(May 12, 2010) I met Teddy Fregoso a year or so ago during our monthly series on LARP's favorite breakfast restaurants. Senor Fregoso insisted that I join him on Melrose for his daily breakfast ritual. I arrived a few minutes early and was waiting outside when this new, shiny Jaguar pulled into the parking lot and out stepped this dapper 84-year-old diminutive Mexican-born man wearing what turned out to be his signature bow tie.
Referred to by many as the 'Spanish Radio Godfather,' Teddy worked in Spanish radio for decades and never received a paycheck. Over the course of breakfast and a later interview in his Penthouse suite, near Cedars Sinai Hospital (a few doors down from Kim Kardashian), the incredible journey of this humble man unfolded.
He started at Spanish-language KRKD in 1950 selling his show to a pharmacy on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. "I never paid for the programming in my entire career, I was always talent," he said. "I used to bring the accounts to the station. I remember the very first account, Durazo Mexicatessen in El Monte. The street wasn't even paved. They recommend me to a furniture store and that was the beginning."
"I never had a salary. Everything was in percents. I had a good commission and I had the liberty to sell anything I wanted. And it was my obligation to collect the money, sometimes up front and sometimes not." In the early days the commercials sold for $5-8 each. He also had a show at KWKW, the other Spanish-speaking radio station. "I used to make 35-40 calls a day. I'd sell a spot for $3 and make $1.50. It was so good that I made my money from the PI [per inquiries]."
Senor Fregoso gave new meaning to multi-tasking, even in the 1950s. He did his morning show seven days a week and then went out to sell. How did he have time to do this? "My dear sir, when you need the money, you have the time. Time is so valuable but I know how to use the time. Even now I don't waste time. The only person you make very unhappy is your wife. That's why I got married so many times and it was always the same problem."
At 84, Senor Fregoso has an active marketing agency where he cultivates Spanish-speaking accounts, writes spots, produces commercials, and downloads them to stations. He has 22 active accounts.
America has been very good to Teddy. He arrived in San Diego from Mexico in the early fall of 1946. "As I crossed the border, I felt the overpowering feeling of being in the land of the free," he remembered. "I quickly established myself with a series of work opportunities, performing a variety of assignments crossing in Tijuana, Baja California, over radio stations [including 690AM] as an early morning and late evening on-air personality. In the afternoon I wrote a column for the prestigious daily Noticias and in the evening hosted a variety "live" program at the world renowned Tropics club."
His early start in radio was at America's first Spanish-speaking station, KCOR-San Antonio, founded by broadcasting pioneer Raul Cortez. Raul went on to be the founder of KCOR/TV in 1955, the first Spanish-language television station in the United States that later became the flagship station of Univision. Before KCOR, KRKD and KFVD (1020AM), Teddy also worked in Phoenix at KPHO and KOOL.
In 1951, Teddy began programming radio station KALI (1430AM), a daytimer. The station became Spanish-speaking and in 1952, Teddy was broadcasting the very first "live" broadcast of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. "We had a great view from our station balcony, situated on the parade route at 756 East Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena," remembered Teddy. He did the Rose Parade broadcasts until 1972.
In the spring of 1953, Teddy joined KWKW, where he would be able to implement all of his ideas in programming and sales. He stayed until 1975. The station became the very first radio station on the west coast to transmit full-time in the Spanish language. In 1958, we started broadcasting the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball games, first with Rene Cardenas, Miguel Alonso, Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr. and in late 1959 Jaime Jarrin, who has since become a Hall of Fame broadcaster.
"I helped Jaime's wife and his sisters to immigrate," said Teddy. "I gave the affidavit for them to become legal. We all go back a long way."
The Beatons sold KWKW to Stan Bryer and Les Malloy in the late 1960s for $400,000 and they fired everyone who had a salary. Teddy, remember, was never on the payroll because he was strictly sales commission. The offices were on top of the Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Fregoso was operating out of his own offices where he had his own studios. By now, Teddy only had an afternoon drive show. He had given up his morning drive program. "They were the worst bosses that you can have. They were terrible," said Teddy. "They added evenings and I was working from 3 p.m. to midnight and still sold spots at 50% commission. On Saturdays, I went to 2 a.m. and on Sunday mornings I had a remote and I was never late. I lived in Beverly Hills in Benedict Canyon, which was far from East Los Angeles."
A couple of years later Bryer and Malloy sold the station to Howard Kalmenson for $1.2 million. Fregoso calculated that Bryer and Malloy owned him around $40,000. "I went to Mr. Malloy and he claimed he only owed me $12,000. This man was huge. His partner was small, so we all called them 'Mutt & Jeff.' I knew the station was sold and I banged my briefcase on his desk. I had fire in my eyes. I was ready to fight with the big guy and I don't care if he kills me. Mr. Malloy called the accountant and told her to write a check in the amount I presented. There was the Bank of America across the street and I told him that until I get the cash, this wasn't over. I got the cash." (
Fregoso said the first couple of years under the Kalmenson regime were good. Teddy moved into the Pasadena studios and took charge of programming, in addition to his afternoon drive shift and selling. The equipment was in deplorable condition and he got Kalmenson to spend some money getting exterminators into the facility to rid the building of deadly spiders that made their home next to the Sierra Madre Mountains, along with some Ampex tape machines.
"The Liberman brothers, Jose, Julio and Elias, approached me to explore opportunities with their then small and limited signal station XEGM 930AM located in Tijuana, Baja California," said Teddy. "I accepted the challenge and went to work on all aspects of station upgrade. I introduced the Liberman brothers to people that would help in this endeavor and in 1972 we went on the air with an improved signal that reached from Tijuana to Santa Barbara. This station became known as 'Radio 95.' The Libermans went on to own more, very successful Spanish-language stations."
Consulting with the Libermans put Fregoso on a new entrepreneurial path. He had done it all. He had been fully involved with station sales and management and provided consulting services to other Spanish-language stations. It was time to open his own shop. He established Spanish Media Services.
"In 1975, I went into a partnership with great friend and entrepreneur Jose Molina and formed a broadcast company called United Latins Inc. It established the very first full-time LMA [Local Marketing Agreement] in the Spanish-language market and, to my knowledge, in the United States of America as well. It entered into a contract with XPRS Radio 1090AM and on April 14, 1975 we went on the air. Two years later he secured the LMA rights to KROQ AM, 1500AM and started broadcasting full-time in Spanish on October 1, 1977."
Many of his protégées have become very famous within the industry, such as Jaime Jarrin, the prestigious voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pepe Barreto, a great personality of radio and television and Humberto Luna, the first Spanish-language personality to become the number one disc jockey in Los Angeles. Jarrin, Barreto and Luna are each proud owners of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame along with Maria Elena Salinas, now a tv personality with Univision. In the field of sports he was the first to bring the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (until 2002) and the Los Angeles Rams to the Spanish-speaking market.
His career has only gotten bigger in the Spanish-language market. Teddy's indefatigable as he serves as president of Latino Marketing & Advertising, providing consulting and advertising to a variety of clients.
Songs by Teddy Fregoso