The starmaker

To revive a struggling L.A. radio station, Pepe Garza took a field trip to the streets and started airing what he heard. The result: a craze for narcocorridos, banda/hip-hop and a string of unexpected Latino hits.

Garza and his new boss, Eddie Leon, decided Que Buena had to be totally different from its direct competitors in Mexican radio, La Nueva and La Raza. Garza noticed that he didn’t recognize any of the artists who were advertised at local nightclubs frequented by Mexican immigrants. So the radio executives decided to do an informal audience survey.

They walked along Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park, the heart of L.A.’s burgeoning immigrant community, and asked people what they listened to. They talked to motorists with tape decks blaring, to clerks in record stores, to people waiting at bus stops with portable CD players.

“We came to realize that the music being heard on the street was not the same as the music heard on the radio,” Garza says. “When we started playing all these unknown artists, nobody was expecting it.”

Garza says he didn’t wait for anybody to bring him CDs, often released by the artists themselves. He bought them at local record stores and just put them on the air. The first song he programmed was called “Se Les Pelo Baltazar” (Baltazar Got Away) by Las Voces del Rancho, a local duo on Pedro Rivera’s independent label. “The next day,” Garza recalls, “it was the most requested song and I said, ‘Eureka!’ ”