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1995

A Guide to Regional Mexican Radio in Houston

With the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo coming up March 1-20, including Go Tejano Day on March 13, I figured I should try to understand the complicated Regional Mexican radio scene in the 6th biggest U.S. radio market.

Look, I made a chart! Stations are listed across the top — frequency, station nickname, rating for the 4th quarter of 2015 — with the most recent call sign associated with that frequency just below, in the 2016 row. The chart begins with 1986 at the bottom; as you travel up through the years, you can see when new call signs take over specific frequencies.

Houston s RegMex Radio - Daily schedule (4)-page-001

OCTOBER 5, 1989: GERARDO ORTIZ IS BORN (That’s just for reference, and because this .jpg was hard to format.)

Houston s RegMex Radio - Daily schedule (4)-page-002

When NorteñoBlog surveyed Chicago´s Regional Mexican radio scene last year, it was a straightforward project — I traced the timelines of the three major stations in our market. Not so in Houston. As you can see from the above chart, Houston’s Mexican music fans have enjoyed an abundance of choices over the past three decades. They’ve also endured a confusing tangle of buyouts, simulcasts, and call signs changing frequencies, along with the national boom and bust of a vital regional style: Tejano.

Today non-Texans might have trouble understanding Tejano’s importance to the Lone Star State. After all, Chicago didn’t get our first all-Mexican station until 1997 — the same year KXTJ became Houston’s first station with a norteño focus — by which time Tejano was quickly losing spins to norteño on U.S. radio. In the previous decade, Tejano hadn’t merely been an important regional style; it had been central to Hispanic radio listeners across El Norte, and central to the identities of millions of Texas Latinos. The tragedy of Selena’s death in 1995 was a harbinger and probably a cause for a wider sense of loss — the loss of Tejano identity resonating with a broader populace. As we’ve seen from the outcry when the Houston Rodeo schedules norteño bands on its popular “Go Tejano Day,” Tejano music is more than a nationwide fad that dried up. It’s not duranguense. Tejano identity is a powerful and distinct thing, with music as one of its main expressions, and for a brief period of about a decade that musical identity was crucial to America’s understanding of Latinos.

And then all of a sudden it was replaced by a bunch of damn corridos and tubas. You can understand why Tejano fans’ nostalgia would take on a new intensity.

But that oversimplifies the matter. Let’s look at some of the chart’s high points. As you do, keep in mind that I’ve never been to Houston and I probably got some things wrong, so I’ll welcome your comments and corrections. Continue reading “A Guide to Regional Mexican Radio in Houston”

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Diario de Radio 5/18/15

pancho barraza

Calibre 50 – “Contigo”: NorteñoBlog hasn’t yet discussed what a bad song this is. I’d call it “terrible” but that would imply some level of awe or achievement that’s completely lacking in the music. And what about that music? It sounds like a second-tier Maná power ballad, only without the power. As these guys must know, an accordion isn’t a lead guitar! In some cases it’s better than a lead guitar, but its attempts to sustain single notes sound like wheezes, so the whole song feels empty, a dried out husk of attempted passion. Of course it’s a huge hit, so what do I know?
NO VALE LA PENA

Vicente Fernández – “Estos Celos” (2007): A late career hit written, arranged, and produced by Joan Sebastian, who won the Latin Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Song. The strings and midtempo chug could be ’70s Glen Campbell, as could Fernández’s rue when he sings about his jealousy. His high notes should teach Nick Jonas something about chin music.
VALE LA PENA

Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes del Rancho – “El Karma”: NorteñoBlog has waxed about this song before. Basically, it sounds like nothing else on the radio, Camacho’s endless flutters of requinto deepening a murder ballad that’s cynical but cautionary, mythic but subversive, and coming to you direct from BEYOND THE GRAVE. (As near as I can tell, Camacho tries to kill his daughter’s kidnapper and gets killed himself, so Karma doesn’t work!) This is still the best version of the umpteen floating around. Here’s how I explained it to Frank Kogan, but I may be missing some nuance in how its audience hears it:

The song ends with the line, “nobody escapes the reaper.” Other versions of this song are speedy, either triumphal or drunken, performed by norteño quintet or banda. Camacho’s version is slower, stripped down to two guitars and a tuba, the fatalistic retelling of an old old story. Camacho’s version has become the hit version on regional Mexican radio, where it sounds like nothing else — it’s surrounded by sappy love songs and cheery trafficking songs. In early 2015 Camacho dies in a car wreck and “El Karma” hits #1 on Billboard’s overall Hot Latin chart, albeit during a slow week. (It’s the first norteño song to do so in years.) Possible social critique: this death we sing about so blithely deserves our respect.

VALE LA PENA

El Komander – “Malditas Ganas”: Loose, funny, talking as much as he sings — which is good, given his misguided attempts at balladry — Alfredo Rios defines charismatic. The word “charismatic” implies an apparent lack of effort, right?
VALE LA PENA

Pancho Barraza – “Ignoraste Mis Lagrimas” (1995): The cruel oompah of tears.
NO VALE LA PENA

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