Almendárez’s morning show, which has been on the air since 1989, and on KLAX La Raza since 2004, is a seven-hour torrent of puns, pranks, and play-acting, with the loopy mood and cacophonous, somewhat forced hilarity of a drunken office party. It is one of the biggest Spanish radio shows in the nation, which helps make KLAX one of the top radio stations—in any language—in Los Angeles. As many as three million people listen to El Cucuy every weekday from four to eleven and Saturdays from five to ten. Most shows begin with the deafening burr of an alarm clock and Almendárez yelling, “Arriba! Arriba! Arriba! Arriba! Arriba! Arriba!” Up! Up! Up! Up! Up! Up! “This is why we came to the United States!” he shouts. “To work!”
The show’s demographic is broad: the program runs ads for Toyotas, Lasik eye surgery, and Disneyland vacations, as well as for Office Depot and “the perfect diet.” Through KLAX’s owner, Spanish Broadcasting Service, El Cucuy also broadcasts to, among other places, Denver; Seattle; Tulsa; San Francisco; Atlanta; Salt Lake City; Minneapolis; Jackson, Mississippi; Fort Smith, Arkansas; Medford, Oregon; and Greenville, South Carolina.
Almendárez is Latino America’s cheerleader. “Hello, construction workers, garbagemen!” he says. “Hello to those who work in the strawberry fields, in the vineyards, in the lettuce fields!” He is also the community’s self-appointed father figure, and, as such, he can be patronizing. “I told you: you follow me, and I’ll guide you” is a favorite refrain. His “grand crusade,” which he mentions several times in the course of every show, is “Votos por America,” a campaign to register a million new voters.
For all the talk about becoming American, Almendárez never exhorts his listeners to learn English. The closest I heard him come to promoting English was an advertisement he aired for Inglés sin Barreras—English Without Barriers—which warned that new immigration laws would require better English. It ended with a note of encouragement: “Listen, if you made it across the border you can make it over the barriers to English.” Almendárez, however, has never studied English, and still speaks it haltingly. “I’m crazy. It was a caprice of mine,” he told me. “I had some idea that if I learned English my daughters wouldn’t speak Spanish. So they speak Spanish with me and English with their Mexican mother and with each other.”
The story opens with the relatives of gunfire victims camped out in the lobby of the West Pico studios, asking for help. Rival DJ Eddie Sotelo, aka Piolín, makes an appearance in the piece.