozen more Spanish-language stations to the market led to tight competition and a move toward format radio in which each station played one kind of music targeted at an age-specific demographic. Responding to these forces, the first public Spanish-language stations in the Valley, Radio Bilinguë and Radio Campesina, were both founded in this period with radically different ideas of what radio could be. They are treated as a counterpart to commercial Spanish-language stations. Over this period, KGST’s role in the community diminished, and some of its functions as an entertainment and informational outlet were taken over by other entities.

Antecedents to KGST- 1920s to 1950: early radio in Mexico

KGST did not go on the air until 1949, but it was part of a tradition of Spanish-language broadcasting reaching back to Mexico’s first stations in the 1920s and Spanish-language programs out of Los Angeles in the wake of World War I. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Mexican state was finally recovering from the 1910 revolution and was institutionally organizing. The government saw broadcasting as a powerful tool for “modernizing the country, establishing political order, and building national cultural integration.” It was particularly suited to Mexico’s landscape. Most Mexicans at that time were rural peasants spread over a huge and varied terrain with little access to national institutions. Although there were strong regional affiliations, there was not such a strong feeling of a Mexican national identity. Broadcasting in Mexico began as a combination of state-run stations and commercial stations that were friendly to the state and were not allowed to criticize the government on the airwaves. The state stations broadcast educational programs, history and cultural documentary features, poetry readings, government announcements, and music programs that promoted the government’s idea of official national culture. The music the stations played tried to be authentically “Mexican,” but at the same time, the bourgeosie of Mexico City wanted Mexican culture to be respected and taken seriously in the international sphere, so they tempered the presentation of popular folk music. Recordings from the various regions of Mexico were decontextualized, presented as generic folk music alongside songs by natives of other nations, or in a historic context. Sometimes popular songs were reworked so they could be played by professional musicians and orchestras. The stations also played a lot of classical European music or art music that drew on folk melodies, but adhered to the classical forms and instrumentation.

The government stations were not the only ones at this time; there were also many commercial stations that played the music that was popular outside the capital. To make sure that its programs reached the citizenry most distant to national institutions, the Mexican government distributed radios to poor rural areas that were tuned only to the state station and locked. Investigators sent out to assess the program months later found that nearly all the radios had been broken into so that they could be tuned to the more popular commercial stations. The commercial stations played almost exclusively music and nearly eighty percent of the music programs featured an orquesta tipica- typical folk ensembles with violins, psaltery, guitars, mandolins and contrabass that played pasadobles, polkas and waltzes, integrating mariachi and marimba music and other regional forms. The number of hits on these stations that were distinctly Mexican (written and performed by Mexican musicians or of a Mexican music form) hovered around forty percent, with the rest coming from the U.S., Europe or other parts of Latin America. The rise of commercial stations in Mexico paralleled a similar trend in America. In both countries, radio had initially been seen by the elite as a way to force feed official culture to the masses. They thought that broadcasters could shape the tastes of listeners, but it turned out to be the opposite. Listeners would usually only tune in to the programs that catered to their tastes, so the commercial stations that gave people what they wanted reached far more of the populace. By the early 1940s, the Mexican government had abandoned its efforts in radio and let commercial broadcasters take over.

The Mexican government’s failed early efforts at broadcasting are revealing of musical tastes outside of the capital in greater rural Mexico. Most of the immigrants who were to work in the fields of California came from rural areas and brought their tastes with them. Broadcasters in the U.S., freed from the regulations of the Mexican state, tailored their broadcasts to this demographic. Rather than orchestra music from the capital, they played what their listeners wanted: Mexican folk music, regional forms like mariachi or norteño, and corridos, a type of ballad usually based on true events. A lot of radio was live at this time so deejays invited musicians from the community, some amateurs, to play on their shows; these musicians were very much of the community, usually working day jobs in addition to their night-time gigs. Some performed original corridos about working life in Los Angeles.

The Corrido Tradition and early radio programs in Los Angeles

The corrido tradition is important to note as it is been a central component of what has been considered Mexico’s strong oral tradition. The song style predates radio, but remains vibrant today, largely because the songs are now spread by Spanish-language stations on both sides of the border. A corrido is a song with many stanzas, often with new words sung to well-known melodies, that tells a story based on real events and folk heroes. The form reached its apex during the 1910 Mexican Revolution; hundreds of corridos were composed about Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata and those who fought with them. Corridos often celebrate the deeds of revolutionaries, famously brave fighters, and bandit heroes who rob the rich to give to the poor, in other words, popular heroes who were very often on the wrong side of the U.S. government, the Mexican state or both. Some tell of killings, kidnappings and other true tragedies; there are also some treating historic events from before corridos were first sung. Corridos were composed as early as the 1860s and continue to be composed today. Their principle compiler, Vicente Mendoza, calls them a form both by and for the public. Most authors of corridos are anonymous; anyone could compose a song and teach it to others. Sometimes the writers were people present at the event or a relative of the fallen, other times professionals or intellectuals tried to imitate the voice of the common people and wrote corridos based on newspaper accounts. The songs were spread by traveling singers who went to perform at fairs throughout the country, taking up a collection and sometimes selling the printed lyrics of a song. They were also spread by beggars and by soldiers who composed songs during their downtime. Mendoza also credited radio with widely diffusing the corridos. In a country with high illiteracy, the corrido was a way of memorializing heroes and events and keeping them alive in the popular memory. It was a way of passing the news.

Pedro Gonzalez, one of the first and most famous Spanish-language radio personalities in the U.S., remembered writing corridos with his fellow soldiers when he fought with Pancho Villa. He played many on his program on a Los Angeles station in the 1920s and 1930s. The form easily crossed the border to the U.S. where many Mexicans were inspired to write new corridos about their experiences in the states. The first commercially recorded corrido was written by Gonzalez and was called “El lavaplatos”-- the dish-washer. It was told from the point of view of a young Mexican who came to America with great dreams, but ended up washing plates and lamenting his misfortune. Another corrido from the 1930s particularly relevant to this thesis was about life for Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles and was called “Radios and Chicanos ”:

At last he came to this county and rented an apartment
Without knowing that in this town one dies working in the cement.
When he felt that he had money he began to buy on time;
And when he bought ill-fitting suits he felt himself equal with Carranza.
It is true, it is true, it seems a lie that being a Chicano
So spirited and so healthy that he would come from over there.

He rented a radio and aerial with light bulbs and buttons.
Because his house was very quiet without music or songs.
At the hour that they transmit the concerts to Chicanos
It happens that they advertise pork and the best country gravy.
It is true, it is true, it seems a lie that in place of songs
Those city people would advertise cantaloupes.

After three quarters of an hour they sing us some fox trot,
Then they announce the lady who makes good tepache [a Mexican beverage made of pulque, water, pineapple and cloves].
Other subjects follow, illustrating the bargains
That they will make to the dead if they buy good coffins.
It is true, it is true, it seems a lie that they would vex us
In these places, those of the city; it seems a lie, that they would vex us, those of the city.

It is telling that the radio is a subject considered worthy of treatment in a corrido; in this song there are also a number of important details about early Spanish-language radio in the U.S.. As indicated by “At the hour they transmit the concerts to Chicanos,” most programs were of short duration and were carried on English-language stations at odd times. Because there were so few, most in the Spanish-speaking community knew of and listened to these programs. They featured music, but as the singer of the corrido complains, there was a fair share of advertising, some from local Mexican-American businesses (“the lady who makes good tepache”) and some from regional or national advertisers (“pork and the best country gravy”). On early broadcasts, it was sometimes difficult to tell where the deejay’s commentary ended and the commercials began. Advertisements were read by the deejay, not prerecorded, and many came off as a personal recommendation. Former KGST station manager Ben Gutierrez said, “In the old days, it was very personal. You said, ‘You go buy Rainbow Bread,’ and they would go and buy it because you said it.” “Plugola,” the practice of a deejay pushing a product or business of a friend, or something in which he or she was personally invested, was fairly common in the 1920s through 1950s, as most deejays were amateurs whose bosses could not understand what they said on the air. It became less common as full-time Spanish-language radio stations were founded with professional deejays, Spanish-speaking managers and more government oversight.

