08 July 2009

Mi Amigo Pancho

When I was a young lad growing up in Chicago in the 1950's it was the dawn of television but the television in those days didn't get up at dawn. If you turned it on at dawn most likely all that you would see is a test pattern because the folks at the TV station didn't really get into gear until about eight o'clock. In those days quite a few people still listened to the radio when they got up and while they ate breakfast and got ready to go to work. In our house we were usually tuned in to WGN, Radio 720, and the morning farm report and then and the Eddie Hubbard Show which began in 1956. In 1958 "Flying Officer Leonard Baldy" joined the program and gave us the first traffic reports by helicopter. Later on Wally Phillips replaced Eddie Hubbard and "Eye in the Sky" Officer Irv Hayden replaced Leonard Baldy who died in a fiery helicopter crash. Sadly, Irv Hayden was to suffer the same fate years later. The station was very popular with farmers and there were a couple of farm reporters named Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong who were everyone's favorites.

Ahhh, those really were the good old days, but that was then and this is now and I live in Mexico. Even the fifty thousand watts of WGN's clear channel radio can't reach me here. However, one of the best things about Mexico is that it is still a little bit old fashioned and there is still some old-timey radio. In Irapuato we have station XEWE which the people call "Doble-U-E" (DOH-bleh-OO-EH) or which simply stands for the letters "W" and "E". It's nickname is "La Estación Familiar" or "The Family Station" and it can be found at 1420 on your AM radio dial (if you are lucky like me). They broadcast a variety of programs to suit everything and everybody at 10,000 watts. They begin each day with a very early morning show called "My Amigo Pancho" and as the day progresses they cover everything including news, political forums, radio plays, and music. My wife Gina has it on all the time when she is working in the kitchen, or ironing clothes, or just relaxing with the day's newspaper. It is our "go to" station. We have a choice of many other stations but for us XEWE is home.

I wake up to the program "My Amigo Pancho" every morning. It reminds me so much of the WGN Wally Phillips Show that it is uncanny. It is like the spirit of Wally Phillips learned to speak Spanish, followed me down to Irapuato, and lives in a little plastic box on the nightstand beside my bed. The program "My Amigo Pancho" was started many years ago by a man named Francisco Sanchez even before Wally Phillips began his career. At that time Irapuato was a small agricultural center surrounded by many ex-haciendas, ejidos, farms, and ranchitos. Far flung people would communicate through Mi Amigo Pancho. They would call in and say "Pancho, this is María del Carmen Pérez in Rancho Grande. My daughter Fátima just had her first child and it is a boy. I want my family in Lo de Juárez to know about it". Then Pancho would say congratulations and something else appropriate and take another call. The next person might ask him to play a special song in honor of their father's saint's day, etcetera. Some people would just call in to say hello and others might have a question that perhaps someone else could call in and answer. Francisco Sanchez did this show day in and day out from five to seven in the morning until he died. His place was taken in 1989 by a friend of his named Alejandro Blancarte who is every bit as good and the program is still going strong. I imagine that someday this too will pass away but while it still exists I enjoy it immensely. It is a reminder that deep down people are the same everywhere and that basically we all have the same need to belong.

One of my favorite songs of all time is about radio. As a matter of fact the title is "Turn your Radio On". It was originally written by a man named Albert Edward Brumley but there are several versions of it. My favorite version is by Ray Stevens:

Well come and listen into a radio station
Where the mighty hosts of heaven sing
Turn your radio on
Turn your radio on
If you wanna feel those good vibrations
Coming from the joy that His love can bring
Turn your radio on
Turn your radio on

Turn your radio on
And listen to the music in the air
Turn your radio on
And glory share
Turn your lights down low
And listen to the master's radio
Get in touch with God
Turn your radio on

A don't you know that everybody is a radio receiver
All you gotta do is listen for the call
Turn your radio on
Turn your radio on
If you listen in you will be a believer
Leanin' on the truth that will never fall
Get in touch with God
Turn your radio on


YayaOrchid said...

That really is interesting Bob! I barely remember being around 8 or 9 and my Mom listening to a radio 'novela' called "Chucho El Roto", which was about a Robin Hood type of fellow. We were in living in north Texas, but somehow we were able to 'catch' the broadcast. There was also a late night radio show that had I believe Fidel Castro's sister as the host, and I seem to recall she was anti-Castro. Oh, it was so long ago, I can hardly remember. That is why I am in awe of you Sir! How do you recall all that info!!

Calypso said...

You do have amazing recall of your youth amigo. In the suburbs of Chicago in the 50's I use to listen to disc jockey Daddy-O Daily under my bed covers - Daddy-O and his Jazz Patio jazz into the night. SO cool! 'Started me off to a music career ;-)

Chrissy y Keith said...

Hi Bob,
Your radio program reminds me of RATNet in Alaska. (Rural Alaska Telecommunication network) We had a program called "The trap line" that would broadcast messages like you described. Announcing births, death, divorce, lost items (see divorce) you name it. It must have had a HUGE wattage as it reached all of Alaska, Yukon and parts of Siberia. you would swoon over our microwave stations...

Bob Mrotek said...


If you ever go to Veracruz you must check out the fortress of San Juan de Ulua where Chucho el Roto's cell is still preserved. He is the only one who ever escaped but they eventually caught him and brought him back. He is still quite a legendary folk hero.


Holmes "Daddy-O" Daylie was a great African American disc jockey. He started out at WAIT in 1948 and went to WMAQ in 1956. You probably listened to him on WMAQ when you were about twelve or thirteen, right?

Chrissy y Keith,
No doubt! I swoon over just about everything :)

Don Cuevas said...

"Chucho el Roto" is still going strong on the radio. I occasionally hear the program when I ride the Combi van to Pátzcuaro.

Don Cuevas

Calypso said...

"He started out at WAIT in 1948 and went to WMAQ in 1956. You probably listened to him on WMAQ when you were about twelve or thirteen, right?"

I think we are about the same age - I was 10 in 1956 - so I was 10 and 11.

Unknown said...

i'm from romita guanajuato but i live in toronto on.it's interesting to see that people in different countries and different cultures are so alike. i grew up listening to the radio show "amigo pancho" while a was milking my dad's cows every morning so my feelings about the sow are like remembers of a family member. thanks for having this information in the net

Bob Mrotek said...

Bienvenido a mi blog. Conozco bien Romita y conozco Toronto también. Me da gusto que disfrutaste mi historia de Mi Amigo Pancho. Te mando muchos saludos :)

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.