The quickest-rising star in Los Angeles morning radio isn’t cute or hip or young or remotely trendy.He’s Don Cheto (aka Mr. Cheto), a 63-year-old hillbilly from the town of La Sauceda in Michoacan, Mexico, who crossed the border more than 30 years ago, speaks accented English, bickers with his daughters over their boyfriends and complains about the loss of morals.
And yet Don Cheto has managed to drive listenership of his station, regional Mexican KBUE (La Que Buena), taking it from No. 14 in share for audiences age 12-plus to No. 4 in less than a year, according to Arbitron.
Don Cheto, who in promotional appearances sports a mustache, white hat and colorful zarape, is actually 27-year-old programmer/DJ Juan Razo, who created the character four years ago as a sidekick on KBUE’s previous morning show.
In the coveted 18- to 35-year-old audience, KBUE ranks second in morning-drive listenership with a 9.6 share, according to Arbitron, almost triple the 3.8 it had in Arbitron’s fall 2006 book. In that demographic, the only station in Los Angeles that bests Don Cheto is KSCA, another Spanish-language station, whose morning drive is manned by uber-popular and politically conscious host Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo.
The unsophisticated, low-profile Don Cheto couldn’t be more different. “I think he reminds everybody of someone,” KBUE program director Pepe Garza says. “He’s not some bumpkin fool.
No. Don Cheto speaks broken English. But he speaks it. He has papers. He’s intelligent and gives good advice. He likes to gossip, and he’s great company. He’s like a friend.”
BRIDGING THE GENERATION GAP
A busybody who always had an opinion, Don Cheto gained traction among L.A.-area listeners thanks to his irreverent comments and on-target portrayal of the generational and cultural chasm within many Latin immigrant communities.
Beyond Los Angeles, he scored a coup when, in 2003, he recorded a comic duet, “Estoy Enamorada,” with banda singer Yolanda Perez. The bilingual track, which featured Don Cheto as the angry dad scolding Perez in Spanish, hit No. 7 on Billboard’s Regional Mexican chart in January 2004 and led Don Cheto himself to plead on-air with Garza for his own album.
The secret of his success, Razo says, lies in being natural.
“It’s not a very produced show,” he says. “What you hear is what comes out at the moment — that the rent is high, memories of home, immigration issues.” The character of Don Cheto, Razo says, is inspired by a real person from his hometown in Mexico, where — as is the case with many small towns there — there was no radio.
“There was a guy with a loudspeaker, and if there was an event, you would pay for him to go and announce it,” he says.
The image immediately resonated with listeners, and Don Cheto’s popularity on the morning show grew steadily until Garza decided to turn the entire program over to him last year.
Don Cheto’s character stands in stark contrast to the raunchiness that often marked KBUE’s previous morning show. It also is counterintuitive to KBUE’s image as a youth-appealing regional Mexican station known for breaking new music.
The contrast, however, illustrates the dichotomy of new immigrants and second- and third-generation Latins.
“I get calls from young and old listeners,” Razo says.
“Many young people who barely speak Spanish call Don Cheto.
Most of them have a relative who reminds them of him. Also, Don Cheto may be old, but he’s a cool guy.”