Thursday, October 16, 2008

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.

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