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How KPCC's Quest for Latino Listeners Doomed The Madeleine Brand Show 

Thursday, Nov 1 2012
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And so it stunned listeners when an announcement came two hours later via a press release posted on the station's website: Effective immediately, Brand would be leaving Southern California Public Radio.

Within the station, Brand's exit did not come as a complete surprise. Management knew she was unhappy. But the official statement said only that Brand was "leaving KPCC's morning lineup in order to pursue other career opportunities."

Since Brand's departure, Martínez has reported at least twice on the continuing fallout from Armstrong's steroid use. But he has not disclosed to KPCC listeners his previous sponsorship by the testosterone maker.

click to flip through (5) The co-hosts, Martinez and Brand, in happier times
  • The co-hosts, Martinez and Brand, in happier times
 

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One week after Brand's startling departure, Southern California Public Radio went into full damage control mode. On Sept. 28, president-CEO Davis was a guest on the only show left untouched by the changes: AirTalk With Larry Mantle.

He answered numerous questions about the shakeup on Brand's show — as well as the cancellation of the much-beloved Patt Morrison Show.

"Programming decisions are not a democratic process," Davis told Mantle. "We live in a multiethnic city and we should be trying to reflect that more throughout our programming and throughout our staffing."

Brand herself seems to agree.

Of the One Nation grant, she told trade magazine Current, "I am totally in favor of those goals." She added, "I think it's a great idea to increase minority audiences that are not being served by public radio. Two thumbs up for that." Regarding her abrupt departure, Brand only said that "outside offers just became too attractive" to stay at KPCC.

For KPCC, then, the question is not whether changing its programming to appeal to an ethnically diverse audience is a good idea. (Everyone at least gives lip service to the idea that it is.) The question is whether three older white guys — Bill Davis, Russ Stanton and Craig Curtis — are the right people to decide what Southern California diversity should sound like.

"You can put someone with a Spanish surname on the air, but I think most importantly you need to have a production team — producers and editors — who have lived this life and intuitively get it," Max Benavidez says.

Benavidez was project director at Los Angeles Public Media, which was created in 2009 by a $2 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting very similar to the One Nation grant.

The grant was awarded to Fresno-based Radio Bilingüe, the most successful Latino public radio organization in the country, boasting more than 100 affiliates.

The 2009 grant that created Los Angeles Public Media was trumpeted as "first-of-its-kind, multiplatform" programming for Los Angeles' "young, diverse and underserved audience." A raft of minority journalists were hired.

But the organization could not convince any radio station with a signal in the Los Angeles area to host its programming. First Southern California Public Radio walked away from the project, and the possibility of broadcasting on California State University Northridge's signal fell through, too.

The organization created content for a website called LA>Forward, but in June 2011, Los Angeles Public Media suspended operations. The organization lost its funding when Congress cut $30 million from the CPB's budget last spring — and most digital-only projects got the ax.

The irony about all the trouble KPCC has encountered in its search for a Latino host is this: Back when it was a scrappy college station, KPCC had a hugely successful Latino-hosted show with massive grassroots support. It was called The Sancho Show.

The Sancho Show started as a one-hour program in 1984, but over 16 years on the air grew to six hours. On any given Saturday evening, Daniel Castro would be joined in the booth by 10 to 12 volunteers answering phones.

"I could have all 12 or 15 lines lit up for three hours straight," Castro, a silver-haired college administrator, remembers with a laugh. "We had a following. It wasn't three people listening. We had a following from Santa Barbara all the way to San Diego."

And that was just on the phone lines. "There were times when I could go out in that parking lot and have a parking lot full of low-riders — two or three car clubs would show up. I went out there one time, there was a whole motorcycle club out there. I had Boy Scout troops, USC Latino Alumni Association — it was crazy, folks from all kinds of places would show up," he recalls warmly.

The idea was to play multigenerational music — from bolero to the Texas Tornados, Linda Ronstadt, Canned Heat, Tower of Power, Malo — the kind of stuff the family could sit around and listen to together. That act alone, Castro believed, would strength the family unit and the community.

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