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El Vacilón de la Mañana has been a thorn in the side of New York's Latino queer community for almost a decade.

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The Mega presence at New York City's Bronx Pride 2001. Sally Sasso

Is Spanish Radio Training Bigots?

by Ana Simo

AUGUST 4, 2001. The Spanish-language radio program El Vacilón de la Mañana (Morning Party), which has turned WKSQ-FM into one of New York City's most-listened-to radio stations in the crucial 6 a.m.-10 a.m. morning-drive time, has been a thorn in the side of New York City's Latino queer community, and their supporters, for almost a decade.

Activists have charged for years that Latino lesbians and gay men are targets of El Vacilón's denigrating comedic skits. Other favorite scapegoats are African-Americans and dark-skinned Latinos, Jews, and Asian immigrants (particularly Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis).

In 1994, a coalition of three local lesbian groups, Las Buenas Amigas, African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change, and The Lesbian Avengers, waged an energetic four-month protest campaign against El Vacilón, WKSQ-FM (which promotes itself as La Mega and Mega 97.9), and its parent company, the Spanish Broadcasting System (SBS).

SBS reacted to the community protests by invoking their First Amendment rights and ignoring repeated requests to meet with coalition members to discuss their concerns. Activists were disparaged on the air in several El Vacilón broadcasts.

However, following the protests, the radio station aired its first AIDS public service announcement and some of the skits and characters deemed offensive by the coalition were quietly retired from El Vacilón or toned down — but only for a while. AIDS announcements have continued to this day and the radio station recently won recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency for a public awareness campaign against arsenic poisoning.

Paved With Good Intentions
Protests were recently renewed by a broad group of Latino and other queer activists when El Vacilón's hosts, Luis Jiménez and Moonshine, were designated as grand marshals of the Bronx Pride parade, on July 21. (This writer supported these and the 1994 protests.)

In response to their critics, the program hosts simply say they are not homophobic because they "make jokes about everybody," not just gay people. We "make jokes about Hindus, we make jokes about African-Americans, we make jokes about Latinos in general," Jiménez said on the air on July 20, rebutting his gay critics. Besides, there is "no intention to offend" in what they do. "We don't have to apologize for anything, because you apologize when you've done something wrong or when there was bad intention," he said.

Other defenders point to The Howard Stern Show, on rival K-Rock (WXRK-FM), the perennial #1 rated morning program for the past decade. If Howard Stern exists and white America hasn't collapsed, what's the big fuss about El Vacilón? they wonder. Why is it any different?

A major difference is that English-language radio, however commercially homogenized, is both huge and fragmented. If you don't like Howard, you can go many other places — country music, NPR, classical, college stations, Top 40's, hip hop, jazz, you name it. Spanish-language radio listeners in New York City wishing to escape El Vacilón can only go to the Vacilón clone "Se formó la bulla" ("Ruckus") on rival WCAA-FM, to sappy ballads on the SBS-owned WPAT-FM, or to news and health advice on AM station WADO.

Negative Acculturation
Another difference is that Howard Stern speaks to a predominantly white male audience fed up with a quarter century of "political correctness," i.e. the constraints placed on their hegemony by the emergence of a multicultural United States that increasingly includes women, minorities, immigrants, gays. Howard's listeners may be mightily fed up, but they know they're losers, that these changes are irreversible and all they can do is blow off some symbolic steam on the air with their nerdy hero.

El Vacilón and many of its listeners, on the other hand, appear to inhabit a pre-civil rights, pre-multicultural world. The program is not ironic backlash, but public validation of traditional prejudices, sheltered by the Spanish language from any reality check (as in, for example, these xenophobic values are not going to get you anywhere in the larger world where your co-workers, neighbors, boss, or clients may well be Korean, or Jamaican, lesbian, Jewish, African American, or Pakistani).

