After a broadcast from Mattress World in Salem, a woman approached Portland radio DJ Jenny “La Diva” Gutierrez with tears in her eyes. “Do you know how much this means to us,” she asked, “to hear your voice and to have people giving us information and caring?”
Between 2000 and 2010, Portland’s Hispanic community grew by 63 percent, with 55,000 now living in the metro area, the vast majority of Mexican origin. And for Portland’s largest and fastest-growing minority population, radio is a vital link to the world at large. Up to 95 percent of US Hispanics tune in to the radio at least once a day—with small, regional Mexican-oriented stations drawing by far the most listeners. Oregon is now home to 14 Spanish-language stations, eight of them based around Portland. From a 1,550-watt station near Milwaukie, 93.1 FM El Rey beams its family-friendly shows from the coast to Hood River.
“Back in Mexico you focus on one kind of people, one region,” says El Rey program director Carlos “El Aventurero” Tovías, who spent 13 years in radio in Reynosa, Mexico. “Here’s it’s totally different. Here you have a mixture of different communities.” While many listeners are bilingual, the audience relies on these stations for more than just the tunes. Programming covers a wide spectrum, from music and sports to community events and local job openings. Immigration and broader Hispanic issues are hot topics, and participatory comedy segments invite listeners to call in with their own jokes.
“The Mexican community is very much attached to radio personalities,” says Amador Bustos, who runs several Oregon stations. “They’re the morning friend they wake up with and the friend they come home to. Listeners are loyal in Mexico, but even more so here. It makes them feel a little closer to home.”