Last week, the Univision Radio network suddenly canceled its popular, nationally syndicated morning show, Piolín Por La Mañana, hosted by Eddie Sotelo. Sotelo is known as 'Piolín,' or 'Tweety Bird' in Spanish, and his irreverent program was once the top radio program in Los Angeles.
For seven hours each weekday morning, Sotelo cracked silly jokes and double entendres, played Mexican regional music and sometimes got political.
Sotelo was very public about having immigrated to the U.S. from Jalisco, Mexico. And in the mid-2000's, he successfully rallied thousands of his listeners and those of his on-air competitors to march for immigrant rights.
"Para que venimos a este país? ¡A triunfar!" he urged the crowds at a huge Los Angeles immigrant rally in 2006, echoing one of his favored on-air phrases. "Why did we come to this country? To succeed!"
Eddie Sotelo became so prominent that politicians — and even presidential candidates — took notice. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama stopped by the show. Sotelo even got Obama to sing "Mexico Lindo y Querido," a popular song extolling the beauty and virtues of Mexico.
Like other morning DJs, Sotelo's show had a regular cast of characters, including Alberto "Beto" Cortez, a writer, producer and singer.
Last week, Univision abruptly cancelled Piolín de la Mañana without explanation. Sotelo said in a statement that he had a "great run with Univision."
On Monday, the Los Angeles Times published an article citing documents in which Piolín Por La Mañana cast member Alberto "Beto" Cortez accuses Sotelo of having physically, sexually and emotionally harassed him for three years.
"Mr. Cortez alleges Mr. Sotelo sexually abused him, that he physically grabbed him, his genitals, that he also made derogatory remarks about Mr. Cortez," says Los Angeles Times reporter Reed Johnson, who broke the story. Johnson adds that Sotelo allegedly told Cortez, "You should come out of the closet, and he also made vulgar remarks about Mr. Cortez's girlfriend."
The article also cites the claim that Sotelo ordered his production team to falsify some of the million letters written to support a campaign for immigration reform, which Sotelo presented to Congress members. Sotelo's lawyer, Jeffrey Spitz, said in a statement that the claims were malicious and falsely made by a "disgruntled, troubled employee" as part of a demand for money. Cortez's attorney and Univision executives did not respond to NPR's requests for comment.
"Univision must have seen Piolín as a liability, and thus decided to get rid of him," says journalist Gustavo Arellano, who writes a newspaper column called "Ask A Mexican."
"Whether that was mutually agreed upon or not, that's still not known," says Arellano, "although it seems like Univision just threw him out on the street."
Arellano says he hopes the allegations won't tarnish Sotelo's reputation or take away from his activism, including Sotelo's "belief in the dignity of undocumented folks, working class Latino immigrants who got up just like he did, at 4 a.m. for hours and hours of work."
Fans of the show in Los Angeles remain incredulous about the allegations.
"It's got to be a lie, it's impossible," says 25-year-old Pablo Lugo.
"I was shocked," says hospital worker Maria Salazar. "He seemed to be very honest man. And the people really follow him and trusted him. So we'll see. Hopefully. He gets to prove he's innocent."
For now, Univision has replaced Piolín Por La Mañana with music. And Eddie Sotelo is still scheduled this fall to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
RENE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It was shocking enough last week for Spanish-speaking listeners of Univision Radio when one of its most successful shows was suddenly taken off the air - with no explanation. This week, even more stunning news, accusations of harassment against the host of that show, a household name here in Latino Los Angeles and many other places where Univision has lots of listeners. Here's NPR's Mandalit Del Barco with more.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Eddie Sotelo is known as Piolin or Tweety Bird in Mexican Spanish. His irreverent show was, for a time, the number one radio program in all of Los Angeles. For seven hours each weekday morning, Piolin cracked silly jokes, played Mexican regional music and sometimes got political. He immigrated from Jalisco, Mexico and successfully rallied thousands of his listeners to march for immigrant rights in the mid-2000s.
EDDIE SOTELO: Why do we get the United States (unintelligible)?
BARCO: Eddie Sotelo became so popular and so important that during the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama stopped by.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO BROADCAST)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Mexico...
SOTELO: (Spanish spoken)
OBAMA: (Spanish spoken)
SOTELO: (Spanish spoken)
OBAMA: (Spanish spoken)
BARCO: Like other morning DJs, Piolin's show had a regular cast of characters, including Alberto Beto Cortez, a writer, producer and singer.
ALBERTO BETO CORTEZ: (Singing in Spanish)
BARCO: Last week Univision abruptly cancelled Piolin Por La Manana with no explanation. Piolin told reporters Univision had given him a great run. Now, perhaps related, perhaps not, the Los Angeles Times has published documents in which sidekick Albert Cortez accuses Eddie Sotelo of having harassed him for three years - physically, sexually and emotionally.
Times reporter Reed Johnson.
REED JOHNSON: Mr. Cortez alleges that Mr. Sotelo sexually abused him, that he repeatedly said to Mr. Cortez you should come out of the closet, and also made vulgar remarks about Mr. Cortez's girlfriend.
BARCO: Sotelo's lawyer says these are false claims made as part of a demand for money. Cortez's attorney and Univision executives did not respond to requests to comment. Gustavo Arellano is an influential journalist with a column called Ask A Mexican. He says he hopes the allegations won't tarnish Sotelo's reputation or take away from his activism.
GUSTAVO ARELLANO: El Piolin's own belief in the dignity of undocumented folks - working class Latino immigrant who got up just like he did, up at 4:00 in the morning for hours and hours of work.
BARCO: At the Plaza Mexico Mall in an L.A. suburb, fans of the show remain incredulous about the allegations.
PABLO LUGO: (Spanish spoken)
BARCO: It's got to be a lie. It's impossible, says 25-year-old fan Pablo Lugo. Hospital worker Maria Salazar agreed.
MARIA SALAZAR: I was very surprised, you know, 'cause he seemed to be a very honest man. And, you know, the people really follow him and trusted him.
BARCO: For now, Univision has replaced Piolin Por La Manana with music, and Eddie Sotelo is still scheduled this fall to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.