By Tom Danehy
LET'S TAKE A short trip through our FM radio dial. We'll start at the Bizarroland that is KXCI and head north. First, of course, we have KXCI, the Biosphere of local radio, where everything (and I mean everything!) is there, all in one almost-hermetically-sealed package.
Then we pass through the Wonderland of Rocks, where we encounter, in order: Eclectic Rock, Oldies Rock, Top 40 Rock, Lite Rock and finally Hard Rock.
We then come upon the Twin Peaks of Shitkicker Music, landmarks by which Tucson is most often identified. But look there! Nestled in the valley between CD Country and ratings monster Generic Country is a most intriguing little station, one where you're likely to hear a Mexican cumbia followed by a '70s soul song followed by a Tex-Mex ballad. And you're more likely than not to love all three of them.
KOHT (98.3 FM) bills itself as the "La Caliente de Tucson, Hot 98" and offers an admittedly strange mix of music that appears to be catching on in a big way. The station has great word-of-mouth listener loyalty and is shooting up in the ratings, even in some unexpected demographic categories.
Listening to KOHT for even a few minutes can be exhilarating to many, exasperating to some. The main reason for this is that the station is so wonderfully, casually bilingual. The deejays are all bilingual and they go back and forth effortlessly, sometimes in the same sentence. Or they may say something in Spanish and then reiterate it in English for all the gringos and others who didn't catch it the first time (more on that later).
One commercial may be in Spanish, the next in English, the third in both languages. And then there's the music, a heady mix that includes Tejano (the preferred term for Tex-Mex), Spanish-language rock and roll, Latin pop and ballads and American soul.
In any given hour, you're likely to hear TLC's current Number One silky-soul hit "Creep," Tejano smash "Vida" by La Mafia, maybe something by international star Luis Miguel or Latin rock and roll band Maná, and then finish up with Earth, Wind and Fire's "Reasons," a song to which 18 percent of all cool children born in the late '70s were conceived.
The playlist is the brainchild of program director James Rivas, who bills himself on the air as "The Manic Hispanic." Rivas is yet another on-air personality who went on to bigger and better things after being bounced by the once-powerful-but-now-stagnant KRQ.
Rivas used to dominate his weekday evenings time slot with an audience consisting mainly of teenagers doing their homework. Along with Mike Elliott and Jimmy Kimmel in the morning, Rivas was part of a group of deejays who were attempting to boost KRQ back to the lofty spot it had enjoyed in the late '80s. An impatient management, not satisfied with the rate of progress being made in the ratings, fired all three of them and the ratings have been in free-fall ever since.
Elliott bought his own radio station in Maine, while Kimmel ended up with the powerful KROQ morning show in L.A., where he also is "The Fox Guy" doing national promos for the Fox TV network.
James Rivas moved on to San Antonio, where he landed right in the middle of the Tejano music explosion. "Everything was just going wild at that time," says Rivas, reached by phone in Las Vegas, where he was emceeing a Tex-Mex extravaganza at Bally's last weekend. "Tejano music was dominating the airwaves in Texas, and I felt that it could do real well in Tucson, also."
After his brief, successful stint in San Antonio, Rivas was hired by KOHT, the FM sister-station to Radio Fiesta, KXEW, which plays more traditional Mexican and international Latin music. He was given the important morning drive-time slot and subsequently named program director. He instituted his Tejano-heavy playlist and the results have been dramatic.
In the past three ratings periods, KOHT has risen from thirteenth in the market to eighth and has a legitimate shot at moving up to sixth in the near future. This is remarkable considering that it's basically a foreign-language station in a market dominated by country and rock music.
KOHT is doing really well in the lucrative "women 25-54" demographic group. Rivas' morning show is the fifth highest-rated in Tucson, having soared from a 1.6 share the in winter of 1994 to a 4.3 in the fall of 1994. He's only two-tenths of a point behind Mojo and Betsy on KRQ, who have fallen to 4.5 from the 7.2 share they inherited from Mike Elliott.
Rivas credits the music and the general upbeat tone of the station for the success. "We get a lot of calls from people who don't speak Spanish who love our station," Rivas explains. "A lot are Anglos, but we also have a lot of Hispanics who grew up not speaking Spanish, but they feel a connection to the music and the deejays. It's a good feeling.
"Somebody will tune in to hear 'Bidi Bidi Boom Boom,' the current hit by the queen of Tejano, Selena, and they'll stick around to hear 'Atomic Dog' by George Clinton and then maybe 'Ven A Mi' by J. Perez. It's a cool mix."
This weekend, KOHT will be joining with Chicanos Por La Causa in sponsoring the Eighth Annual Viva Tucson Festival at Kennedy Park. Admission is free both Saturday, and Sunday and the show will feature two big-name Tejano acts as well as all five nominees in the Tex-Mex category of the 1995 Tammies Awards. (Ballots appearing in this issue will be available to voters at the festival.)
Headlining the show on Saturday will be Ram "The Man" Herrera, whose current hit is "Never-Ending Love For You," a remake of the old Delaney and Bonnie & Friends hit from the early '70s. Sunday's show features La Tropa "F" ("F Troop"), singing their hit "Lagrimas."
The five groups nominated for a Tammie include: Grupo Ambición, LTD, Latino Sólido, Latin Express and Festival. All five will be playing during the festival.
Rivas will emcee the show at Kennedy Park, and he predicts it will be the biggest Viva Tucson Festival ever.
"This music is really hot right now, but at the same time, I don't think it's a fad. There's already a little bit of tension between 'traditional' Tex-Mex and the newer stuff, but that's normal in all music. This stuff is here to stay."
And so, apparently, is La Caliente de Tucson.
| © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth