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Chicago Tribune

Spanish Radio Show Attacked As Too Racy: Latino Groups Aim Boycott At WOJO

By Oscar Avila

January 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Chicago Tribune. All rights reserved. 

Every weekday morning, "El Pistolero" and sidekick Memin crackle with an energy that has made their morning show a hit on WOJO-FM 105.1. They spin Mexican hits. They organize phone-in contests. And they laugh. They laugh a lot.

Usually, their audience laughs with them.

But on Monday, about 20 Latino organizations in Chicago announced a boycott of the station's parent company--Hispanic Broadcasting Corp., the conglomerate that owns WOJO and two other local Spanish stations--saying the show's humor runs afoul of the Federal Communication Commission's rules on obscenity and indecency.

Across the nation, media watchdogs and Latino groups have taken action against Spanish "shock jocks" they say run amok as they angle for a slice of the lucrative, and growing, Spanish-speaking radio market.

New York activists want congressional hearings. A Los Angeles station took a controversial host off the air after Latino groups threatened legal action when he graphically described an orgy. After receiving audiotapes as evidence of lewd conversation, the FCC fined a radio station in Puerto Rico.

Luis Pelayo, president of the Hispanic Council, calls the Chicago show "garbage."

"These guys are like the evil side of Howard Stern," he said.

The question, however, is whether El Pistolero, or The Gunman, has crossed the legal line on obscenity or merely ruffled feathers with his crude talk about sex.

Cesar Canales, operations director for the company in Chicago, said audience response has been overwhelmingly positive since the program went on the air in April. The show receives 60 to 100 e-mails an hour from fans, he said.

And the show's hosts often appear at charity events and other functions geared to children and women, Canales said.

"If this was a show that was a detriment to the community, I don't think they would be invited," he said. "I think we have strong support. The majority of people seem to be very pleased, very happy with the program."

Ruben Tavarez, 28, agrees that critics are overreacting. The Chicago construction worker said he considers the show a harmless diversion.

"They're just having fun," Tavarez said. "I don't think it's hurting anybody."

The show's host, Rafael Pulido, has ridden an unlikely path to success. His official biography said the Fresno, Calif., native originally worked in auto remodeling and dabbled in radio during high school and college before getting his big break when a friend offered him a late-night show in Oregon.

After short stints there and in California, El Pistolero secured the No.2 overall ratings for his morning show in Fresno.

Pulido was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Latino activists, including members of Mexican immigrant clubs, say outrage has been building against the show, which airs daily from 5 to 10 a.m.

Pelayo said the last straw was during the Jan. 17 broadcast when the show's hosts broadcast a crude description of a man's sexual activities during a date.

Mireya Arias, a Bensenville housewife, said her 9-year-old son got in trouble at school for telling dirty jokes she suspects originated on the radio program.

"I have no interest in hearing those vulgarities," Arias said. "And it's even worse that children are hearing it. This is not the place where they should be hearing about sex."

Canales dismissed the comparison to shock jocks, and a recent listen found a program more devoted to music and listener requests than lewd descriptions. Canales said the station has no plans to change the show's format.

At one point in a recent show, the talk turned to the joys of visiting Miami, and a guest used a crude term to rave about breasts "here, there and everywhere."

Apart from that, much of the show focused on topics such as the weather, although the hosts made a few tamely suggestive remarks to callers or guests. But the show was G-rated compared with Stern and Erich "Mancow" Muller.

Before the FCC can take action against obscenity, the material must meet a three-part test: An average person must find that the material appeals to prurient interest, the material must offensively depict or describe sexual conduct and must lack artistic or political value.

The FCC bans obscene material at all times and says "indecent broadcasts" can only air from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Indecent programming contains sexual or excretory references that do not rise to the level of obscenity.

FCC spokesman John Winston said the agency's guidelines are the same, regardless of the language spoken on the show.

Alex Nogales, president of the Los Angeles-based National Hispanic Media Coalition, said it is more difficult to hold Spanish broadcasters accountable because there are fewer Latino watchdogs policing the airwaves.

Nogales said crude shows gained popularity in the 1990s after Stern became the "king of all media" by featuring strippers and porn stars.

Nogales said the so-called radiopornografia lets stations set themselves apart in a competitive Spanish-language market. As with English shows, stations develop personalities that listeners eat up.

In New York, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund plans to invite FCC officials and lawmakers to a public meeting on the issue this spring.

In 1999, Latino activists threatened legal action against KKHJ in Los Angeles after host Alfredo Najera graphically described a woman having sex with five men. Najera was taken off the air before the an FCC complaint was filed.

That same year, the FCC issued a $21,000 fine against Puerto Rico's Spanish-language WCOM for indecent content after complaints from listeners.

Nogales said he hasn't heard the Chicago broadcasts but hopes the protests will deter broadcasters from getting out of hand.

"The airwaves are getting rather ugly, and we need to put a stop to it," he said.

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