“Radio and Chicanos” is also interesting in its commentary on the situation of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans working in California. Songs like “El Lavaplatos” often bemoaned conditions and got in some social commentary as well. One Mexican-American who lived in Los Angeles at that time said that corridos were a way for musicians to “sing what they cannot say.”

Over the 1920s, these very personal, live Spanish-language programs remained relegated to off-hours on English-language stations, but were still enormously popular with Mexican-American communities. Spanish-language radio waned during the Depression and the early years of World War II, when there was little economic incentive for Mexicans to go north and immigration dropped off. Over the late 1940s and 1950s, workers again began flooding to the U.S., just about when KGST hit the airwaves.

1949-1961: Beginnings as an “international station,” the broker system

“There’s a lot of Mexican people. That’s what kept it going all the way- they listened to station KGST.”-Jack Kazanjian, station accountant 1949-1961

KGST was not a Spanish-language station when it went on the air on February 13, 1949. It was the fifth station in the Fresno area, right in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. Representing a $50,000 investment, the station was owned by five men, most of them radio veterans. It was not affiliated with any of the networks, unlike three of the stations in town, which were connected with ABC, CBS, and NBC, and KGST featured musical programs, special events and news broadcasts between the hours of 7 AM and 6 PM. Day-time only broadcasting was common at this time as AM radio signals carry further at night and stations on the same frequency can interfere with each other even across hundreds of miles after sunset.

By 1950, due to tensions between the owners, KGST was sold for $55,000 to Sidney Mandel, Milton Gerloff and Morris Mindel, “all radio people,” who had been eyeing the station. The new owners said they would “emphasize community minded programming.” Whether or not this was their intent when they mentioned community, KGST did indeed reflect the Fresno community, calling itself an “international radio station” with programs in Armenian, Portuguese, Serbian, Italian, Japanese and, of course, Spanish, reflecting the immigrant backgrounds of the valley’s fieldworkers.

The first Spanish-language broadcasts on KGST had much in common with ethnic radio programs across the country. At many stations in the 1950s, including KGST, airtime was sold in blocks on a broker system, so programming varied drastically from hour to hour. Unlike deejays, who are salaried by the station, the radio brokers paid the station for a time slot, then were responsible for finding their own advertisements, arranging music and guests and putting together their programs, which usually lasted between one and four hours. Station owners did not have the capital to salary people and produce full-time programming, so they found it easier to sell time slots, particularly less-lucrative early morning slots, to brokers. Spanish-speaking brokers were often the only ones willing to take a slot from 3 to 6 AM, when fieldworkers would listen while they got ready for work. Indeed the first Spanish-language program in the state was called “Los Madrugadores”—the early-risers. Most of these brokers were amateurs and the system allowed particularly enterprising personalities to get into radio and even make a name for themselves without any formal training. Ethnic brokers maintained their day jobs, but hosted radio programs for fun, to serve their community, build their prestige and advertise their own or their family’s businesses. Station owners did not care what language they spoke or what they broadcast for the most part, as long as they paid their fee. Thus, KGST’s commercial nature was what initially allowed Spanish to reach the airwaves. Although there had long been racism against Mexican-Americans and suspicion against anyone speaking a foreign language, particularly during the world wars, radio station owners placed their economic interests over any personal misgivings.

Communications scholar Dr. Clemencia Rodriguez interviewed many early Latino radio brokers for her book on community radio, most of them Mexican or Mexican-American, others from Cuban-American or Puerto Rican backgrounds. She found many of these brokers to be very personally and directly involved with their communities. Advertising was not solicited through a national office; brokers went door-to-door talking to local businesses. Most brokers also worked day jobs to support themselves, side by side with their listeners. Rodriguez argues that this early period of Spanish-language broadcasts was a “fissure in an Anglo-dominated media system,” when there existed a true community radio. She wrote that broadcasts at this time were a direct cultural expression of the community, not based on marketing analyses as they are today, leading her to call early broadcasts “Latino” radio rather than the more ambiguous “Spanish-language” radio used in recent years. Rather than a product created by outsiders, the broadcasts came from within the community, featuring local deejays and musicians, with advertisements for local businesses. They reflected the tastes and views of a specific community, Mexican-American farmworkers in the case of KGST, and they did not just target the community as potential consumers, but arose to fill a role of spreading information and keeping the community in touch with news and music from their home countries.

Brokers carried as much advertising as they could get; if they did not have enough to cover their fee to the station, they took the loss. Initially most advertisers were local, often from within the ethnic community. In those days, owners were still trying to figure out how radio could be profitable. The first wave of radio stations in the 1930s had been run by existing newspapers, churches, organizations and stores, but soon proved to be too expensive to maintain. The public was largely against paid advertisements at this time, especially spot advertisements that interrupted programming. Even as advertisements became more common, businesses preferred to sponsor specific programs that carried their name. As a result of the early broker system, the airwaves were ruled by an often surprising diversity of local voices up until the late 1930s, when the big networks muscled in with nation-wide programs. These programs were often corporate-sponsored; the networks claimed they were of superior quality that would elevate the masses by taking the sophisticated sounds of the cities to the most remote regions of the countryside. The U.S.’s elite believed that such programs would raise the country’s music and culture to a superior national standard, replacing backwards folk music that had developed in isolation from city norms. The broker system continued for quite a while, however, as owners liked selling off less lucrative time slots, which continued to go to ethnic brokers. Jack Kazanjian, KGST’s accountant in its early days, said of KGST’s owners, “they made it so that it was a common people’s radio station.”

One of the first brokers was Jeanne Bacher, who hosted a women’s program. In 1951, with the help of her father, who had a wholesale radio and electronics business, she bought out Sidney Mandel for $12,000. By November of 1952, Milton Gerloff had sold out his interest to Bacher and Mindel, who went on to marry and acquire a second station in Bakersfield. Meanwhile, the Spanish programming on KGST steadily increased and, unlike most ethnic programming, started to become profitable.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Juan Mercado: From popular DJ to owner

The growth of the Spanish-language programs was due not only to increasing immigration from Mexico, but to the dynamic Juan Mercado, a popular broker since the station’s inception who played “lots of good Mexican music.” Mercado’s origins are unclear; he got his start as the Spanish-language programming director at a Visalia station and before then may have worked as farmworker. These were the days of personality radio, when listener allegiance was to specific broadcasters rather than to the station itself. For his show, Mercado brought in live acts from the area, playing records during the off hours. Described as flamboyant, Mercado had a way with people. “He was good, conversing. He spoke their language- and I’m using that as a phrase [not just stating the fact that he spoke Spanish]. He gave them the kind of programming they wanted,” Kazanjian said. In the summer and fall, he would buy out a block of the best seats in the house and take twenty to thirty advertisers and associates out to the horse races. Mercado made money in radio. “He was loud and he was proud. He was a winner…He was joyful. You had no trouble going up to Juan Mercado and saying hello on the street. That was the success of his business. Everything grew depending on how Juan Mercado grew.”

Through the 1950s, KGST was broadcasting in Spanish as much as forty percent of the time, with one to three-hour shows in other languages, as well a seven-hour block of black programming which it carried through 1959. Some people came to be salaried at this time, others were still on a broker system, “whatever worked,” Kazanjian said, and work it did. Bacher’s good business tactics and Mercado’s charm built up the station to such a point that it was worth $250,000 when Mercado bought it from Bacher in 1959. Unfortunately, Juan Mercado fell ill and passed away just two years later and his estate sold KGST for $281,000. A group of locals led by A.A. VonVillas and John Sonder, the former KGST sales manager and an associate of Mercado’s, had bid $285,000, but the estate ultimately chose a pair of men from San Jose who were already running KLOK, a successful Spanish-language station in that area. They said the decision was based on the men’s superior experience and that the estate would be exonerated from any liability. The new owners “ran [KGST] like a business. [They] still had Spanish-speaking Mexican employees, but they knew how to do business big. They came down and ran it like a business,” said Kazanjian, who continued to do the accounts. John Sonder went on to found the full-time Spanish-language station KXEX just over a year later, KGST’s first major competition.

