By Ramon Hernandez
La Prensa de San Antonio
SAN ANTONIO -- KSAH's Alberto Alegre has the unique distinction of being the only Texas Hispanic disc jockey recognized by a task force of broadcasters as the one radio personality who stands out among his peers. Alegre has earned the title of best "Spanish Format Personality of the Year."
The prestigious Marconi Radio Award is to radio jocks what the Oscar is to a motion picture actor, what the Tony is to a Broadway actor and what an Emmy is to a television actor.
"I was shocked when I was nominated, and I was even more surprised when I was actually named as the winner," Alegre said upon his recent return from the 2009 National Association of Broadcaster's (NAB) Radio Awards in Philadelphia.
Alegre beat out Amalia GonzÃ¡lez, KRCD; and the team of Omar and Argelia, KLVE, both in Los Angeles. He also beat out the morning drive duo of Hijos de La MaÃ±ana, from KTTA in Sacramento and the extremely popular duo from California, RaÃºl Brindis y Pepito of KLTN in Houston.
In earning the coveted award, Alegre joined the ranks of Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo, from KSCA in Los Angeles and Rafael "El Pistolero" Bautista Pulido a.k.a. "Primo Rafa," from WOJO in Chicago.
El Chulo, of KHHL in Austin was another Texan nominated in a category dominated by California and Chicago radio personalities.
The NAB is the premier advocacy for America's broadcasters and it is very selective, so Alegre's triumph over jocks in bigger markets and with larger listenership was quite an accomplishment and he owes it all to sheer talent.
While Alamo City listeners take the merry, joyful, radio personality for granted, few realize he has been on-the-air since September 16, 1977. That makes him a 32 1â„2 year radio veteran.
"I don't remember the exact day, but I use that date to be symbolic about it and to sound Mexican," said Alegre.
It all started when Alegre's mother, MarÃa Del Socorro RodrÃguez Calvo, took him to KENS-TV to see Captain Gus - at that time it was located downtown.
"When I saw all those microphones, wires and technical equipment, it fascinated me," said Alegre.
The first sign of things to come occurred when Alegre was attending David G. Burnet Elementary School and many of his classmates did not understand what his first-grade teacher was saying. Mrs. May told him, "Albert, if you tell the kids what I say, you'll be the first in line."
"That was my prize," Alegre said. "So from that point on, I was always used by my teachers to be the translator, the reader and later, the room monitor. I was a little scared at first, but that gave me self-confidence because it gave me a sense of ac- complishment," recalled Alegre.
"By the time I reached junior high, I wasn't shy at all. My father, Patricio Calvo, always told me to be useful. But even at that young age, I felt I was valuable to both sides of my culture and I felt an obligation to help others. I felt communication was very important. Looking back, I think that is when I learned to be a bridge, or a middle man between people," said Alegre.
The fact that Alegre was so talkative, bilingual and outgoing made him the natural choice to DJ at homeroom parties on Fridays, where he spun 45 rpm records and made dedications. In addition, he was also assigned to act as master of ceremonies for some plays, assemblies and school talent contests.
Asked if he ever aspired to be a singer, Alegre smirked and giggled as he responded, "My mom loved to sing and she won a few amateur night, noche de aficionados, con- tests at the Alameda Theater."
"I once thought I was going to get the chance to shine as a singer when she took me aside before a family gathering and said, 'Everybody in the family is going to sing, but I have a special job for you,'" recalled Alegre.
"'What?' I asked, 'you are going to introduce us,' said Alegre." With this, the NorteÃ±o 720 radio personality said it all.
Continuing to MC events as a student at Thomas Jefferson High School, Alegre was the first to introduce Patsy Torres when she did her first gig with Blue Harmony at the Student Building. As a member of ROTC, he was promoted to the rank of Major and named Public Information Officer. This made him the reporter and photographer for the unit where his favorite subject was Patty Lares, Shelly Lares' older sister.
During his free time, he listened to Manuel and Rick Davila, followed by Henry PeÃ±a during their "Top Teen Tunes" radio program on KUKA. They were the magnet that drew Alegre into radio.
