It’s 8 p.m., prime time, and the platinum rap duo Akwid are on live in 4 million Los Angeles television households. In the studio, screaming young fans surround the pair; those who can’t be there flood the telephone lines. This isn’t MTV’s Total Request Live or BET’s 106 & Park — it’s LATV, Los Angeles’ first bilingual television station. From 7 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, LATV is the hottest thing in town.
"We beat MTV!" brags program director Flavio Morales. And it’s true: Nielsen ratings indicate that on some nights LATV, working out of Earth, Wind and Fire’s old Westside recording studio, crushes the competition, both broadcast and cable. With a growing bilingual viewership, LATV has the local Latino youth and young-adult population ages 12 to 34 on lockdown.
Music has been the focus for LATV president Daniel Crowe, who previously worked in Spanish-language radio. Looking for someone to realize his idea of bilingual entertainment broadcasting, he found it in Morales, a Wilson High School grad from East L.A. who had hosted a similarly slanted music program, the Eastside cable show Illegal Interns. Crowe hired Morales on Cinco de Mayo 1999. They started programming that fall, but the project didn’t take off as LATV till 2001. Their ambition: to go nationwide 24 hours a day, like MTV and VH1.
"We’re Mexican, we like to party!" proclaim Akwid as the young Latinas scream "Aaaayyyy" and holler "Wooooo!" Someone offstage pulls five Heinekens from a huge cooler — the vibe is like a big house party. LATV has laid out Pit Bull energy drinks, wine and Coronas, wraps, cheese, crackers and cookies.
"When are we going to mingle?" asks Candace Loera with a smile. She’s one of the VJs on LATV Live, which plays everything from 2Mex to Interpol, hosts in-studio performances ranging from Guerilla Black to Jaguares, takes live call-ins and shout-outs, and interacts with viewers on the LATV.com chatroom.
There are games, too, such as Loti Bingo, where viewers get a shot at free concert tickets, iPods and whatever. After winning a prize, a male caller from La Puente busts out in Spanglish, "Mandale un beso a mi vieja, for my old lady!" The studio roars at his veterano slang.
Nearly everyone in front of and behind the camera at LATV is Latino, bilingual and in his or her 20s. It feels like a broadcasting class at some inner-city Cal State campus.
"The average age is 25," says Morales; at 32, he’s an elder statesman. "We’re giving people their first opportunity." For students coming from USC, Northridge and the like, LATV is a hotbed.
The staff don’t look like it, but make no mistake, they’re hard at work. They genuinely enjoy one another and act as a team, producing programs for young bilingual and bicultural Latinos such as Rock-A-Mole, which takes a look at the world of Latin alternative music; The Hip Hop Show, which plays the latest in rap while featuring B-boys and graffiti artists; and Cruizin’ TV, which follows the car-show lifestyle.
One of the most popular shows is Mex 2 the Max, a regional-music showcase hosted by Patricia Lopez. A special day spotlights the hottest corrido artist, "El Toro" — Lupillo Rivera. If Akwid is big, a guest like Rivera takes it to another level, as an unruly line of young fans snakes around the building, herded by private security.
"It’s about them," says former producer Alejandro de la Parra, indicating the throng. "And it’s about the music. We want to give regional music the respect it deserves."
LATV is attracting viewers in the largest Latino market in the country. This sizable audience, in turn, draws big-time advertisers — Universal Pictures, Ford, Miller, Jack in the Box, Volkswagen, Univision Records.
"We help sell a lot of cars and records," says Morales.
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Beyond their goals of national airwave dominance and financial success, Morales and the Ñ Generation at LATV are aiming for even bigger cultural targets.
"We want to show bilingual morenos and morenas on TV," he says, "and let everyone know it’s cool to be Latino!"
LATV broadcasts via KJLA-TV on VHF channels 33 and 57, as well as on Adelphia, Comcast, Time Warner and other local cable systems, and via satellite on Direct TV and Dish Network.