Spanish-language radio was a powerful enterprise. Unlike the six English-language stations in the area, KGST had no similar competitors when it went on the air. Over the 1950s, there were a few hours of Spanish-language programs here and there on other stations, but it hardly had any competition from the Spanish-language press as there were initially no local papers. There simply was not a market. It is hard to find statistics on the literacy rates of Mexican immigrants, but it is clear that illiteracy was common in the rural areas of Mexico from which most emigrated. Benjamin Gutierrez remembers one store selling the Los Angeles-based La Opinion, but does not remember them having more than 30 copies at most. It seems a few papers were published in Fresno in the early 1970s, but it is unclear how long they ran and how many people they reached. El Informador, a six to ten page bimonthly from this time period, claimed to be the Central Valley’s first Spanish-language paper in 1967, and boasted a circulation of 150,000. It was a limited publication with very little local news, mainly national and international reports off the wires and editorials.

KGST had thirty-five hours of Spanish-language programs weekly in 1959, about 40 percent of its broadcast time as it could only broadcast during the day-time. By 1963, only one hour of English was heard a week, on a black program. Spanish ruled the airwaves 85 percent of the time, with a few other foreign-language programs still carried through 1965. By 1968, only one hour of Italian remained. In fact, nation-wide Spanish-language radio grew so strong, so fast, accounting for two-thirds of foreign-language broadcasts in 1960, that it was often resented by other ethnic broadcasters, who felt they had been pushed off the airwaves. In Theodore Grame’s 1973 survey of ethnic radio in the U.S. for the American Folklife Center, he quoted one Greek immigrant in Denver, “I don’t like all this chicano power stuff…What about Greek power? Look at us poor bastards, living down here in this crummy slum.” Most ethnic broadcasters had little recourse if they lost their time slots. They lacked the considerable capital necessary to open their own stations and did not have high enough numbers of listeners to attract investors from outside the ethnic community.

Grame said of Spanish-language stations in comparison to other ethnic programming, “Language and ethnicity, after all, are not the same thing.” Throughout his paper, he was quick to distinguish that Spanish-language radio was profitable where most ethnic radio was not, giving it a different cast than broadcasts done by brokers who could only hope to break even and claimed serving the community as their primary goal.

The station grows with the population

It is important to note that KGST was a commercial station from day one. In fact, all of the first full-time Spanish-language stations in the nation were commercial, which remained the case until at least 1976. There were a few programs on non-profit or educational stations, but no Spanish-language outlet of this kind until Radio Bilinguë in 1980, which came out of the Fresno area. In 1976, a comparison of stations broadcasting over half the time in Spanish with those broadcasting fewer hours (many of which had a format featuring various ethnic radio shows) found that one-hundred percent of primary Spanish-language stations were commercial as opposed to eighty-four percent of the part-time Spanish-language programmers, the sort of stations to which most ethnic broadcasters were relegated. Of the FM stations, fifty-eight percent of those part-timers were limited to educational uses; such stations are not allowed to broadcast as far and therefore reach smaller audiences. It was the commercial stations that reached most people.

KGST went to a Spanish-language format because it was profitable. Mexican emigrants, both permanent and migrant, comprised a large percentage of the Central Valley’s population, whose agricultural economy heavily depends on them to harvest the crops. Population statistics are imperfect, especially regarding Latinos, who have historically been undercounted by census officials because many are migrants that slip through tallies and because of the community’s general distrust of the government. In the past few decades, it has also been hard to track Latinos because some racially identify themselves as white, others black, some Native American or mixed race and many have simply chosen “Some other race” since that became a category in 2000. However, one can see that the Latino population has grown over the past 50 years. In 1950, the population of Fresno County was 276,515-- 6.9 percent of that “non-white.” It is likely that many people of Mexican descent were not counted because they lived in camps or other seasonal housing, moving every few weeks or months to follow the crops. The overall county population grew by 32.3 percent over the decade and by 1960, the county was 26.3 percent “Foreign stock.” This statistic reflected heavy immigration in waves from the turn of the century on, by not only Mexicans, but Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Italians, Portuguese and Armenians.

Over the 1950s and early 1960s, most of the immigrants to the Central Valley were Mexicans, due to the Braceros program established during World War II to remedy labor shortages. The Mexican government recruited workers and transported them to Texas where labor contractors employed them across the fields of the Southwest. The program continued until 1964, admitting between 177,000 and nearly 438,000 people each year at its peak. The Braceros program was a guest workers program, so workers were admitted seasonally then returned to their families in Mexico after the harvest, rarely planning to stay in the U.S. The programming on KGST in this period reflected this attitude, providing more of a link to Mexico than introducing migrants to a distinct local or regional Mexican-American culture. Prior to the 1950s, it was illegal to import records from Mexico, which had stimulated a domestic recording industry in L.A. and given many Mexican-Americans their start. Once it was legal to import records, however, deejays played whatever music was most popular in Mexico, which was easier and easier as prices fell for mass-produced records and Mexican stars began to include the southwestern U.S. on their concert tours. Most of the deejays that Juan Mercado hired had migrated to the U.S. as adults. Of the six listed on a promotional brochure from 1960, all but one (Samuel Herrera, who was born in Redlands, California) were born in Mexico, and most had radio or entertainment experience there. They brought their broadcasting style and musical taste with them. KGST at this time could be seen as an ethnic media outlet in some respects: Juan Mercado was initially an amateur broadcaster, he had close ties to the community, most advertisers were local businesses, the programming was targeted at Mexicans living and working in the U.S. and largely kept people up with what was going on in Mexico, while giving them information about living in the U.S. in their own language. However, KGST could also be seen as a transnational media outlet in some respects. Although it did not have sister stations in Mexico with identical programming, KGST’s deejays looked to Mexico for their identity, and the music that was popular in Mexico was what they played on KGST; listeners and deejays had not broken with Mexico, but came to U.S. on a seasonal basis, often planning to return. However, the seeds were there for KGST to develop into something different. Its listeners, who usually hailed from rural areas of Mexico, already had tastes that were different from urban audiences in Mexico. KGST’s listeners came from various regions of Mexico, so the station had to accommodate a diverse local audience by playing a variety of national and regional stars, sometimes including U.S.-born or –based stars who were not usually able to cross over into the Mexican mass market. The station also occasionally featured local acts. The listening audience was changing as well.

By 1970, 25.1 percent of Fresno County’s population was “Foreign Stock.” Of that, 45 percent was Mexican. Additionally, a category had been added, “Persons of Spanish Heritage,” amounting to 25.2 percent of the entire population. In total, counted Latinos made up a quarter of the population, 45 percent of which had recently arrived, and another 55 percent which were naturalized or second- or third-generation.

Although Mexican and Mexican-Americans’ buying power was less than that of whites as many were recent immigrants in lower-paying agricultural or factory jobs, the market was profitable due to its sheer size. Furthermore, KGST essentially had a monopoly on the Fresno market during the 1950s up until 1962, when KXEX went on the air.

1961-1980: KGST’s hey-day: From broke to profitable

International Radio Corporation, which owned two other California stations, took over KGST in 1961; by 1968, when Ben Gutierrez came on as programming manager, it was in bad shape partially owing to the policies of former manager, Ben Ramirez, who resigned. Gutierrez received a call from Pacific General Electric his first week on the job with the threat of the power being turned off if the outstanding bills were not paid within 24 hours.

“I went to work and when I say went to work I mean really went to work. I got up at five o’clock in the morning, [to] get the office work out of the way, be on the street (soliciting advertisers) by nine o’clock in the morning, back by four or five to make commercials, get the orders in and really just kind of attend to the staff,” Gutierrez said.

It was eighteen months before the station was breaking even, twenty four before it was turning a profit and after that, “it was up and up and up.” From an average of $8,000 a month in advertising, it went up to $90,000 a month over the next twenty years, averaging between $95,000 and $100,000 a month when the station was sold in 1985.