Upon graduation in May 1976, the 5-foot-8-inch tall communicator reported for active duty at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He had joined the U.S. Army under the delayed entry program with the stipulation that he would become a part of the Armed Forces Radio & Television Service (AFRTS).
"However, they wanted to send me to computer repair school and because of this mistake, I was able to get an Honorable Discharge and come back home," Alegre said.
Alberto Alegre Finds his Niche
Alberto Alegre's career history could easily fill a book and possibly be turned into a movie. Therefore, we will spare readers all the details and fast-forward to the present.
After honing his craft at numerous radio stations in San Antonio, El Paso and Houston, Alegre came back home to S.A. and in September 2001, joined the staff of NorteÃ±o 720, then owned by RaÃºl AlarcÃ³n Jr. of Spanish Broadcasting System.
By then, Alegre had already accumulated a mantle full of trophies, plaques and certificates of achievement from record companies and several radio stations for his many innovations, accomplishments, professionalism and most importantly popularity with la gente.
"When I came onboard, Danny GarcÃa, then the program director, asked me to come up with something to attract listeners to the morning show and raise ratings. So I asked the listeners, 'What's lacking?' 'What do you want?' 'Jokes, good music, horoscopes, tell me?'"
"All we want is to work," the majority said. "What we need are jobs," recalls Alegre.
"Others wanted to sell items. So I came up with La Pulgita del Aire (The on-air Flea Market) and La Hora de Los Trabajos (The Job-Line Hour), but there was no telephone line in the DJ booth. So I brought in a 50-foot telephone extension cord, connected a telephone and when listeners called in, I would put the guest microphone to the earpiece so their calls would be heard over the air," said Alegre.
Needless to say, they quickly gave Alegre a telephone and got rid of the unsightly cord that stretched down the hallway all the way to the receptionist's desk.
"That's my claim to fame," Alegre said with a laugh.
Since then, Alegre has found jobs for thousands of unemployed listeners and at the same time found workers for the many non-Hispanics who call him to tell him their needs in the way of blue collar workers such as carpenters, gardeners, domestic help and others.
"Nothing has changed, but this time I am translating the listener's Spanish to English for the potential employer; and I am translating from English to Spanish for those seeking a job. Just this morning, an Arab called in and I found him the talent he was looking for," said Alegre.
One of the first things El Amigo de La Raza (The Friend of the People), as he is also known, did was to make the Anglo Saxon community aware of his one-hour work pro- gram. As a result up to one hundred jobs are available to his listeners on any given day. And if there is one thing the father of three boys and a girl hates to see, is a young healthy panhandler begging for money.
"By giving to panhandlers, you are enabling them not to work. You're giving them an easy way out and I also get angry when a listener does not go to work and lets a potential employer down," said Alegre.
The 52-year-old jock evens takes it a step further by broadcasting his personal cell number. He does not have to and the station does not pay his mobile phone bill, but he does so because he genuinely cares about his listeners.
"I feel blessed when I help others," Alegre said as he dipped his paint brush into a colorful palette and worked on a wall mural behind his home.
By now we had driven to his house where he revealed his innate talent as a painter and a sculptor, but that's another story.
As Alegre unwound, putting the finishing touches on an image of Henry Cisneros, he commented on how great it is to have the backing and full support of Lance Hawkins, Border Media Partners' general manager and Alfonso Flores, his present program director who gives him full creative reign during his four-hour morning drive.
Another popular part of the Marconi Radio Award winner's program, along with sidekick Darlene Moreno, is the Casos de la Vida Real (Real Life Cases) segment during which listeners can call in and tell the world who they are grateful to and why. Or the name of someone they helped and who turned out to be ungrateful. Many of the testimonials tugged at the heart strings, some are heart wrenching and evoke tears, others anger and sadness as the listener's accounts unfold as a radio soap opera.
This is followed by a half-hour of corridos which he titled Corridos a Las Nueve (Corridos at 9 a.m.). Next, Alegre changes his voice as he turns into a seer as El Hermano Alberto.
When one listens and is entertained by Alegre from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on KSAH 720, one will quickly understand why he was awarded the highest national honor in the radio industry.