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MPR’s William Wilcoxen reports on RADIO REY, a Spanish-language radio service that broadcasts more than thirty hours a week from a grocery store on Concord Street in St. Paul’s West Side.

Wilcoxen visits Las Americas Supermercado and speaks with Radio Rey’s founder Lupe Gonzales and others about the radio show.


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WILLIAM WILCOXEN: Stroll into Las Américas Supermercado on Concord Street in Saint Paul, and your attention may be drawn to the dozens of brightly colored pinatas hanging from the ceiling, or to the bins of fresh produce labeled in Spanish on handwritten placards, or perhaps to the half dozen young men crowded around a Western Union office next to the checkout counter. But before long, you'll also notice the glass enclosed studio where a young disk jockey plays the CDs and commercials that fill the air in this grocery store and in homes and cars around the Twin Cities.



WILLIAM WILCOXEN: Radio Rey began 18 years ago was a weekly radio show hosted by Guadalupe Gonzales, who purchased time on Saturdays on WMIN, 1,000 Watt AM station based in Lakeland Minnesota, just South of Stillwater. To cover the cost of the show, Lupe sold commercials, primarily to the businesses owned by Mexican-Americans on St. Paul's West Side. The popularity of Radio Rey allowed Lupe to add Friday and Sunday shows over the years, but by last summer, the 59-year-old Gonzalez, who also works a full-time factory job as a die caster, had grown weary of his weekend commutes to the radio station from his home in Saint Paul.

GUADALUPE GONZALEZ: That's too far for me to take to work. And after so many years, I get tired, I say I don't want to do no more of this radio. I told my boss, that's enough. Then we started thinking, and then I said, can I move this thing over there? And then I said, nah, it's cost a lot of money, but it can be done. I said, yeah, let's do it. I didn't want to put it over here.

WILLIAM WILCOXEN: An excitable man, Lupe Gonzalez's enthusiasm becomes overwhelming as he describes construction of the remote studio at Las Américas. Broadcasting from the heart of the West Side allowed him to take on six part time staff members, three of them paid, who now help produce Radio Rey seven days a week. The Spanish language format is on WMIN from 2:00 PM until sundown weekdays, all day Saturdays, and from noon till sundown on Sundays. The station's program director Tom Wilson, says there are no doubts about the popularity of the service.

GUADALUPE GONZALEZ: When they were still here in these studios before we built them as remote studios over there in South Saint Paul, this is the request lines. And when they open them up on the weekends, four lines were jammed continually for four or five hours. It's very popular. He's received a lot of press and notoriety. And it's been a very successful program.

WILLIAM WILCOXEN: A daily radio service aimed at Latino residents is a media milestone that reflects Minnesota's changing demographics. Gilbert Delao, a lifelong West Sider who serves on St. Paul's School board, says Radio Rey is an affirmation of Hispanic culture in the Twin Cities.

GILBERT DELAO: And he plays the music we want to hear, it gives a lot of positive stuff going on in our communities. And then again, I think it validates our presence here in the cities. And I think the other thing too, it affords other people, other non-Hispanics, who like our music, who like our culture, to partake in that too.

WILLIAM WILCOXEN: Danielle Cardenas, whose friends call him Boleo or White Bread, was recruited by Lupe Gonzalez to answer the stream of phone calls from Radio Rey listeners. Many of whom call to dedicate songs. Boleo confirms the station reaches beyond language barriers.

DANIELLE CARDENAS: We have American people. They call and they don't speak Spanish, they call in English. Can I dedicate a song? I say, yeah. So they say OK, but you can translate this in Spanish so everybody can understand. OK. And that's great for us, for the station.

WILLIAM WILCOXEN: Boleo and other young West Siders respectfully refer to the founder of Radio Rey as Don Lupe. Gonzalez is locally renowned not only for his radio show, his stage at Saint Paul's annual Cinco de Mayo Festival usually draws the biggest crowds, especially for the dance contests he arranges. Even in the rain of Saturday's celebration, Lupe's exuberance charmed the crowd, as he pranced around stage in his sombrero and pancho.


WILLIAM WILCOXEN: Lupe says drumming up sponsorship for a radio show or dance contest is very different today than when he moved to Saint Paul from the Mexican state of Jalisco in 1972. In those days, there were only a handful of Chicano owned businesses run by a small network of people who knew each other well. Today, while the network is still in place, Lupe marvels at how rapidly it is expanding, and says he has trouble keeping up with the openings of New Mexican restaurants and stores all over the Twin Cities area.

GUADALUPE GONZALEZ: --restaurants and I don't even know them. Oh god, still worried and Shakopee had two restaurants open last week. And just this week, I got three or four places open this week.

WILLIAM WILCOXEN: Lupe Gonzalez says the growing number of businesses marketing to Hispanic Minnesotans improves his chances of realizing his goal of presiding over a Minnesota radio station with an entirely Spanish language format. I'm William Wilcoxen, Minnesota Public Radio.




Digitization made possible by the State of Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, approved by voters in 2008.

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