By Shandra Keesecker-Rivero
Yo me formé en la radio, yo soy más que locutor, soy cronista, soy reportero periodista – no tengo una pasión en si, pero sí me desenvolví en la radio… – José Antonio Pérez
Each morning for the past 14 years, Puerto Peñasco has woken up to the rapid, energetic voice of José Antonio Pérez who broadcasts local and regional news on his program Ahora Noticias over the airwaves of 1390 AM XEQC, “La Reyna del Mar,” (8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.) Ahora Noticias, along with José Antonio’s distinct newsworthy voice, first hit local airwaves on March 26, 1999. Upon reaching their 10th anniversary, Ahora Noticias began holding yearly celebrations to honor the event and this year is no different. Local businesses, radio advertisers, and amigos have provided Ahora Noticias with a wealth of gifts: from dining certificates to t-shirts, gift vouchers to art made from recycled tires, and more, all of which are being given out to local radio-listeners who call in to answer questions about the show, its host, and history. The 14th Anniversary celebration of Ahora Noticias will culminate next Tuesday, March 26th with, as José Antonio tells us, “…just a normal hour and a half program” + gifts.
José Antonio’s svelte frame and professional background tower over our local press corps whenever we get together at city events, breakfast gatherings, or conferences. In addition to his role at Ahora Noticias, José Antonio also works with the local papers DeDeveras and JoinUs. He’s always sure to extend a friendly handshake, kiss on the cheek or pat on the back to colleagues before getting down to business, marked by the appearance of his trusty tape-recorder.
Curiously, José Antonio keeps 10 to 12 cassette tapes in his car at any given time and has his tape-recorder at the ready for the three or four interviews he does daily. I asked him about this once and distinctly recall him explaining, “I have more control with the cassettes and they are easier to edit for radio.” Plus, it is how he began doing interviews in the first place.
On the day we met to talk about his background and the longevity of Ahora Noticias, I placed my iphone recorder (sorry, no cassettes) on the coffee table between us and asked the man representing the morning voice of Peñasco, “Tell me about yourself… you’re not originally from Peñasco are you?”
“No. I was born in Mexicali and when I was 4 my parents moved to Caborca, where I resided until I turned 28. I began to work in journalism in 1991, in Caborca, where I was actually studying to become a public accountant. I needed to work in order to keep studying and an opportunity arose. The brother of a friend of mine had a radio news show and was looking for someone. The thing is, when I was in high-school I was in the area of communications and once did a project about radio; at that time, the daughter of the radio station owner told me I had an announcer’s voice – so when this came up with my friend’s brother, my friends said ‘Hey, remember the time that girl said you had an announcer’s voice?’ and I needed the work.”
“I didn’t know anything, I didn’t have any experience. I saw him on a Friday and he said, “come to the radio tomorrow,” I did and he gave me an article and instructed, “read it, directly on air.” I read it, poorly, obviously because I didn’t have any experience, but little by little my friend’s brother showed me the ropes. First he would say, “you’re going to interview so-and-so, and here are the questions you’ll ask.” He would give me 3 interviews with 3 different people, along with the questions. Two or three months later he said, “ok, now I want you to interview so-and-so but with whatever questions you come up with.’”
“Is that when you started using the tape-recorder?” I inquired.
“I’ve always used it. The tape recorder has been there since I began with him. Then he would say, “Ok, now you’re going to tell me who you’re going to interview and what questions you’re going to ask.” Little by little he let me loose. He taught me some things about writing, but I really learned when I was at El Imparcial. I was with El Imparcial in Caborca, Hermosillo, and Nogales. On radio I worked with XEUK 570 AM, XEEZ 970 AM, MAX 101 on 100.1 FM – all three with the Radio Palacios Group.”
As opportunities go, José Antonio seems to have been in the right place at the right time on various occasions. He began working at El Imparcial initially as a way to help out a friend while she was away on maternity leave, then during the first 3 years of his journalistic life he was assigned to cover Puerto Peñasco (for the radio program in Caborca) in about 1994. After 7½ years of working on the air in Caborca, and 4 at El Imparcial, he wanted to know why editors weren’t publishing all of his notes. Of the 5 or so he would send in daily, maybe 1 or 2 (sometimes none) would make it into the paper. What better way to learn about the criteria than to become an editor himself?
“One time I was in Hermosillo I met with the chief editor, Martín Holguín, of El Imparcial and heard there was going to be an editor’s course, so I told him “I want to learn how to be an editor because I want to know why my work isn’t getting published…I want to know what the criteria is” ’ That’s when I decided to leave Radio Palacios Group… I spoke with José Pepe Palacios Ortiz, thanked him for the opportunity, and then went to Hermosillo. I was in Hermosillo for 3, almost 4 months, preparing myself as an editor. In fact, I was in Hermosillo from January to April in ’98… no, ’97, I was 27 … and one Semana Santa, precisely at this time, I had to finish the Northwest section that El Imparcial used to have. They asked, “are you ready?” …and they left me to do it alone, so I finished up the Northwest edition there in Hermosillo. A week after Semana Santa, the editorial director came up to me and said, “I saw you could do it, so when are you going to Nogales?’”
In ceasing another opening, and without even asking how much he would earn, José Antonio headed to Nogales where he stepped away from being a reporter and served as editor for El Imparcial for approximately 10 months. During the period he worked in Nogales, José Antonio’s wife from his second marriage, who is herself originally from Puerto Peñasco, welcomed his coastal visits when he managed to get away until he proposed she move to the city with him.
