“¿Que te pone de mal humor en la mañana?” What puts you in a bad mood in the morning?
Wearing headphones, Argelia Atilano asks the question as if she were talking to a best girlfriend, but she’s speaking into a live mike from the studios of KLVE-FM (107.5), overlooking Glendale and reaching hundreds of thousands of loyal listeners.
“For me, it’s when I wake up at 3:30 a.m. and have my mind set on what I’m going to wear, but aggggghhhh! I explode when I discover that what I want to wear is not there or is dirty because my sisters borrow without asking. That just gets me!”
Good morning. Wake up! It’s real talk with a real woman. It’s El Show de la Mañana con Omar Y Argelia. And though K-Love is virtually unknown among L.A.’s English-speaking population, it’s grown into a titan of L.A. radio: K-LOVE was third in this winter’s Arbitron ratings, and over Arbitron’s summer period it was ranked first overall, with 5 percent of the audience.
No matter where it’s been ranked, K-Love has been L.A.’s Spanish-language radio leader for most of its 32 years and is probably the most important español radio outlet in the nation — try scoring a hit song without getting it programmed on K-Love. The station’s morning slot has naturally been a huge factor in its growth: Generations of Angelenos have grown up listening to K-Love and its iconic longtime morning personality, Pepe Barreto, whose 17 years at the station garnered him a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
One of those tuning in was a young girl from the Eastside: “I grew up listening to him,” says Atilano, relaxing in the station’s top-floor offices. “So when I got offered the job, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m working with Pepe Barreto!’”
But the honeymoon was short-lived. Atilano, who had previously worked as a news reporter at Noticiero Telemundo on KVEA-TV Channel 52, had been hired as an on-air personality to complement Barreto but soon found herself relegated to traffic reports. “I quickly realized this was a male-dominated business. My participation with him was pretty much nonexistent. My mike would get turned off, and I would leave the studio crying, saying, ‘What am I doing here?’” That was October 2001.
Women have become a little more welcome in drive-time radio recently, with the addition of talented females like Power 106’s Liz Hernandez and Movin’ 93.9’s Patricia Lopez. Still, radio — and in particular morning radio — is not only incredibly competitive but can also be a very old-school world. Scan the morning dial in both Spanish and English and you’ll find a lot of men: El Piolín, El Cucuy, El Mandril, Big Boy, Ryan Seacrest, Kevin & Bean. The field Atilano entered back in 2001 was anything but warm and fuzzy.
“Back then,” says Atilano, “the program director, Maria Nava, would motivate me. She’d say, ‘It’s tough in the studio, but when you have an open mike, just shine. Speak with confidence and speak your mind.’”
Atilano got her chance when Barreto’s leave of absence was made permanent in 2003 and weekend K-Love locutor Omar Velasco, who’d been filling in for Barreto, became an official player on the morning team. “People got to know the real Argelia when Omar came onboard,” says Atilano. “He said, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about everyone here. Just be yourself.’ And we became this dynamic, fresh, very cool, hip morning show.”
El Show de la Mañana con Omar y Argelia was born. A new dynamic duo had arrived — and so had a new woman’s voice in morning radio. Ratings began to increase.
“Our show is a musical show,” says Velasco. “We complement the music with our content and comments — soothing, like the music we play.” The hosts’ humor and thought-provoking commentary on a wide variety of issues blend nicely with K-Love’s music: “Más variedad, más románticas,” soft Spanish love ballads by such artists as Luis Miguel, Juanes, Julieta Venegas, Alejandro Fernandez, Pepe Aguilar, Shakira, Chayanne, Marco Antonio Solis and Mariano Barba.
Atilano knows K-Love’s target demographic, women 25 to 44 — she is one of them. “We call it ‘Think Pink,’” she says. “Omar thinks like a woman, and I listen to myself. We find out what women want to know. Women are not very interested in sports” — except for the 2006 World Cup, in which Mexico participated, and which they covered. “But they’ll be interested in how to lose weight, and relationships.”
K-Love gives away tickets to female-oriented events and has promoted Solo Para Mujeres (For Women Only), a Mexican theatrical spectacle at the Gibson Amphitheatre featuring hunky male dancers. Ultimately, though, it’s Velasco and Atilano’s chemistry that keeps listeners tuning in.
“We have a lot in common,” she says. Both were born outside L.A. (Atilano in Chicago, Velasco in Jalisco) and grew up in Los Angeles. Atilano is 32, Velasco 33, and the parents of both are from Jalisco. Atilano graduated from Garfield High School in East L.A., where she bought a house and still lives, “right behind the Pep Boys”; she holds a degree in communications from Loyola Marymount University. Velasco graduated from San Fernando High and attended Cal State Northridge. Both are Lakers fans and team players. Both profess a special veneration for the Virgin Mary. Both believe in community activism and speaking out on hot topics such as immigration.
“We have to be on top of the immigration issue, because many of our listeners are undocumented,” says Atilano. “We’re not only here to entertain, we’re here to inform and educate.”
Besides broadcasting on K-Love every weekday morning from 5 to 10, Atilano is a reporter and “movie girl” for Univision’s KMEX-TV news program Primer Impacto. She has also served as the official DJ and main MC for Premios Juventud, a music-driven show similar to the Teen Choice Awards, for the past three years. And as her male admirers know, she doesn’t exactly have “a face made for radio”: In 2005, Atilano was named one of People en Español’s 50 most beautiful people.
“It was honor for an L.A. girl to be in that magazine,” she says. “But it felt nicer when our listeners congratulated me. They felt like one of their own had made it.”