Sancho’s Out, but Not Down 

The dumping of L.A.’s No. 1 Chicano DJ

Wednesday, Mar 22 2000

For those whose mornings became eclectic via KCRW, Saturday night on KPCC must have seemed schizophrenic, with its barrio mix of rhythm & blues, corridos, boleros, vintage Chicano rock -- and preaching.

The fiercely proud Chicano DJ was as exuberant as they come. For six hours every Saturday night for 15 years, The Sancho Show delivered a mix of multigenerational Latin sounds, punctuated with a strong pro-education message.

Dr. Daniel Castro, known to listeners as Sancho, quickly became a beloved L.A. radio treasure. Ecstatic and dogmatic, Sancho kept his audience entertained and motivated, with lines like ”Remember -- no school, no class.“ In return, Sancho took no pay; inspiring young and old alike was enough of a reward for the 50-year-old educator.

On March 11, KPCC‘s music DJs said farewell as part of the public radio station’s shift to an all-news format. That is, all except Sancho, who was dismissed on February 28, two days after the broadcast he didn‘t know was his last. Media coverage of his ouster has been critical, and questioning of the decision to send him packing. Years ago, when KRLA -- a whole station targeted at Chicano listenership -- went all-talk, the change was noted quietly. But Sancho’s dismissal has upset many people, whose messages appear on Sancho‘s Web site: They write, ”It was inspiration. It was pride. It was home.“

How did one DJ do so much to capture the minds and imagination of thousands of Southland listeners? Well, for starters, he gave away between $50,000 and $90,000 in scholarships every year. He helped turn lives around for the better.

”My dad died when I was 14, and I got into drugs, alcohol, gang violence, dropped out of school, homelessness -- all the usual shit,“ says Daniel Gerrardo, a Sancho scholarship recipient who will graduate from USC on May 12. ”I used to listen to his show, and his message -- ’No school, no class‘ -- stuck with me. I was touched by his concern for the individual, even if he’d never met the person. I got involved in the community and went back to school because of his message -- coaching Little League, East L.A. College at night for five years, then was given the scholarship when I transferred to USC. Now I go to schools and jails and talk to kids about staying straight. Sancho was an inspiration for me to do that.“

The Sancho Show was community programming at its best. Dozens of students have benefited, and the vocal loyalty of his listenership -- KPCC has received a great many complaints about the cancellation, in addition to the negative press -- is evidence of Sancho‘s effect.

Even without radio credentials, Sancho is impressive. His day job is pure suit-and-tie -- vice president of academic affairs at Mission College in Sylmar, with a B.A. in sociology, a master’s in urban affairs and a doctorate from Union Collegiate College. Dr. Castro speaks like an educated man, and with precision. Sancho spoke pure barrio.

”We all live in two different worlds -- home and work,“ he says, ”I have a posture I carry as a college administrator, but at home I talk as I‘d talk when I grew up. On the program, I’m home, and I speak as I would to my family.“

The Sancho Show fueled his real cause, the annually awarded Quetzalcoatl Memorial Scholarship Fund, established in memory of his son, who died at age 8 in a car crash.

The show quickly took on a high profile, leading Castro to establish the Chicano Music Awards. A staple of his fund-raising efforts, its honorees range from obscure Chicano bands to Latin superstars. This year‘s show, to be held May 20 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium, will feature the Texas Tornados and Los Lobos. Also, there is his Sounds of Sancho label, issuing an eclectic Chicano music catalog. Revenue from these ventures goes into the scholarship fund. Education, in fact, is what led him to radio.

”Last year, we raised $90,000. Once a kid receives a scholarship, he renews it as long as he’s in school. We give out new scholarships every year, but we‘ve also got a fund set up that, if a kid has a problem where he might drop out, we ask that you come and see us first. We need to step in, because there’s no safety net for these kids. We‘re a catalyst, not just to get them into school, but to get them through school.

“The label happened ’cause we did The Best of Sancho disc. We‘ve done five volumes. We took bands that nobody else would take because they weren’t Top 40. We saw this as win-win. First, we‘d promote those bands. Second, we’d make money for the scholarship. All the money from these CDs and the awards goes to the scholarship. The bands don‘t get paid. We don’t get paid. We do it out of our commitment to try and make this a better world.”

  • The dumping of L.A.’s No. 1 Chicano DJ

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