Southern California and Los Angeles in particular is a fascinating place. On a stretch of Pacific Coast Highway there is a Harley Davidson shop with long-haired guys in leather coats. Across the street, a place where they read Tarot cards, next to a Montessori school which is next to a Lutheran church followed by a Chinese restaurant that changes hands every couple of months.
In each of these buildings, behind the simple or ornate facades, is the predominance of Latinos who provide services, working in the kitchens and bathrooms performing the most needed but lowest paid jobs.
What’s behind ‘diversity’
Everywhere we see diversity right in front of us; in every neighborhood, city or suburb that makes up this urban monster called Los Angeles. However, this ‘diversity’ is just a euphemism for the undeniable: the growing presence of immigrants from Mexico and the rest of Latin America. They have a tight grip on southern California’s economic pulse, ranging from those filling entry-level positions, to well-known professors and artists, and up to the top level of local politics.
Immigration in southern California has created a unique landscape that is dynamic and upbeat, but is also vulnerable to economic upheavals. Hence the frightening numbers of unemployment recently revealed: 12.7% here, compared to 9.5% nationally.
We live in a melting pot of changes.
But there is something wrong in this picture. A contradiction.
The voices of Latinos and their points of view are absent from the debate currently raging mostly on local AM radio. If someone turns on their radio and listens to these talk shows, he or she would think this is some remote corner of the South, or a bastion of white supremacy; definitely a place with no, zero, Latino presence.
But this is Southern California, where Latinos comprise almost one-half of the population.
Subversion and extremism
Political radio has been transformed into something that subverts values and agitates, that promotes seemingly unstoppable propaganda pushing in only one direction: that of the most radical wing of Conservative political thought in America.
Viacom/CBS‘KFWB 980 was for many years –when owned by Westinghouse– a non-stop source of general news. On September 9th, it turned into “Talk News,” whatever that means, killing its news content and leaving only one station, partner KNX 1070 for 12 million listeners.
The new content of Radio 980? Anti-immigrant tirades, strident anti-Latino gesticulation, loud discord, unlimited pretension, and Dr. Laura Schlessinger.
A couple of months prior to that move, management took care of laying off about 25 reporters and hosts.
KFI 640 AM, the station with the largest audience in the West, with hundreds of affiliates, is the cozy home of Rush Limbaugh, one of the most evident spokesmen for Conservatism, and the John and Ken, broadcast in a new format of five hours per day, six days a week. The content is an ongoing manifesto against politicians, crime, taxes and mainly what they call “the Illegals.”
Different points of view are not represented equally. Air Air America 1150AM, sort of a progresive response to these programs, has been unable to create a similar audience, neither awakening enthusiasm or spurring indignation. Why? because this station actually considers the facts and respects those with differing opinions. Imagine.
And KPFK 90.7 FM, celebrating 50 years, a station with enormous potential and geographical reach, is struggling with a crippling crisis of often irrelevant content and diminishing audience.
So, flip the dial; station by station, hour by hour: Mike Savage; Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Larry Elder, Don Imus, Laura Ingraham, Hugh Hewitt, Roger Hedgecock, Dennis Prager, Michael Smerconish are the better known, and with them a myriad of imitators and wannabe Conservative hosts. Their messages are similar, as is the format: they debate political issues with a strong ideological content, absent of opposition, without verifying their information or allowing those they attack to have an opportunity to respond.
What about Spanish radio?
What about Spanish radio, then? Terrible. We have programs with insufferable confessions of promiscuity and crude sex. Know-it-all doctors and experts in human sexuality.. Incredible tales of perversion or stupid and boring forums. Scorn, gossip, segments more apt for the zoo animals where some of them obtained their nicknames. Just program after program of pre-recorded laughs, false clapping and cheering. Well-concealed infomercials for the victims of foreclosures by the same brokers who caused them. In the best case, sports and religion.
Even with this content directed to the lowest possible denominator, Spanish radio is losing audience. Unbelievable, but true. The September report by Arbitron shows that for the first time since they began measuring ratings, there is only one Spanish language station among the first 10: KLVE 107.5 (K-Love). Univision also owns La Nueva 101.9 FM, Recuerdo 103.9-98.3 FM, 1020 Radio AM and the ever popular show “Piolín Por La Mañana“. Another Spanish station, KLAX/97.9 FM (La Raza), with regional Mexican music, slipped from 9th to 14th place.
So how come half of Southern California and a clear majority of its Latinos have a keen interest, for example, in immigration reform, public education, labor issues, etc., while the radio medium is forcefully against all that, and represents only a tiny political minority?
We have a long, long way to go.