Thursday, October 16, 2008

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” NorteƱo music from Northern Mexico.

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