It was initially an uphill battle; Spanish-language radio was not an easy sell in the 1960s.

People would tell me, “We aren’t interested in Spanish-language radio.” Or someone would tell me, “See me in two years,” y’know hoping that in two years I’d be dead or something. But the following week I’d be in their store. I’d say, “Hi, I know you told me you’re not interested but this week I’m working this block and I just thought I’d stop by and say hi, and now that I said it, goodbye, thank you.” I’d do that every week until I broke them down and they bought. They began to have confidence in me. They said, “This guy’s here to stay. He means business. Let’s give him a try.” So they would and I made customers that way. That’s how I built up a customer base that was very loyal to us eventually.

A lot of the advertisers were local: auto dealerships, lower-end furniture stores, markets. Gutierrez said it was hard to get the department stores on board, although they eventually gave in along with many businesses that saw the rising numbers of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans coming into their stores. National accounts were tough to win as well, but even back then, KGST landed accounts with companies like Budweiser. This was rarely the case with other foreign-language radio programs, which relied mainly on local advertisers within the ethnic community.

Spanish-language radio was and is commercially viable; in the eyes of management, this has to be the first concern. Gutierrez stressed,

You’ve got to realize, a radio station is a business and it needs to make money. It needs to make money for its investors, for its owner. It entertains and educates the people, it informs the people, but it’s still a business that makes money. I would say [educating, informing, entertaining] are equally important but if you can’t make money, you can’t do these other things. It is a business.

KGST succeeded as a business, but it had many broader functions for the Mexican-American community far beyond carrying ads for cars and beer. Over the 1960s and 1970s, more Mexican immigrants began to settle permanently in the area and KGST’s commercial nature made it particularly responsive to these changes in the listener population. There are a lot of forces shaping identity: the culture of a person’s parents, the language that person speaks, where he or she lives, his or her employment, popular culture, religion. George Sánchez mentions many of these factors in Becoming Mexican-American, his book on identity formation, culture and ethnicity in the Mexican-American community of Los Angeles from 1900 to 1945. He talks about the role of the expanding music industry there, radio, and dance halls. There has been a lot of research on the barrios in urban areas, particularly Los Angeles. Mexican-Americans have tended to live in neighborhoods segregated from white English-speakers, due to overt racism and because new immigrants usually live in poorer neighborhoods. Scholars have detailed the negative effects of the barrios: isolation from local politics, poor infrastructure and schools, more difficult for many immigrants to learn English, as well as the positive effects: strongly maintained cultural ties and the development of a distinct Mexican-American ethnic culture. There was a barrio or colonia (literally colony) in Fresno, but a lot of KGST’s listeners lived in smaller towns and settlements throughout the valley and did not have as many opportunities as city-dwellers to go to movies, hear live music, go to dances, or otherwise participate in the culture of the barrio. In rural areas, the radio could serve an important funtion to include more physically isolated individuals in the greater Mexican and Mexican-American community, keeping them up on the music, latest events and news, even broadcasting the Catholic mass on Sundays.

Entertaining and serving the community: getting out the message

KGST deejays were celebrities within their community and were often present at the events and dances that they promoted on-air. Known for some time as Radio Amistad (Friendship Radio), KGST’s slogan has long been “La Mexicana,” the Mexican one. As it was one of the few sources of music and news from Mexico, listeners were very devoted to this station that broadcast in their own language and kept them linked to home and to each other.

In an article from 1976, Gutierrez quoted a saying that “Mexicans live and die by radio.”

I would tell the people… that was one of my arguments. Mexican people live and die by Mexican radio. Mexican radio was for many years, and I don’t know today, it’s more entertainment and education, but back then for many years, it was a means of keeping the Hispanic family together. Because we had the news from Mexico. We had news from people who came in and said please dedicate the program to my family because they just came in from Mexico; they’re newcomers, this sort of thing. They knew what was happening in the Hispanic community through radio. … Radio was a means of communication among their families- the total community. The total Hispanic community. We kept them informed. This was a way of keeping them together.

The saying was also very literally true. KGST was a message board for all kinds of announcements.

Back then, it was very, very popular, very popular, for people to call in and say would you dedicate a song or dedicate the program to my wife. We had a baby today. And on the other hand, they’d say, would you please announce that my father passed away today. And it would be a formal announcement. We would not charge for those things… Sometimes we would put out an item like, “Francisco Lopez just arrived from Mexico and he doesn’t know where his relatives are. He thinks they are in Fresno county and would like to contact them. If anybody knows, please get in contact at such and such a number.

As there was no local Spanish-language press, an announcement on KGST was the equivalent of an obituary or other formal announcement. It was enormously popular to call in. For instance, the station only charged for announcements around Mother’s Day and at just a dollar for a dedication, they made $3,000 to $4,000 over 2 to 3 days, which they put toward a scholarship fund.

People called in; but many simply came in to the station, especially if they did not have access to a phone. In the early days, the station was right on Broadway, the heart of Fresno’s commercial district. It moved to the Farmers Market for a while, and by the 1960s, to save money, KGST had taken residence in a modest stucco building out in a field-- which was no deterrent to visitors.

During the fruit and vegetable season, man, we would have an abundance of peaches, grapes, apricots, vegetables of all kinds, tomatoes, at the station. People would bring these things to the station to give to their favorite station or favorite deejay, whatever. On occasion, they’d even bring food, make tamales and they’d bring us over a batch of tamales- and we were in the boonies.

Everyone spoke Spanish for the most part, with occasional Spanglish thrown in. The station owner, Dick Ryan, was usually absent, stopping by every week or so at first, then gradually every few months once the station was doing well. That he did not speak Spanish was never a problem as there were always some people who spoke English. The station employed a few Anglo bookkeeper/receptionists over the years and radio engineers were generally Anglos. The highest level positions in Spanish-language radio nation-wide tend to be held by Anglos in general, the breakdown of owners in 1976 being seventy-six percent Anglo and twenty-four percent Latino. Anglos also owned most of the most profitable stations at that time. Most Spanish-language newspapers, on the other hand, were owned by Latinos. With radio, start-up costs were considerably higher, keeping most immigrants or Latinos out of ownership. They filled most other positions, however; Gutierrez estimated that nearly ninety percent of KGST’s anchors had been born in Mexico. The broadcasters were on the air in four-hour blocks, during which they picked which music to play, had call-ins and requests, and read commercials, which later came to be pre-recorded. The programming was mainly music, with five minutes of news every hour and a fifteen-minute news broadcast at noon.

KGST: A crucial source of news and information

The news items were pulled off Noremex Spanish wire, the Associated Press wire, which was initially only available in English, but later had about one-third of its news in Spanish, as well as United Press International (UPI) The news was local, national and international, especially covering the eight county area the station reached. Most news items had to translated into Spanish. News director Stella Romo would also occasionally go out and report on major events in the community at the station’s peak, when she had a second person in the news department. She was also part of a reporting team from the Fresno area that went down to Nicaragua to observe and over the controversial election of Violeta Chamorro in 1990. Another way KGST tried to get the news out was to simulcast a Spanish-language audio track during the evening news on a local English-language station. Romo would watch the television and translate as the newscast took place. KGST was the first station in the nation to try this.

It was uncommon at this time for Spanish-language stations to have their own reporters so even most local news came from the English-language newspaper or the wire. The cartoon above from El Informador poked fun at most radio stations’ “rip-and-read” way of putting together newscasts. Of course, the Informador itself was largely made up of wire reports, punctuated with the editor’s opinion pieces. Gutierrez and Schement were critical of the content of Spanish-language news broadcasts, which they analyzed in a comparison of news broadcasts by an English-language station, KONO, and San Antonio’s long-established KCOR. They found that KONO provided more local news and more information in general on all topics except local crime. The authors identified this as a possible source of an information gap, especially because KONO was one of dozens of media outlets where English-speakers could find information, whereas KCOR’s listeners had only perhaps three other media outlets available to them. Gutierrez and Schement were especially troubled by the lack of information that Spanish-speaking listeners could use directly in their own communities. They wrote that stations were doing the best they could, however, and blamed the shortcomings of the news programs largely on media and market forces that made reporting teams prohibitively expensive.