The impact of a single radio program like El Vacilón reaching tens of thousands of Spanish speakers with a steady diet of intolerance cannot be overestimated, especially on those new immigrants from Latin American countries with little or no previous exposure to progressive ideas about race, gender, and sexual identity, some of the 20th century movements that shaped the society in which we live today.

And instead of nurturing the hugely positive things immigrants already bring with them (talent, energy, hard work, creativity, solidarity, to name just a few), programs like El Vacilón de la Mañana reinforce and sometimes amplify national brands of intolerance.

The New York El Vacilón website, sponsored by the U.S. Navy and MasterCard, which allows listeners to weigh in, gives you a sense of the program's cultural effectiveness. In a typical example on August 1, María from Queens told the show's hosts, "Our boss is a wretched Jew." And on August 2, referring to Carolina Cadillo, the show's weather reporter and longtime foil of misogynist jokes, a (presumably) male listener wrote to host Luis Jiménez, "That thing [is] so ugly not even with your c-o-c-k or Moon's [would] I pork her. That Indian woman is ugly!... Hell, that nose of hers needs surgery!"

Mega Market
Despite its still limited fare, Spanish-language radio and television is booming in the United States, where Hispanics, 35.3 million and counting, are on the verge of surpassing African-Americans as the largest minority group. Spanish is now the primary language of more than 10 percent of the U.S. population, and of more than 30 percent of the residents of the New York City metropolitan area. There are now 600 Spanish-language radio stations in the U.S., reaching about 15 million listeners, more than 4 million of which are in Los Angeles alone.

SBS, which owns El Vacilón de la Mañana, is the second largest Spanish-language radio broadcasting company in the United States. It owns and operates 24 stations (soon to be 26) in eight of the top-ten U.S. Hispanic markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, San Antonio, Dallas, and Puerto Rico. It also operates LaMusica.com, a bilingual Latino music and entertainment web site.

The company was started by CEO Raúl Alarcón, Jr.'s father, a Cuban exile who bought his first radio station in 1983. SBS was privately owned by the Alarcón family until it went public in 1999. The IPO, which raised $501 million, was the second largest ever for a radio company. The Alarcóns still control the company. According to Hispanic Business magazine, CEO Alarcón, Jr. owns 46 percent of SBS shares and has a personal net worth of about $720 million. Corporate headquarters are in Miami.

The SBS corporate strategy is for El Vacilón to overtake The Howard Stern Show as the #1 program in New York City in the early morning time, the most profitable in radio. Unlike Howard Stern's show, however, El Vacilón de la Mañana is less a product of the DJs' sharp tongues than a corporate format. SBS, which owns the program name, currently broadcasts three locally-produced El Vacilón de la Mañanas, in their New York City, Miami and Puerto Rico stations. Judging from a recent FCC decision, the three El Vacilón may all peddle similar ideological wares.

On May 9, the FCC slapped WCOM-FM with a $16,800 fine for broadcasting "indecent material" in the Puerto Rico version of El Vacilón. One of the segments the FCC found indecent was a mock weather report about a hurricane named "Suck My Rod," described as a "two-legged hurricane with two black balls of clouds" and buttocks that would "grab every faggot they found on the street." The speaker then warns homosexuals to stay home.

For Candidate Ferrer, Bronx Pride, and Mega Bigotry

Related links:

For "Gays Seeking Asylum Find Familiar Prejudices in U.S.," The New York Times, Aug. 1, 2001. (Registration required.)

For the revealing audience response to the NYC El Vacilón. Simply click on "View Guestbook."

For the FCC transcripts (English translation) of the Puerto Rico El Vacilón broadcasts fined for indecency (scroll toward end of document). And for the FCC order fining the station, May 9, 2001.

For "Demographics drive the Latino media story," Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 1001.

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

For Complete Coverage Race/Class

For Complete Coverage New York City

Gay Mundo
gay pride The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Taiwan to Puerto Rico and more.

New York City
News, opinion, and weekly headline review of New York City.

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