Thursday, October 16, 2008

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.

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