Besides the news, KGST continues to run a daily commercial-free thirty-minute program called “Entrevistas y Comentarios” that features government officials, police or highway patrol officers and community leaders. Stella Romo has been interviewing the guests for nearly four decades. She says the program is very popular and that listeners would not let KGST cut it; listeners often call or write suggesting guests for the program. Other special programs mentioned in an article from 1976 included “a weekly talk show with a California Highway Patrol officer, with the telephone lines open for questions from listeners; a periodic show with a Fresno Police Department representative; a fifteen-minute program each Saturday from the Fresno State University on the activities of Spanish-speaking students on the campus; and a weekly show by George Rodriguez, liaison officer for the Roosevelt High School.” Many listeners call the station for general information on a wide variety of issues, even if just to find out where they should go for information.

“[Listeners] trust people. They trust their deejays. They trust their host. We become a kind of public assistance…and we try and help the community, educating them, leading them to understand the system, the American way of things,” said former deejay Lupita Lomeli, who went on to host a program on KFTV Channel 21.

This role of Spanish-language media as a liaison between the pueblo and the government is also mentioned in a column Samuel Herrera wrote in his newspaper, El Informador:

El articulo COMO YO LO MIRO es cada ves que sale a luz EL INFORMADOR y siempre nos llegan cartas en attencion de cosas que tal aqui en nuestro hermoso valle nos hace falta, para muchas personas es mas duro hablar con los jefes de la ciudad o del condado de Fresno y lo mas facil es hablar por telefono conmigo, primero para ver si puedo darles la informacion y despues para mencionar con quien hable pues aveses [sic] para mi es facil pero como todo, hay personas no listas para dar informacion. En estos casos tengo que hablar con nuestros amigos del libro solo los llamo cuando tengo que, y casi todo el tiempo dan la contestacion.

(The article AS I SEE IT comes out with each INFORMADOR and we always receive letters calling attention to things that are lacking here in our beautiful valley, for many people it is more difficult to speak with the heads of the city or the county of Fresno and it is easier to speak with me on the phone, first to see if I can give them the information and after that, to mention with whom they might speak, well sometimes for me it’s easy but like everything, there are people not ready to give information. In these cases, I have to speak with our friends of the book, I only call them when I have to and they almost always have an answer.

Entertainment: From telenovelas to Tejano music

Besides information, KGST also provided entertainment when there was not much in the area. One of the most popular programs was the two novelas, the equivalent of soap operas, which were broadcast for fifteen to thirty minutes each day. Gutierrez said advertisers paid premium prices to run ads during the novelas. The station also played popular romantic music, as well as the Spanish versions of hit songs in English, common when rock and roll was popular during the 1970s. “Music was the tie that binds. [We] played nothing but Mexican music, from all areas of Mexico– played the top singers, big names, some were also movie actors, groups were not as popular then… We played the popular music; we played what the people wanted to hear.” During this period, nearby Los Angeles was the hub for U.S.-produced Mexican music records, but stations played a lot of imports. In the Informador, the writer of a regular “Mexican Radio and Television” column complained that local broadcasters never played local artists and did not support them as much as they should. It is not clear to which stations he referred. KGST played local artists, especially those who became big like Ray Camacho, El Sabor y El Ritmo, Tony Lopez, Alberto Salinas, and La Migra. It also had a contest for some time for amateur musicians, culiminating in a performance and coronation at a KGST event.

Initially, most U.S. Spanish-language stations in the Southwest were very similar to Mexican stations and served nearly the same audience, with many listeners crossing the border each year. There were some distinct American music styles, however, most notably Tejano music, which grew steadily in popularity after large numbers of Mexican-Americans moved to the Fresno area from Texas during the 1960s and 1970s, seeking better economic opportunities. Tejanos are Texans of Mexican descent, many of whom have been in the area since it was still Mexico or who have moved back and forth across the permeable border; their music shows the influence of German immigrants who also settled in the area-- a polka beat and the use of an accordion.

When I was a kid, Californians ate nothing but what was called pink beans, from King City, but when the Texas people came over, they brought with them the pinto beans and to make it short, today the pink beans are extinct in the Mexican homes and the pinto beans are 100 percent there in the Mexican homes and this is the result of the Texan people who were accustomed to them. They brought their pinto beans over and we took a liking to them and that’s what we use today. And the same thing happened to music.

That KGST played Tejano music showed that local taste was the primary influence on the music the station played. It was not a matter of simply playing the nation-wide hits of Mexico, but playing what was popular with Mexican migrant workers and Mexican-Americans in the Central Valley. The third station to pop up in the Fresno area was the earlier mentioned KLIP, which went on the air in 1962 and found success by niche marketing itself with a regular Tejano music program from 3 to 5 PM weekdays that ran up until 1974. However, KLIP was a small player as it only covered about a 15-mile radius, just covering the city of Fresno.

Up to that point, it would have been unusual to hear Tejano music on the radio. Because it was the music of poor laborers who emigrated from Texas out of economic desperation, the music carried a stigma not unlike that of the country music of “Okies” who came to California during the Dust Bowl. KGST did not play Tejano music initially, but played its “cousin” Norteño music from Northern Mexico.

Beyond radio: out and about in the community

Besides its radio broadcasts, KGST held a number of events and remote broadcasts over the year. The annual Mother’s Day picnic had a draw of 17,000 and was the biggest event at the fairgrounds after the county fair itself. There would be food booths and the station would sponsor concerts by some of the biggest names in Mexico like Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, and Lola Beltran. The station also sponsored concerts that drew as many as 7,200 people to the local arena, second only to the circus and ice show.

KGST also had Cinco de Mayo, Dia de Independencia and Mexican Flag Day events, one year bringing a complete drum and bugle corps of nineteen musicians whom listeners housed in their homes. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday primarily celebrated in the U.S., indicating how KGST reflected a local ethnic culture distinct from both Mexican and American cultures. The station once raised a Mexican flag on Fulton Mall, which strongly angered one advertiser. Coverage in the Informador of one of these Flag Day events, which KGST broadcasted live, was very positive toward the station. The editor capitalized the names of all the broadcasters present, as he did with that of the city mayor, the Mexican consul and other notable personalities that he called “el orgullo de su pueblo/the pride of the community.” El Informador had a semi-regular column on television and radio, mentioning many broadcasters by first name with much affection, clearly expecting all readers to be familiar with them.

“We did the things we were supposed to do for the public and we did them right. We had the money then to promote the big names at an event like this and we did and that’s what brought the people,” Gutierrez said.

KGST also held hugely successful drives to raise money for the victims of earthquakes in Nicaragua and Mexico. When the quake in Managua hit in 1972, the station stopped its regular broadcast around 2 or 3 P.M. and began continuous appeals for food, which the consul said he would deliver. Although the station asked people not to send money, $11,000 came in which was handed over to the consulate with 22 tons of food and clothing and equipment for an 11-bed hospital. Needless to say, the consul had not expected that volume of response and admitted he could not handle it, so KGST got hold of a couple of cantaloupe trucks which were not being used in the off-season. A couple of volunteers, who were paid only for food and gas, drove 17,000 miles to deliver the goods.

The 1976 earthquake in Guatemala and 1983 quake in Coalinga elicited a similar response, and under the slogan, “Pro-Mexico,” KGST raised $36,500 for victims of the 1985 quake in Mexico. The station broadcast live from the Chihuahua Tortelleria in Chinatown and a local group of mariachis showed up to provide background music, although the station refrained from playing records all weekend out of respect for those who had died. Maria Southworth, the station account executive at the time said, “Some people were teary-eyed because of their families down there. Others had no families there, but they said, ‘We’re all brothers.’”

Other drives included one to help pay a hospital bill, send an illegal alien in trouble back to Mexico, and replace the belongings of victims of a fire. The station also gave academic scholarships to outstanding Latino students each year. KGST used to raise the funds for these by making arrangements with a local farmer to pick grapes one particular day and everyone on staff and lots of listeners would go out in the fields and pick. Local businesses would supply food.

