Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tweety Bird

The Spanish name for Tweety Bird (the fictional yellow Canary in the Warner Bros. cartoons) is Piolín.  "Tweet" is an onomatopoeia the long predated the damn twitter site; to at least 1845 depending on the source you prefer. Onomatopoeia are not universal, they vary by culture, so it makes sense that Hispanic groups would have a different name for that character. Piolín is also the string you pull to spin a top, literally it just means "cord." So what's in a name?

Eddie Sotelo has had the nickname "Piolín" since he was a child. He is a Mexican national, born in Ocotlán, Jalisco, in 1972. In 1986 at the age of 14 he illegally crossed the border into the United States by hiding in the trunk of a car. (some sources say he was 16) He spent his teens in Santa Ana. Calling it inauspicious would be an understatement. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1996.

Today he hosts "Piolín por la Mañana," a weekday program on 101.9 KSCA in Los Angeles. His program is all in Spanish and according to Arbitron he out draws even Rush Limbaugh and Tom Joyner with a 9.9 share. Even considering the demographics, the accomplishment is amazing. In 2006, The LA Times ranked Sotelo in 2006 amongst the 100 most powerful people in Southern California. Without ever intending to, he's become a political power broker with the ability to endorse candidates and law. In 2010 President Obama visited the program in person.In other words thsi is the most important radio program you have never heard. More here.
Univision carries the program into 15 markets including: 92.7 WQBU New York, 98.3 WRTO Miami, 98.9 KSOL San Francisco,105.9 KHOT Phoenix, 99.1/107.1 KFZO and KDXX Dallas, 105.1 KJFA Albuquerque, 99.1 KSQL Monterey, 103.5 KISF Las Vegas, 106.5 KOVE Houston, 92.1 KOND Fresno, 105.1 WOJO Chicago,  97.5 KBNA El Paso, 106.5 KLNV San Diego, and others of course. More here.

As many know, El Piolin started his morning drive at KSCA on February 3, 2002. But thsi was not hsi first radio gig. His first was in 1991 in Corona. Ben Quiñones of the LA Weekly told the story as follows
"Sotelo started out taking food and drinks to the local deejays in Santa Ana in hopes of getting his foot in the door. Then, he was getting a haircut one day in 1991 when a family member ran over to tell him that a small station in Corona wanted to interview him for a job. He borrowed a car and got to the station at around 10 p.m. There, the program director asked Sotelo how much experience he had. Sotelo, who had none, lied and said lots. The program director asked Sotelo if he could do news. Of course, he said, even though he had no idea how to do news, or anything else in radio, for that matter."
What I like about that story is that it's the same story as every DJ ever told me. Either they went to broadcasting school, or they were in college radio or they lied, or all of the above. Eddie came back the next day to start at 5:00 AM. He later lost the job because he didn't have a green card. So he moved to 102.9 KXLM in Oxnard but one day after his show, immigration officers were waiting for him outside. He was very lucky and he was able to get a work permit before he was deported.  Since then he has broadcast his show from different points, Riverside, Santa Ana, and San Jose.

But despite his powerful ratings in large Hispanic markets he was almost totally unknown to the rest of the English-speaking nation. But then after becoming a citizen, Sotelo began to speak out over immigration issues. You might call them border-jumpers, or undocumented aliens, or immigrants but they are non-citizens with no right to be here. Nonetheless they are here, more than a million of them and usually because they were invited more or less explicitly for manual labor. The topic is much debated Sotelo's new vocal stance changed the dynamic a bit, not just because he is a national media figure, but also because he is a former illegal immigrant. when he endorsed a protest against anti-immigrant legislation half-a-million people showed up. When he asked for them, he got one million letters sent to congress. So no matter how you feel about the issue, you must acknowledge his involvement changes the dynamic.Sometimes radio still matters.