Friday, October 17, 2008

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 BilinguĂ« 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.

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