All of these fundraising drives created a sense of Mexican and Mexican-American community and identity. Unlike television, which has a nationwide network and must target a general “Latino” audience, radio stations have limited broadcast reach and so are more responsive to local preferences and needs. The homogeneity of the Spanish-speaking population in the Central Valley has kept the station focused on Mexico more than was the case in more diverse Spanish-speaking enclaves in big cities. Even so, over the 1980s, due to bloody civil wars and coups in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, many refugees sought entrance to the United States, some settling in California. Those that were admitted were usually well-educated and middle- or upper-class, as the U.S. has not been as open to Central American immigrants as it has been to Cuban exiles and Mexican farmworkers.

Working at KGST: Opportunities for the enterprising

Even if Central American immigration was much lower than that from Mexico, by the 1980s and 1990s many of KGST’s deejays hailed from countries other than Mexico, including El Salvador, Argentina and Guatemala. This had not been the case in the early days. A KGST promotional brochure from 1960 introduced Juan Mercado and the station’s five radio personalities with brief biographies. All but Samuel Herrera and perhaps Mercado, whose origins are unclear, were born and educated in Mexico. Many had entertainment or radio experience there as well as in the U.S., and one announcer, Lalo Mendoza , had specifically studied radio announcing.

Ben Gutierrez said that in Mexico, deejays had a more formal delivery style. One had to be a licensed announcer with professional training in order to work. In the U.S., no such system existed, opening the way for enterprising amateurs. Gutierrez said one of the deejays used to boast about being the only professional announcer in the Valley. Juan Mercado’s origins are unclear; he may have started out as a farmworker. He got into radio at a Visalia station where he was the Spanish-language Program Director. “He was a real pioneer and a real go-getter. He laid the ground for the rest of us…He created his own job,” said Gutierrez, who was hired by Mercado. “Everyone used to make fun of him, but he was popular. His Spanish wasn’t very good. For a radio announcer, he made a lot of mistakes,” said Gutierrez. In the 1930s and 1940s, Anglo station owners who did not speak Spanish could not distinguish between different accents and ability levels, which allowed second-generation Mexican-Americans an opportunity to get into broadcasting. However, when the stations grew and went to an all-Spanish format with salaried employees, the managers (often Spanish-speaking) were more picky. Under Juan Mercado, all but one of the five principal deejays were radio professionals who had been born in Mexico. Gutierrez said most of the people he hired were from Mexico, but that they did not necessarily have radio experience there. “Mostly, they were good with people. If they knew a little about music and they were good with people, they were candidates for broadcasters.” Unlike the radio brokers of the 1950s who worked side by side with their listeners, KGST’s deejays during the week worked full-time, with part-time deejays on the weekend.

In general, recent arrivals from Mexico or other parts of Latin America were often preferred over U.S.-born Mexican-Americans because their grammar and diction were considered better. Many Mexican-Americans speak Spanish, but in school have only been taught to write in English. U.S.-born Samuel Herrera’s newspaper, El Informador, was littered with spelling and grammatical errors. Writing is not as important in radio, but those raised in the U.S. often do not speak as well, either. They may speak Spanish at home or a combination of Spanish and English, but the bulk of public life in school and at jobs is conducted in English, which has been considered the important language to master for future success.

Beyond origins and experience, the most consistent characteristic of radio announcers was that they were male. A handful of women worked as announcers over the years, but even in 1995, the five regular weekday slots were filled by men and of the six weekend part-timers, only one was a woman. Stella Romo and Lupita Lomeli, a long-time deejay on local stations including KGST, said that discrimination has been largely a result of cultural norms and can manifest itself in various ways. Lomeli said women were often relegated to the late night or non-peak shifts and that advertisers sometimes did not want her to do their commercials.

“The opportunities are not always there for females. Not many people have positions like [Estella Romo] that are respected. Usually women are psychics to the deejays,” Lomeli said. She explained that a common format is two male deejays talking with a woman guest “psychic” on as “one of the bunch” and the men would make fun of her, talking about her personal life in a way that was very degrading to women.

“Men don’t like women to be their boss, especially Hispanics,” Romo said. She was once promoted from news director to programming director, the top position at KGST besides general manager. “Some people don’t take orders from you. [There’s] a lot of pressure. People don’t show up. At that time, they weren’t responsible people. I don’t know if they [didn’t show up, disobeyed orders, etc.] for me to get sick and tired,” she said. She held the job for a year, then Gutierrez decided to demote her to her original job and hired a man in her place, which angered her. She tries not to hold resentment. Romo and Lomeli said conditions had improved a bit since the 1960s and 1970s, but women still do not have equal opportunities to men and are widely underpaid in the business.

1980-today: The “discovery” of the Latino market: increasing corporate interest and control

KGST, KXEX and the small KLIP remained the only Spanish-language radio stations in the Fresno area through the 1970s. In 1972, the city got its first Spanish-language television station, KFTV, which was affiliated with the national Univisión network. This event was something so noteworthy that the Fresno Bee ranked it among the top happenings of the century in Fresno.

The introduction of television did not strongly affect KGST initially. Gutierrez said radio had some advantages over both television and the press.

The people would have their radios on all day long while they were picking the cherry tomatoes, all day long, and mostly, it was on KGST, so the immediacy of radio was a selling point for us. You cannot carry a TV with you and listen to it all day long… They could get all their news on radio. Why go anywhere else? They could be picking cherry tomatoes and listening to the news that they would have to sit down and read in the newspaper.

KGST continued to grow through the 1970s and 1980s, as did the Latino population of the Central Valley and the nation, something to which advertisers were paying increasing attention. The “Latino” or “Hispanic” market was the creation of advertisers to a great extent, overlooking regional and class differences in taste and buying patterns. The broad descriptor referred to anyone of Spanish or Latin American origin living in the U.S. whether they were first or fifteenth generation. It usually referred to those who still spoke Spanish at home, as advertisers felt that English-speaking Latinos could be reached through English-language mass media. Stations like KGST were identified by national advertisers as a way to reach the “Latino” market. However, KGST’s listeners still considered themselves mexicano or Mexican-American; a U.S. Latino identity did not trump national affiliations.

The 1990 census grabs advertisers’ attention: Measuring the market

The Fresno Bee ran an article in 1983 that was like many from this period, entitled “Hidden market- Hispanics- emerges from the shadows.” The article gave credit to the 1980 census for grabbing advertisers’ eyes. The census showed Hispanics as 6.4 percent of the population, projected to increase to 12 percent by the year 2000, gains which were largely in the southwestern states, Florida, and New York. In 1980, Hispanics made up nineteen percent of California’s population. In Fresno County, the Hispanic population grew sixty-one percent between 1970 and 1980; in the city proper, it grew 107 percent, making the Fresno area one of the “most important Spanish-language markets in the United States.”

Gutierrez said he felt the growth of the market and the increase in advertising to be gradual. What had really boomed was Anglo-dominated businesses’ awareness of Latino consumers. The size of the Latino market is notoriously hard to assess and the standard ratings services nearly always undercount Spanish-speakers, so for decades, KGST did not subscribe to any of the ratings services that are the mainstay of most radio stations. Even so, KGST showed up in reports solicited by other stations. In 1976, a report on the Fresno market put KGST at fourth or fifth place out of eighteen stations, to which Gutierrez responded that they “had no business being so high” considering they broadcast only in Spanish, and only during the daytime.

The result of the 1980 census was that for the first time, businesses and advertisers actually made a concerted effort to measure and assess the “Latino” or “Hispanic” markets. According to the Bee article, such studies “revealed a marketplace of large families striving to attain the American dream, of people concerned about their appearance, and of beer drinkers who put their Anglo counterparts to shame” -- an advertiser’s dream, in other words, a seemingly “new” market for any product. A 1981 study showed Hispanic families were bigger than Anglo families, at an average of 4.2 members. Another researcher found it was a younger population overall. Yet another, bucking the widely held myth that Latinos are renters, not home-owners, found that more than 50 percent of Latinos owned their own homes, just five percent behind Anglos.

