Vargas says she could not believe her own findings, which revealed, among other things, only two commercial radio outlets for rock en espanol in the United States and only one major national magazine on the subject, La Banda Elastica. Nonetheless, she saw albums and shows selling out.
Says Vargas, "As I was researching this, I kept thinking, because of the feedback and demographic information, 'This can't be right. If this is true, why hasn't anyone done this [show] already?'
"What I found out is that even though there's a great underground support network for the music [through the Internet], the reason why traditional Spanish stations haven't been doing it is just that: They're traditional."
Howard was sold on Vargas' presentation and asked her to produce a show.
Vargas enlisted the help of Tomas Cookman, president of the North Hollywood talent agency Cookman International, which manages bands such as Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, King Chango and Aterciopelados.
They, in turn, asked writer and teacher Josh Kun and film actress Yareli Arizmendi to co-host the show.
An English professor at UC Riverside, Kun wrote his dissertation on the rock en espanol movement and is a frequent contributor on rock en espanol to Rolling Stone and other publications.
Kun and Arizmendi host the show mostly in English. Cookman says English was the best language choice because most of the Spanish-speaking listeners are bilingual or English-dominant, and the non-Spanish-speaking listeners will not feel left out.
"We had one call the first week from a guy who said he wouldn't have even noticed the songs were in Spanish unless we told them," Cookman says.
Howard says that, so far, his station has received only a handful of calls and e-mails from listeners hostile to Spanish-language music on the station and that 90% of the listener response has been positive.
"You're not going to please everybody," Howard says. "But the scales are tipped in our favor. I think our audience is into hipness and newness. Being in the know."
Already, two songs introduced on "The Red Zone" have been incorporated into the general playlist, according to Vargas. They are "Como Vez" by the local band Ozomatli and "Brown and Proud" by San Francisco band Los Mocosos.
Most surprising, Howard says, has been the almost immediate response his station has gotten from major corporate advertisers. With only three weeks on the air, "The Red Zone" was approached by Miller Genuine Draft, which has signed on as a sponsor.
Sean O'Neill, the station's general sales manager, says he has also spoken with McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Univision, and they're all also interested in sponsoring the show.
Fernandez says the station shouldn't be surprised by advertiser enthusiasm.
"Companies like Mountain Dew have been dying to reach the alternative Latin market," he says. "There just haven't been the commercial outlets for it."
Revised Host Parade: Even the experts don't always get it right. Such is the balkanization of the Southland radio market--and the power of Spanish-language radio--that our list of the 10 most-listened-to hosts here last week failed to include three names.
So here is the revised list from Premiere Radio Networks of the Los Angeles-Orange County radio personalities with the largest number of listeners per average quarter-hour, based on the recently released Arbitron ratings for the summer quarter.
Morning-drive host Renan Almendarez Coello on Spanish-language KSCA-FM (101.9) remains in the top slot. His 5-11 a.m. weekday show drew an average of 212,700 listeners per quarter hour.
Now taking second place is Martha Shalhoub on Spanish-language KLVE-FM (107.5), whose weekday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. slot averaged 146,100 listeners. She was not on the list that Premiere initially supplied.
Rush Limbaugh on talk station KFI-AM (640), 9 a.m.-noon, drops back to third place with 133,400 listeners, followed by KFI's Laura Schlessinger, noon-3 p.m., with 121,000 listeners.
KLVE's morning drive guy Pepe Barreto, 5-10 a.m., who had been ill during much of the ratings period, is in fifth place with 116,100 listeners per quarter hour. He's followed by KSCA's Maria Nava, also not on the original list, whose 11 a.m.-3 p.m. show averages 114,400. KLVE's Pio Ferro, also not named last week, drew 104,100 listeners on his 3-7 p.m. afternoon drive show.
The remaining three are Howard Stern on KLSX-FM (97.1), 91,500; Rick Dees on Top 40s KIIS-FM (102.7), 86,400; and Kevin and Bean of rock outlet KROQ-FM (106.7), 76,900.