“… I wanted to be a DJ.”
What got you started in radio? Since I was in grade school, I wanted to be a DJ. It’s all I wanted to do: be behind a microphone and tell people about the song that’s coming up. I used to announce in my bedroom, holding a pencil like a microphone. I’m the only one in my whole family that’s in radio. Everyone else has normal jobs. No one before me, nor after me, has gotten into radio.
Why did you immigrate? My hometown was very close to the border, only 30 miles south. Everyone in my town used to come across for shopping: clothes, groceries, you name it. I met the guy who owned KXEW in Tucson. I was already a DJ in Mexico. We started talking about how they did Spanish radio in the US, and we compared it to how they did general market radio. There was a big difference … not just in language, of course, but in the way the announcers spoke about things. I learned that the English-speaking DJs were doing things to take advantage of the Arbitron methodology, and the Spanish speaking DJs didn’t even know what Arbitron was.
One day, Mr. Portillo offered me a job to come work with him. He helped me get the papers together. It took 4 years, but I got my green card and came to the US. Thanks to him, I’m here.
You went to college while you were working? Right. All of my adult life, since I was in high school, I’ve been in radio. I had studied English in high school, and I did speak English, but you know, what you learn in high school isn’t that useful. I went to U of A to learn English, and that taught me how to get along with the English-speaking world.
How did your career progress from there? I was working as a DJ in Tucson at KXEW, then I was made PD. Then I became a PD in San Antonio. From there, I moved to Los Angeles. I programmed KTNQ under Heftel Broadcasting. After I left there, I became a consultant for a number of California stations all the way from San Diego to Sacramento. Then I decided to do the same job, but for my own benefit as opposed to helping other guys to get out of debt and get better ratings and revenue.
I started looking for my own station. I knew it would have to be a station in a small market, probably losing their shirts … and I found it! It was in Greeley, CO. That’s how I bought KGRE, my first station, and the rest is history.
When I bought the station, it was on air from 8a – 12n, and then they would turn it off, and then back on at 2p to 8p. The next day, it might not start until 9a if the guy overslept. Thanks to that, I could buy the station.
How do you brand your stations? I came up with the Tigre idea when I bought the first station, KGRE. I have always thought that we needed to create some kind of connection between the last 3 letters of your call sign and something that your audience can relate to … like KRTH in LA. I spent a week thinking about what I could make with “GRE” and I realized that in Spanish, tigre ends in gre, and that was it! Tigre FM is my slogan.
Who have your radio heroes been? I can’t point to one person in particular. A number of people have helped me, but my desire to do things the right way is what drove me. I wanted to be the best possible DJ I could be. I started listening to other guys to help me learn what was working. It wasn’t one person. I listened and worked every day to learn how to do my job better.
How did you become a part of your community? The first person who came the person to greet me was a competitor, Joe Tennison. He told me that he wanted to buy KGRE, but the previous owner had already agreed to sell to me. Mr. Tennison introduced me to the community leaders, like the Chamber of Commerce. He really opened the doors for me so I could go out, meet with clients, and do things on the air to get the audience involved. I talked to the audience about spending their money at their local retailers instead of the national brands. I participated in every parade and the opening of every envelope. That’s what I did; thank God it paid off.
How many employees do you have today? About 20, full and part time between the 3 markets.
How does recruiting work for you? I try and recruit from within the markets. Sometimes I hire DJs from other states … especially if they do sales! They pay for themselves. But, mostly, right now I only have local people.
You broadcast in both English and Spanish? Yes. In Pueblo, we have the Original Mexican format in Spanish as well as the Adult Hits in English. I grew up playing and listening to classic hits in Mexico, so I know that format. Not so with CHR … I’ve got a 22-year old guy in Laramie programming that station.
Are you still on air? I’m giving it up. I don’t have the time. Those days are gone for me. I do recordings once in a while, because I still feel the need.
How do you balance managing 5 stations in 3 communities? I’m in contact with everybody on a daily basis. I’ve got good employees. I get input from everybody to help make decisions; that’s how we operate.
Do you still consult? No, it’s like being on the air. I don’t have time for that.
HD? Not yet; it’s too expensive. The revenue is not there – especially for the Spanish stations.
Streaming? Everything is streamed. We use the streaming and the website as an added value for our clients. All of our advertisers have their presence on the web for free; we don’t have additional revenue from the streaming.
Do you make money on website, streaming, etc? It’s how we market our stations. I don’t use any social media … I don’t have time. The stations have Facebook and Twitter feeds. All of my people have their own accounts, and they use them to stay in touch with the audience. We do contesting that way, too. It’s a big part of our operation.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I love camping out in the summer. I have a little cabin in the mountains … no water, no electricity, nothing. I do have a TV that’s powered by solar panels. I cut my own fire wood, build my own roads, everything. When I can’t go there … I go to the golf course.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? Radio is a great business. If you’re really passionate about making radio your career, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Follow your heart, your instincts … your dreams. If you dream about radio, go for it, it’s a wonderful medium to work in.