The Latino population, so long lacking social or political power, now had the kind of power that causes the strongest players in America to sit up and take notice-- market power. “We’re here. Finally people realize we’re here. We’re here to stay and we’re a potential customer for any kind of business,” Gutierrez said. “Back then [the 1960s], it was not a good thing to be a Mexican. Today it’s great to be a Mexican or a Latin of any kind. Everybody’s after that market. …The buying power of the Hispanic today is huge because a lot of them have left the fields and are blue-collar workers and are professional workers.”

The very existence of Spanish-language media outlets was a source of pride for the community. “It was good for the Hispanic market because it showed there was that much interest, to have a TV station” Gutierrez said. The existence of media outlets was heralded as public recognition of the existence and economic power of the community and showed the progress the community had made to break out of poverty. Studies showed that blacks and Latinos responded favorably to advertising directed to them. Over this period, advertisers took an increasing interest in ethnic markets, which fit into the evolving idea of more directed advertising. Rather than creating an advertisement with mass appeal, advertisers sought out those media outlets that reached the specific demographic that bought their product and made an ad to fit. Many national corporations bought advertising based primarily on ratings. They did not care what a station broadcast; they cared what demographic that station reached, referring mainly to the age group of listeners. The 18 to 34 demographic was the plum in a radioscape made up of primarily format stations blasting one type of music, such as rock, light rock, alternative, or rap, all in search of young listeners. Format stations were the outgrowth of the Top-40 stations that first arose in the late 1960s when teenagers became an identifiable and desirable market. They had a predictable sound throughout the day so that listener-allegiance would be to the station, not to any particular deejay, and they played only the popular hits. The deejays could not chose their own music, but had set play-lists based on national music charts like Billboard. The Top-40 method morphed in format radio where stations ran a top-40 for a variety of different genres aimed at specific demographics.

By the 1980s, stations were listed in Broadcasting Yearbook by their formats. As Spanish-language stations attracted corporate interest and had to compete with newer stations popping up, they moved toward the English-language format radio style. Initially all Spanish-language stations were lumped under the “Spanish” format, but in the 1990s, the categories of Regional Mexican, Tropical and Spanish Romantic music were added. Within these broad genres, some stations targeted a younger audience, others an older demographic, which had not been the case with KGST in the 1950s and 1960s when the programming was for all ages. Also, some stations targeted recent immigrants from certain regions like Jalisco, Guerrero or Michoacan, while others attracted first, second and third-generation immigrants with more U.S.-based pop stars who record in Spanish.

Discrimination prevents minority ownership and affects advertising revenues

Anglo advertisers’ interest in the Latino market does not mean that discrimination did not get in the way. In 1986, a group of black and Latino advocacy organizations and media outlets brought a complaint before a special congressional hearing arguing that they could not land lucrative national accounts due to advertisers’ discrimination. The testimony was largely given by black station managers who said advertisers often approached them based on market showings, then backed off when they saw the station was black. However, the issues raised had ramifications for all minority stations and give some insight into the thoughts of legislators and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the time.

One of the most interesting arguments raised was Representative Matthew Rinaldo’s contention that such advertiser discrimination was not just socially offensive, but an affront against the free market.

When such discrimination occurs, it is not the result of the free market functioning as it should in our type of democratic society- it is a distortion of the market. It has been suggested that such discrimination in advertising materializes either as outright intentional discrimination, or as an uninformed stereotyping of the buying patterns of minorities.

Two committee members got into a heated debate when one said that wealthy minorities should not receive preference in buying stations. The other responded:

When you talk about a level playing field, because when they want to compete in the marketplace to get telecommunications properties, even though they have the ability to purchase those telecommunications properties, they are discriminated against because they are black. That is why, and we want to broaden the spectrum and allow for our rich black, Hispanic and other minorities and women prospective owners of broadcast properties, to be able to compete in the marketplace. That is the essence of our free enterprise capitalistic system that we are faced with today.

The argument, paradoxically, was that government intervention was necessary to make the market function as it naturally should-- blind to the skin colors of consumers. In capitalism, money became the great equalizer; if you had it, you had the power and the forces on the supply side had to cater to your demand. Racial discrimination was a malfunction of the free market.

Under this idea, in the 1980s and 1990s, Latinos, a long disenfranchised minority welcomed as workers and rejected as citizens, were again welcomed into American society—this time as consumers. Big business did not care if your skin was white, black or brown—as long as your money was green.

From 1970 to 1990, the population of “Persons of Spanish-origin” in Fresno county grew from 25.2 percent to 35.5 percent, the surrounding counties of Kings, Madera and Tulare showing similar increases. Fresno was soon one of the top radio markets in the U.S., ranked 73rd in the nation out of 260 by 1990, and over a third of that market spoke Spanish. The field of Spanish-language broadcasting was looking lucrative and corporations took notice. In the 1980s, Fresno was the fastest growing market in the U.S., growing at a rate of 44 percent, a full eighteen percentage points ahead of the closest contender.

In 1949, KGST was one of five stations in the Valley; by the year 2004, it competed with 29 other AM and 54 FM stations, over a third of them broadcasting in Spanish.

Radio Bilingue: Spanish-language public radio comes to the valley

Even as Spanish-language radio became increasingly more commercial, two new stations were founded in the Valley with very different conceptions of what Mexican-American or Latino radio could be: Radio Bilinguë and Radio Campesina. Radio Bilinguë’s first broadcast on July 4, 1980 kicked off with six straight hours of Mexican folk music featuring, among others, Lola Beltran and José Alfredo Jimenez. “Nobody had ever heard that on Spanish radio,” said founder, Hugo Morales. “People would call up crying saying ‘This is incredible.’” KSJV was the first non-profit station serving Spanish-speakers in the Valley. It was also the first Spanish-language station on the FM dial. Although KGST played more traditional music than KXEX, which catered to most recent arrivals with Mexican pop music, large blocks of folk or Tejano music such as that of Jimenez and Beltran were unusual. KSJV also played salsa music, a genre more popular among Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants and not widely accepted in the Central Valley at that time.

Kicking off the station on America’s Independence Day was no coincidence. “We wanted to affirm our right as Mexicans and Mexican Americans to our free speech rights—our American rights as citizens.” That meant not just their right to speak, but to speak in their own language.

Hugo Morales was teaching at Fresno State when he put out fliers in the barrio in Spanish and English calling a meeting for everyone interested in founding a bilingual public radio station. Eight people showed up for that first meeting and they became the first members of the board. The goal of the station was to produce radio that originated with and informed Mexicans and Mexican Americans, and was not ratings driven.

Four years of preparation went into that first broadcast; Morales’ involvement with radio had started much earlier, however. “In general, the reason I got into radio was because when I lived in farm labor camps when I was younger, listening to a commercial radio station, I noticed how powerful it was. We all listened to the radio as we prepared our lunches, our tortillas, got our tools… Whatever came out of the radio went to all of us—kids, adults, everyone. I got a taste for the hunger for relevant cultural information, relevant cultural music, being connected to some news. Anything in Spanish was enough.” The AM station he listened to in the early morning was KLOK, which came out of San Jose, 200 miles away from the fields of Sonoma and Napa counties, above San Francisco. Incidentally, it was owned by the same man who owned KGST. Due to the nature of AM waves, the signal was lost after sunrise. Morales’ brother went on to host a Spanish-language program that an English-language station carried on Sundays. “He used the radio as a way to help people, to help us Mexican farmworkers help ourselves,” Morales said. His brother went on to found the first Radio Bilinguë in the nation, an AM station out of Santa Rosa.

