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Spanish Radio Becoming More Explicit

August 13, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

NEW YORK (AP) -- A child calls a New York radio station to say swear words live on the air. Another show features a crude discussion of sex organs. But you have to speak Spanish to be shocked.

Spanish-language radio stations in the United States are airing programs with increasingly crude sexual content and jokes, creating a genre known as ``radiopornografia.''

Ratings for one program approach those of shock jock Howard Stern, and when there are complaints, they come mainly from Hispanic community groups that can't punch back as effectively as their English counterparts.

``If Howard Stern spoke like some of the Spanish announcers, he would already have been suspended,'' said Alex Nogales, president of the National Coalition of Hispanic Media, or NCHM, formed in 1986 to monitor U.S. Spanish-language media.

Fans say the seamy fare, aired mostly in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, simply reflects reality among young urban Latinos.

``Radio can't give in to society's taboos. We can't turn our backs on the young generation, which consumes the most and is precisely the market that consumes these programs,'' said Alipio ``The Coconut'' Cabrera, a disc jockey for New York's WADO 1280 AM.

Cabrera was one of the first Spanish radio personalities to talk explicitly about sex on the air several years ago. But WADO is perceived more as an information station, and the complaints have focused elsewhere -- on New York's WQSK La Mega 97.9 FM and its show ``El Vacilon de la Manana,'' meaning roughly ``the Morning Party.'' Its programming director, Jorge Mier, did not answer requests for an interview.

Analysts say U.S. regulators are poorly equipped to deal with non-English media, and Hispanic community groups are too weak to push their case effectively.

Marta Garcia, the NCHM's New York representative, said her group is probably the only one monitoring these programs.

``We have to educate listeners to complain if they don't like something,'' she said.

Garcia said the NCHM plans to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over ``El Vacilon de la Manana.''

She described an episode in which children called in to utter obscenities on the air.

On a July 11 broadcast of the program's regular feature ``Your Secret,'' an anonymous woman explicitly described the sexual act her boyfriend was pressuring her to perform. After she hung up, the announcers traded explicit jokes for several minutes.

Plinio Garrido, a columnist with the New York Hispanic daily Hoy, wrote of shopping in a supermarket that was airing the show over its public address system, and hearing men and women discussing the male sexual organ.

``One of the announcers made a comment so crude that it made me very uncomfortable because there was a lady in front of me with her daughters of about 9 and 12 years old,'' Garrido wrote.

FCC spokesman John Winston said the agency investigates complaints against both English- and Spanish-language broadcasts. It penalizes radio stations that have a pattern of letting foul language through, he said. A single incident is not enough.

He acknowledged that it is hard for stations to prevent obscenities from reaching the air on talk shows when callers talk quickly and it is difficult to apply a tape delay. But stations must make a good faith effort to avoid airing obscenities, he said.

The FCC received 199 complaints of indecent content on radio stations last year and took action in 30 cases. Fines can reach $25,000. In 1999, Puerto Rico's WCOM was fined $21,000 for indecent content.

Winston said the FCC is investigating one complaint against a Spanish-language station, but declined to elaborate. He could recall no cases in recent years where action was taken against a Spanish radio station in the continental United States.

The popularity of ``El Vacilon de la Manana'' is obvious from the ratings. During its 6 a.m.-10 a.m. time slot the program had 5.5 percent of listeners in New York. Howard Stern at WXRK had 6.3 percent.

Another station in the NCHM's sights is KKHJ, 1020 AM in Los Angeles for its program ``With Alfredo.''

In a 1999 show, host Alfredo Najera detailed a woman having sex with five men. Najera was later taken of the air, but that was due to personal problems with management, not because of the program's content, the station said.

Garcia said her group plans to pressure stations to tone down their content by going after advertisers -- including heavyweights like McDonald's and Domino's Pizza.

McDonald's did not respond to queries from The Associated Press. The policy posted on its Web site said: ``We closely evaluate the content of programs in which our television programs appear and strive to associate our advertising with entertaining, responsible programs.''

The head of public relations for Domino's, Holly Ryan, said the company had asked its publicity agency to re-evaluate the programs on which it advertises and ``be ready to withdraw our advertisements if it is verified that our commercials have been aired in programs not apt for a family audience.''

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