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Can they say that?

Spanish-language radio is rife with shock jocks. Some listeners want the FCC to act.

August 20, 2004|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

Lurid talk with guests and callers about sex acts. Scatological references complete with occasional sound effects. Derisive jokes about homosexuals.

Is it Howard Stern on late-night cable? No, this is Spanish-language radio in Los Angeles, in flagrante and in broad daylight.

While the nation's guardians of public decency have been focusing attention on the exposed breast of Janet Jackson, Latino DJs have been carrying on with raunchy talk-radio shows that sometimes out-shock Stern. But unlike the public fuss made over Stern and the Jackson incident during the Super Bowl, daytime indecency on Spanish-language radio has developed mostly under the radar of mainstream moral monitors.

Spanish-language shock jocks are getting away with it, critics say, because of the language barrier and cultural differences: The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the airwaves, employs only two Spanish-speaking investigators to deal with 705 Spanish radio and TV outlets in the U.S. What's more, recent immigrants, a target audience for Spanish-language radio, are not as likely to file government complaints. And although some of the DJs indulge in risque banter on air, many are part of a tradition of community activism that engenders a loyalty not usually found in English-language radio.

So the bad behavior continues.

"These cochinos [pigs] felt they could say or do anything they wanted because nobody was listening," says Alex Nogales, a longtime activist with the Los Angeles-based National Hispanic Media Coalition, an advocacy group that pushes for better representation of Latinos in the mainstream media. "And they were right."

Over the last decade, Spanish-language shock jocks have cropped up like 900 numbers in major markets in New York, Florida, Texas, California and elsewhere. And with very rare exceptions, they test the limits of decency with no repercussions for their radio stations -- aside from increased ratings.

In Los Angeles on any given day, Latino DJs talk sex with callers, tell racy jokes with sexual sound effects and even wedge salacious wisecracks into otherwise normal interviews with guests.

Renan Almendarez Coello, Southern California's most popular morning DJ known as El Cucuy de la Manana (The Morning Boogeyman), regularly peppers his seven-hour show on La Raza, KLAX- FM (97.9), with jokes about flatulence, erections, ejaculations and gay and lesbian sex.

On sister station El Sol, KXOL-FM (96.3), a flirtatious former DJ known as El Chulo, until recently on morning drive time, engaged a cooing caller named Lily in a midmorning discussion about the sexual pros and cons of women shaving their genital area.

"Isn't it appalling that we allow this to happen?" asks U.S. Rep. Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino), co-chairman of the Congressional Sex and Violence in the Media Caucus. "Whether in English or in Spanish, they should be monitored and should be controlled."

In a letter sent earlier this summer to FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, who has spearheaded this year's crackdown on broadcast indecency, Baca rapped the agency's "apparent failure to adequately scrutinize Spanish-language radio broadcasts for indecent content." And he urged the FCC -- which counts on listeners to bring complaints -- to hire more Spanish-speaking investigators to help with the exploding Latino media market, the fastest-growing segment of the broadcast industry.

The number of Spanish radio and TV outlets has almost doubled in the last decade, but of the FCC's 20 investigators, only two speak Spanish, the congressman notes.

That's a problem, Baca says, because the commission must rely on translated transcripts of allegedly offensive Spanish-language broadcasts, tapes of which must be submitted with complaints to the FCC.

Offensive content, sometimes couched in slang and double-entendres, is often lost in translation, he argues.

Complaints against Spanish-language radio or television shows account for a tiny portion of the total complaints received by the FCC over the last five years -- 32 out of almost 1.1 million. As of April, the FCC had received only two complaints against Latino broadcasters this year.

"The Spanish-speaking community is no less deserving of protection from blatant indecency than other audiences," Baca wrote in the letter to Powell.

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Chains patrol indecency

The FCC crackdown on public indecency was sparked earlier this year after Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" revealed her bare breast to millions of television viewers. In the wake of the uproar, the commission condemned as "indecent and profane" the use of an expletive by Bono at the televised Golden Globe Awards in 2003, reversing a previous ruling that had let the rock star off the hook. And the FCC fined radio giant Clear Channel Communications $1.75 million to settle complaints that it aired indecent comments by Howard Stern and other disc jockeys.

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