Thursday, October 16, 2008

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.

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