Morales spent 1968 to 1975 at Harvard and Harvard Law School, where he hosted a bilingual radio program on the campus station. He said that in that Ivy League setting, he realized one could own and control a radio station, not just buy time. With Radio Bilinguë, the importance of Latino ownership was foremost. Morales felt that KGST, KXEX and television station KFTV were not serving the community as best they could because they were all owned by Anglos, even though most employees were Mexican-Americans. “[Ownership] matters in terms of content, relevance to the community, in terms of the cultural aspect, the direction of the service, the editorial content. A person who is connected with the community will have a different take than someone coming in from New York,” said Morales, referring to the many Spanish-language stations which are part of chains with headquarters far removed from their listening audience.

In the early Fresno Bee articles about Radio Bilinguë, two themes beyond Latino ownership come through: the importance of local control and the importance of access to information for Spanish-speakers. Both of these speak to nation-wide trends in both commercial and public radio over the 1980s and 1990s.

Commercial vs. public media

The debate over to what extent the U.S. government should fund public media outlets goes back to this nation’s first radio broadcast. The U.S. has taken a much more hands-off approach than countries like Britain and Mexico, eschewing state-sponsored media, and the public airwaves have been largely dominated by commercial stations. Under the Reagan administration, further cuts were made to public broadcasting, leading to vocal outcry, especially from minority-owned public stations. At that time, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which the government founded to promote community-controlled radio, adjusted funding on a formula which increased the government’s contribution in proportion to donations from listeners. While that may have worked when listeners were primarily middle- and upper-class whites, it was a disaster for minority stations like Radio Bilinguë whose target audience was largely lower-income. Radio Bilinguë also suffered cuts at the state level in the early 1980s.

Cutting public radio funds was just the start as the Federal Communications Commission deregulated the industry, easing restrictions on multiple station ownership in both individual markets and nation-wide. The community service requirement that originally brought KGST’s “Comentarios and Entrevistas” program into existence has since been lifted. Radio became more and more corporate controlled, raising the question of whether the public actually had access to the public airwaves and whether those who did had the public’s best interests at heart.

Radio Bilinguë and Radio Campesina argue that they do not. Commercial stations are ratings driven; they will give the people what they want, not what they need, part of the reason for the rise of Spanish-language shock-jock anchors akin to Howard Stern. The economic aspect of their operations can make hiring news reporters prohibitively expensive, especially when they can sell as many advertisements with a cheap music format. KGST is the only Spanish-language commercial station in the Valley with local coverage, and news director Stella Romo said she no longer is able to go out and report because there is no one to cover for her as she is the entire news department.

The commercial nature of Spanish-language radio, which brought Spanish to the airwaves in the first place, sometimes prevents it from serving the informational needs of the Latino community, leading to an information gap, which Radio Bilinguë and Radio Campesina have aimed to fill. They were not the only ones concerned with getting information to Spanish-speakers; in 1979, the University of Maryland and the Johnson and Johnson Co. co-sponsored the U.S.’s first national conference on Latino public service programming. Several congressmen, Federal Communications Commission and media representatives attended. An assistant secretary from the Department of Housing and Urban Development said that the lack of informational programming targeted at Spanish-speakers had cut them off from many opportunities enjoyed by others.

Radio Campesina: Politicizing the airwaves

Although most would agree that information about welfare and housing grants should be available to Spanish-speakers, other types of information can quickly become controversial. When Radio Campesina went on air in 1983, the Associated Press carried an article headlined, “Growers fear farmworker radio station’s newscast may become ‘propaganda tool.’” General manager Victor Aleman said, “Our purpose is to inform, not to agitate or manipulate. Farmworkers are the most exploited and abused people and, at times, the most misinformed.” It was pointed out in another article that growers often made use of the media. Their ability to speak English and reporters’ inability to speak Spanish has long guaranteed that they have disproportionately influenced press coverage of owner/worker conflict. Newspapers sold largely to middle-class whites have not felt the need to cover issues of importance to farmworkers, except as they affect white grower interests. The growers have also been able control farmworkers by limiting their access to information and blackmailing them with threat of deportation.

One of the reasons that growers were upset in 1983 was because Radio Campesina undermined their monopoly on information flow and threatened the status quo. UFW secretary-treasurer Pete Velasco said at the station’s dedication, “The good Lord has given us blessings so that today we are not slaves. But we must continue struggling. One of the best, best dreams that we had is this radio station Campesina. Now with this radio station we can communicate from south to north, from east to west: No longer can farmworkers be denied their rights. If our rights are denied, Radio Campesina will tell all of you. [burst of applause] If Radio Campesina says boycott and huelga (strike), we boycott and huelga.” The station planned to broadcast news programs produced at union headquarters on topics that were ignored or slanted by mainstream media, also covering some of the history of the farmworker movement.

The realization of the station was long coming; two decades before, farmworkers had voted to organize a radio station “that would focus on their lives and interests.” Radio had been one way the United Farmworkers spread their message during the initial farmworker organizing in Delano in 1965, both to people working in the U.S. and telling people in Mexico not to come up and work as scabs. KGST covered the developments over the late 1960s as news, not making a statement in favor or against the strikers. “We didn’t get into political things at all. We would carry it as a news item. [The farmworker organizing] was very controversial. Why should we [get involved]? Just because we were a Spanish-language station? To us, that wasn’t enough. We were using the public airwaves of this country. We had to watch our step,” said Ben Gutierrez.

His fears were not unfounded. Pedro Gonzalez, a popular Los Angeles radio broker during the 1920s and 1930s, who hobnobbed with top city and police department officials, ended up on the wrong side of the District Attorney when he started using his radio program to criticize police department treatment of Mexicans. The D.A. Buron Fitts believed only English should be heard on the air and tried unsuccessfully to get the federal authorities to rescind Gonzalez’s license. In 1934, Fitts framed him for rape and Gonzalez was sentenced to 50 years at San Quentin prison. He was released six years later and deported to Mexico after huge protests and the appeals of two Mexican presidents. Since the Depression, American attitudes toward Mexican immigrants have generally improved, although that legacy remains and anti-foreigner sentiment generally swells again in times of crisis.

Homegenization: Radio loses its local touch

Over the 1980s and 1990s, the field of Spanish-language radio came to look more and more like English-language radio, with commercial stations serving one function and public stations another. Nearly unheard of were stations like KGST in its early days, targeted to a general demographic with a broad mix of programs. Most radio stations of any language began running and continue to run a tight top-40 rotation in a set genre: alternative, light rock, classic rock, regional Mexican or música romántica, which they feed to their stations across the country. These stations provide some local talent to give traffic and weather and local commercials are inserted during tight breaks in the satellite feed. National commercials are solicited for all the corporation’s stations through a central office, usually in New York or Los Angeles. Deejays no longer control the music they play and often only speak on air for perhaps a few minutes out of every hour.

All of these changes have made radio stations increasingly less local. People in New York or Miami or Arizona may hear the exact same programs as someone in Fresno, raising the question of how well stations respond to local needs. If the only news a station carries is off the wire, people may not hear the specific, practical information they need to make improvements in their own lives.

In the 1980s, with more and more Spanish-language television stations across the country carrying national network programming, there was no longer just Mexican-American or Cuban-American programming, but “Latino” programming aimed at all U.S. Spanish-speakers. This push for an American pan-Latin identity was also evident in the music industry. In 1989, Univisión television network hosted the first “Premio Lo Nuestro” (Our Own Prize), a sort of Latino equivalent to the Grammy awards. An article in the Fresno Bee’s Spanish-language supplement, Vida en el Valle, ran saying that Central Valley radio stations and music stores were disgruntled that they were not consulted for the awarding of the prizes. The article was titled “Locutores dicen que ‘lo nuestro’ no ‘es nuestro” (“Broadcasters say ‘Our Own’ isn’t ‘our own’”). One deejay pointed out that the San Joaquin Valley is in the top 15 Latino markets and said that the residents’ tastes should be better reflected. Vida en el Valle regularly ran the Top-10 charts for Billboard as well as for several of the local stations, which were revealing. There was some correspondence between the national charts, which were divided into Top Mexican, Pop and Salsa, but the local stations still showed a strong preference for Mexican or Mexican-American ranchera, tejano or norteño artists that were not necessarily U.S. stars. KGST embodied a local, Mexican identity first and foremost before a generalized “Latino” identity.