Friday, November 16, 2007

A visit with the radio shock-jocks of "El Vacilón de la Mañana"

Is it that I am getting older? Or that I don't really care much about these things anymore? Or might it be that the place is the same but the circumstances have changed?

Five years ago I might have gloated about this or seen it as a big momentous occasion but when I finally agreed a few weeks ago to visit the studios of the La Mega radio station to meet and talk to the radio shock-jocks of the "El Vacilón de la Mañana" morning show it felt almost bitter-sweet.

After all, my refusal to appear in the show during an increasingly public confrontation in 2001 over the show's virulent homophobia drew on-air accusations from the former Vacilón shock-jock Luis Jimenez and his co-host Moonshadow that I was a coward (I wanted a serious meeting with the shock-jocks AND the owners of the radio station, not engage them on their home turf as entertainment for their public).

At the time Jimenez was leading one of the most successful morning talk-show team in all of New York - sometimes even beating "Howard Stern" in the ratings - by doing some of the most offensive prank phone calls and skits ever heard on the public airwaves (i.e. a skit in which man with a lisp sings a bachata about being raped the night before and enjoying it, a prank call to a man telling him he probably has hours to live because his wife just tested positive for AIDS and most probably infected him as well, etc.).

It wasn't the first time that the community had protested the show. In 1994 a group of New York City-based lesbian organizations that included Las Buenas Amigas, African Ancestral Lesbians for Societal Change and The Lesbian Avengers actually broke into the studio and disrupted a broadcast of the show and released a statement that characterized the show as follows:
Spanish-language radio station MEGA-KQ 97.9 FM describes lesbians as weird, disgusting, and sick; a 'comic' segment features 'Ros', a stereotypically effeminate and oversexed Latino homosexual who is the butt of denigrating jokes. Blacks ('africanos') belong to 'tribes' and have 'bad hair'; blacks are derisively called 'timba', 'tuta' and 'macumba'; an ongoing character, 'Mamu', who speaks in a caricatured East Indian / Pakistani / Bangladeshi accent is portrayed as oversexed and inferior; during Yom Kippur, the Jewish religious holiday was described as weird, incomprehensible and boring. Another ongoing character, 'El Chulo,' rejoices in the exploitation of older women for money, especially Asian and African women; the rape of a girl by an old man in Brazil was praised as sexual prowess. The character 'Tito Metralla' is taunted and scorned because he stutters.
In other words, despite the protest, things didn't change much between 1994 and December of last year when both Luis Jimenez and Moonshadow left the show in an increasingly acrimonious dispute with the radio station.

Not that the high-jinx have hurt Jimenez career: The reason for leaving La Mega was a multi-million contract that he accepted from rival Univision radio in December where he has since launched "The Luis Jimenez Show" currently broadcast in Chicago, Fresno, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco and Fort Myers and debuting in New York in early 2008.

As for his homophobic tirades, which he always argued were part of the tools used by a comedian who happened to be an equal-opportunity offender and not meant to be homophobic at all, since his move to Univision he has been caught calling a former co-worker a "faggot" and a "cock-sucker" off the air and received a two month suspension at Univision radio in May after GLAAD caught him doing a derogatory song skit about lesbians in the wake of the Don Imus "nappy-ho" fracas.

He has yet to apologize for either and is rumored to have been furious about the suspension. Still, just as Don Imus seems to be on his way back to the New York radio airwaves, I suspect that Jimenez will probably be welcomed back to New York with record ratings for his show once it debuts - as many fans as he left behind in this city who will surely buy into his "banished underdog arriving back into New York victorious" story - despite the fact that the guy has made millions of dollars with the shtick.

Ok, allow me to clear my throat after that (- ehem - ) which brings us to last months visit to the La Mega studios.

One of the great things that did result out of the confrontations with La Mega in 2001 was the realization by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) that they needed to step up when it came to Spanish language media (at the time they failed to take action because they had few people on staff who understood Spanish and said that they were not sure if the show was as homophobic as I claimed it to be which led to ongoing discussions that resulted in the launch of a successful Spanish-language media program at GLAAD).

I'm not sure if Chuy Sanchez, the current Spanish language media strategist for GLAAD was aware of my history with La Mega, but I certainly was surprised when I got an invite to participate in a meeting with the current on-air team, Frankie Jay and Juan Carlos (pictured above), as well as La Mega general manager Frank Flores - who is also the vice president and New York manager of the Spanish Broadcasting System which owns La Mega.

Brian Theobald of EDGE New York wrote a story ("Activists target homophobia on Spanish language radio" - Nov. 7, 2007) that describes how the recent meeting came to be although it doesn't say that among the participants were yours truly as well as my friend Pedro Julio Serrano from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).

Now, I have to confess that I haven't heard the show since the new team took over earlier this year but I did know from Pedro Julio that Frankie Jay, who joined El Vacilón from a show he did in Puerto Rico, had been an ally when both lived in the island and Pedro Julio was advocating for LGBT rights there.

So it wasn't a big surprise when both current shock-jocks seemed open to criticism, friendly and engaged in the conversation, even as Chuy pulled up video and audio files that demonstrated some questionable skits and banter that they had ran on their show since they replaced Jimenez and Moonshadow.

I also was not under any pretense that a meeting like this meant that things would change immediately or even that it was purely the result of good-faith (good-faith might have played into it but I'm sure that the recent attention paid to Don Imus and Luis Jimenez also had to do with it) but, still, I was surprised by how genuinely friendly and open to the Vacilón team seemed to be.

The next day, I wrote to Chuy to let him know just how impressed I'd been by the tone of the conversation and today I am even more impressed that general manager Flores would go on the record with EDGE New York to say "We fell into the same trap that most people fall into, thinking everything is funny when you’re not the punch line to the joke, they made us very much aware that some of the things we were doing on their air that we needed to change. It was like light bulbs going off in our heads" and "Changes like this don’t occur overnight, but the important thing is we now have a renewed sensitivity to the problem and an ongoing relationship with GLAAD. I told them that this is an ongoing process and they can always tell us when we’ve crossed a line."

That would have never happened under the old team and I am glad that I was able to take part of the exchange which I feel was a truly historic meeting when it comes to Latino LGBT activism in this country.

Still, Univision radio still has high-hopes with "The Luis Jimenez Show" in New York and it still remains a mystery if Jimenez has learned a lesson from his suspension. We will certainly be all ears once he makes the debut.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I've always felt that Spanish-language radio fell under the radar because the "mainstream" don't understand Spanish so don't realize how incredibly sexist, racist and homophobic some of the programming is. Good for you for bringing it to the public's attention.