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Sancho’s Out, but Not Down

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 Sancho Show didn‘t appeal only to young people. Sancho needed parents to embrace, and even enforce, his message. The playlist reflected a cross-generations audience.

“If we wanted to just go after kids, we’d just play music the kids want to hear. See, a 15-year-old kid doesn‘t drop out of school by himself. The mother, the father, the grandfather -- everybody else has got to give it the okay. Maybe they say, ’Well, school wasn‘t good for me, so okay, go get a job.’

”We want them to say, ‘Bullshit. Stay in school.’ So the message has to reach three generations, which means the music does, too, so the whole family can dig the show. We put it on the whole family. I tell parents, ‘You want your kids to go to school,’ you go to school. Go take one class. Take a pottery class -- whatever it is. You‘ve got to break that cycle of ’Nobody in our family ever went to college.‘

“And, by playing all that different music, you have grandparents sitting there telling the children, ’I remember when this came out,‘ and talking about that, so you have history happening. It gets passed down. You use that loyalty to the music to get people to stay in school. And, with the scholarship fund, we’ll help.”

Castro stresses that “Education is the equalizer. To tell people that, you need a hook, and ours is that we talk and play music in a very informal manner. But we‘ve always pushed the positive image.”

This need to promote a positive image has even made Castro careful about where the scholarship money comes from.

“A beer company offered $25,000 to sponsor the Chicano Music Awards,” says Richard “Riche” Barron, Sancho’s on-air sidekick, “but Sancho refused. Endorsing alcohol sends a negative message to the community.”

“To do good,” emphasizes Castro, “you‘ve got to feel good about yourself. We introduce levity into it, but the bottom line is, if you don’t go to school, you‘re selling yourself into slavery, because, without education, there are no options.

”Without options,“ he intones gravely, ”you have no choices. Without choices, the game’s over.“

On-air, and Webcasting on www.san choshow.com, Sancho has also championed computers: ”We‘ve heard from Arkansas, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., New York . . . A lot of those people are transplants from here who wanted to stay in touch, and some bought computers just to be able to listen to the show. That was the coolest part.

“Computers are the future. It’s not here yet, because the average person is still buying that color TV. Poor people of all colors haven‘t made the transition yet. But it’s one of the most important tools. We‘re a technological era. Before, it was how much land you had, or money. Now, it’s information. And information‘s free on the Web. So anybody can start something new, which is a real trip, in that you’re equalizing the power base, because everybody can get information. And nobody can corner the market, because a kid with a little gumption gets into it, and he can be playing big time just as well as the next person.

”To start a magazine or make a movie took big-time cash. But Web sites are cheap, and people who never had access [to mass media] now have access, and that means a level playing field.

“I tell people, ‘You want to help your kids, buy a computer. Change their life forever.’”

Sancho has little to say about radio, even given his 15 years of broadcasting. The Sancho Show was a vehicle, never an objective unto itself.

“One of the things we found in our early research is that 70 percent of the information young people get comes from radio. And it turned out that a whole lot of different folks get their information from radio, so that was the medium we chose.”

In 1998, Al Gore commended The Sancho Show as “a perfect example of non-elitist public programming.” KPCC was proud. But that was before Minnesota Public Radio, the new operators of KPCC, notified DJs that KPCC music programming would end on March 11. Everyone, that is, except Sancho, who did his last show on February 26. KPCC‘s general manager, Cindy Young, insists that “All the DJs were informed in a similar manner about the format change, including Sancho, but I won’t discuss private conversations.” She adds, “Dr. Castro wasn‘t singled out for any kind of treatment different from the other people we let go.”

 

Castro recalls differently.

“On the 26th, we did our program and left. Monday, she called the school where I work.

”She said, ’You know about the format changes?‘ and I said, ’Yeah, I called you three months ago and told you I wanted to talk to the Minnesota people about what they were gonna do with us, and at that point you said you‘d get back to me.’

“She said, ‘Minnesota has made the decision to go all-talk on March 11.’ I asked, ‘So when’s our last show?‘ And she said, ’That was your last show. That‘s what we decided.’

”I said, ‘I’ve been doing this show for 15 years, and that‘s how I’m treated? I don‘t get paid like you do, lady. I volunteer myself. Why can’t I do a last show?‘ And she said, ’We don‘t believe you need six hours to lament why you’re not going to be on the air anymore.‘ That’s a quote.“

With Sancho gone, KPCC still promises ”coverage of our region‘s many diverse communities.“ MPR programming V.P. Craig Curtis promises real live Latino reporters.

In all fairness, public radio’s job description is ambiguous. KPFK‘s program Folkscene, hosted by Howard and Roz Larman, recently celebrated its 30-year anniversary. I asked Roz Larman, ”What’s public radio‘s job?“ After 30 years, she should know.

”Grassroots community programming,“ she said. ”Period.“

A perfect definition of The Sancho Show.

Show or no show, Sancho endures, preaching education via the Chicano-music gospel and raising scholarship money. Hearing him talk, it’s clear that, even if there had never been a Sancho, Daniel Castro would still be a giant. Stay tuned. His kind neither retreats nor disappears.

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