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IMMIGRATION REFORM MAKES AIRWAYS DJS PLAY MAJOR ROLE IN DEBATE.

Byline: Rachel Uranga Staff Writer

GLENDALE - With the immigration-reform debate stalled in the Senate, activist organizers are gearing up for a series of protests and vigils against restrictive immigration proposals.

Though nobody expects to replicate the massive pro-immigrant rally, organizers energized by early successes are looking to Spanish-language radio to influence millions.

DJs such as Eduardo "Piolin" Sotelo on KSCA-FM (101.9) and Renan "Cucuy" Almendarez Coello on KLAX-FM (97.9) are devoting more segments to call-ins from politicians and organizers and to explain immigration reform. And they - themselves immigrants - are taking a very personal tone with a debate that is roiling the country.

While the DJs easily played advocate during the March 25 rally - even going so far as to broadcast from the downtown rally that drew between 500,000 and a million people - this time around they might have to walk a tightrope of trying not to alienate advertisers and listeners, as some organizers call for a May 1 economic boycott and more rallies.

"I have to be very careful; I feel responsible for what happens," said Sotelo, who said he won't back a boycott. "I don't want to do anything to hurt my community."

But immigrant-rights organizers - ranging from labor unions to political activists - are split over how far they will take any massive mobilization.

Some organizers stepped away early on from an economic boycott, saying they did not want to alienate the church, unions or even corporate backers.

Others are still pushing it, though they promise to back away from the public message if it means losing the support of radio DJs - some of whom might be racy on the air but shy away from actions that could offend their corporate parents.

"The Spanish-language radio is critical to our community. It's a town hall where people can hear what we are talking about," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.

Salas leans toward supporting a May 1 economic boycott and mass protest if a legislative compromise that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants is not reached. But she would not support mass student walkouts. On Friday, she appeared on Sotelo's show to support a vigil on Monday.

While some heckled and even challenged her, others showed support.

"It's going to be important to open up the airways to discuss this. But I don't know if they are going to do the same kind of promotion (for boycotts) because there is division around the community.

"To expect the media that relies on corporations for their work to support a boycott is counterintuitive."

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a programer for Almendarez Coello and consultant for half-dozen other stations across the country, says listeners have been calling all week, asking for advice on whether to boycott.

"A lot of people are confused, but whatever the people decide, the radio station is behind them all the way," he said.

With loyal listeners drawn to the locutures - use of regional jokes, music and sensibilities - DJs' advice could sway tens of thousands and color how the country sees the debate framed.

They are largely credited with bringing out tens of thousands to pro-immigrant rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities over the past few weeks.

It was a coalition of Los Angeles DJs that urged those going to the March 25 rally to wear white and wave American flags.

Many believe it was the opposite image of protesters - gripping the Mexican flag while demonstrating against Proposition 187 - that pushed Californians to vote for the measure banning social services for illegal immigrants. The measure was eventually overturned.

And this week organizers in Washington, D.C., are relying on them to spread the word for a massive demonstration at the Washington Monument.

In Los Angeles, the much talked about momentum the DJs injected continues. Between wacky jokes, Sotelo and Almendarez Coello offer progress reports on the immigration reform.

But the Spanish-language media and especially DJs have become increasingly cautious in using their bullhorn, said Jose Luis Benavides, an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge, specializing in Spanish-language media.

"There was a concern, in a legitimate way, that the (March 25) demonstration and especially the (later) walkouts from students were going to go out of control," he said.

Student walkouts cost the Los Angeles Unified School District nearly $1 million and were denounced by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Many like Sotelo who empathized with protesters began to take an on-air stand against the walkouts.

"I think (Spanish-language media) is going to be more careful this time. I think they fear they are going to get a huge backlash against them," Benavides said.

rachel.uranga@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3741

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Photo:

(color) DJ Eduardo ``Piolin'' is credited with using his popular Spanish-language radio program to draw thousands of listeners into participating in the recent immigrant-rights rallies in Los Angeles.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 8, 2006
Words:823
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