He chuckles as he recalls, “I suggested to my wife that she come live with me, with our daughter who was about one. She agreed to go to Nogales so we took everything…but 10 days later she said, “no, I can’t live here, I don’t like it, I’m sorry…” I had been there for 10 months, and she didn’t last more than 10 days. She said, “stay in Nogales if you like, stay with El Imparcial and we’ll still see each other every other week as we’ve been doing, you decide” – and she came back to Peñasco. At that time I told the new chief editor, Javier Villegas Orpinela, that I needed to go to Peñasco, “lower my salary…make me a reporter again…what I want, if it’s possible, is to go to Peñasco.” Well, based on this, they ended up firing me…they showed up and said, “remember when you said you wanted to go to Peñasco? Well, you’re going, but not with El Imparcial.” I asked why they were firing me, and they responded “Don’t take it like that, it’s just you wanted to be in Peñasco so we want to make you happy.’” With a hint of sarcasm, he adds “Oh, ok.”
“But they said at the first chance they had they would call, to hire me in Peñasco. Oh, but that day I finished up the edition, I shouldn’t have because they fired me around noon. When they had finished firing me I asked who was going to close out the day’s edition, “Well, you are.” “But you just fired me, I don’t work for you anymore.” Still, in it being the ethical and professional thing to do, I finished up the day’s edition and two days after to help the new editor; it was a daily paper, when I left Nogales I lost a lot more hair than I have right now… I would work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. straight.”
While in Nogales, José Antonio had the chance to dabble back into radio as El Imparcial had agreements with radio stations for reporters to call in with the news. One day, when neither of the regular reporters was available, he called in with the day’s notes. That voice! That style! They liked the way he read on air, and why not? He already had experience! So, in addition to his role as editor while in Nogales, he rekindled his calling on air…until he was let go, turning the page on the next chapter, set in Puerto Peñasco.
“I called Guadalupe Hernández Vega at XEQC and said, “I need you to give me a hand with the station about a news project I’d like to propose, one that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.”After arriving in Peñasco I didn’t do anything for about 2 weeks, and began to get desperate. So, I looked up Lupe again and he said let’s go see the station owner. I arrived with my résumé as well as a photo album I had with pictures from my work, all that I had done – yes, I have a photo album. The owner took a look at it and said, “Looks good, let’s do it.” That day, I was so happy I had a job when I left the station that I backed right into a telephone pole, or something. The pole is no longer there, but that day I didn’t care, I had a job. Again, they asked me how much I wanted to earn and I said, “Don’t tell me what I’ll earn, evaluate my work for a week and then tell me.” March 26, 1999 was the first day of the news program – I had presented 5 proposals for the name, I don’t remember what they were, but we went with Ahora Noticias.”
What began as a half-hour program focusing on solely local news soon turned into an hour, which included regional and state issues; this grew to what is now an hour and a half program, from 8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. along with two 15 minute local news summaries presented at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily, Monday – Saturday. Over the years, the program has essentially followed the same format, allowing spots in between the news for comments such as ‘there’s a light out here’ or ‘the trash hasn’t been picked up there,’ though José Antonio emphasizes he doesn’t let people call in on the air, “the operator in the booth takes down people’s comments, along with their name – and it’s always been like that.” At one time the program incorporated a “feminine voice”, though that only lasted about 7 months. Other than that, the program, the format, and the name have remained the same.
Ahora Noticias also offers an avenue for people to announce community events and generally non-profit activities. José Antonio can frequently be heard interviewing folk from the Red Cross, local schools, as well as city officials, politicians, and other people of interest. When recalling what has impacted him the most while being on air, José Antonio makes mention of heart-wrenching stories that have involved children – a young boy attacked by a dog, and two young girls burned in a fire. He adds, “But I’ve also interviewed five governors of Sonora, and Ana Gabriela Guevara, when she visited as an athlete, and again as a candidate, as well as artists.”
So, what is a day like in the life of José Antonio Pérez?
“A day in the life of José Antonio begins at 5 a.m., I get up and head to the radio station at 6:20 – I check all the papers I consult for news across the state, then I’m ready. I have the local news prepared from the day before… I begin at 8, check all the notes and already know more or less how any programmed interviews will go, I get the program out – until 9:30; from 9:30 – 10 I do the news summary and around 10 a.m. I’m looking for breakfast. At 11 a.m. I’m out on the street, and around 2 p.m. my day as a reporter ends, I usually do 3 or 4 interviews daily. By 3:30 – 4 p.m., I’m at the computer, writing. If there weren’t internet, I would be done in an hour and half, but the internet is distracting as I’m checking all the newspapers, email … I finish around 7 p.m.”
And what would be your greatest passion, as a radio announcer or journalist?
“Well, I was molded on the radio. More than an announcer, I am a chronicler, I’m a journalistic reporter. I don’t have a passion in itself, but I developed myself on air…”
“How many more anniversaries do you intend to have on the radio?”
“I don’t know,” he laughs, “hopefully another 40, however many – whatever people want, whatever the owners want, what the advertisers want…”
Where do you see yourself in another 10 or 14 years?
“I see myself here in Peñasco, I see myself working on the radio, the same…”
With the same amount of hair?
“No, less hair…”
Perhaps, though surely with a tape recorder.
Happy Anniversary to Ahora Noticias and to its great announcer, our friend, José Antonio Pérez!