RAfael Cárdenas’ mother wanted him to be a priest, but the young boy from western Michoacán, Mexico, had other ideas. Although he had a heart to serve the community and read the scriptures during Sunday Mass, Cárdenas aspired to become an engineer or a similar profession.
In a way, mamá prevailed.
The best part of his job as a radio DJ is connecting and encouraging people, says Cárdenas, who has spent nearly 30 years with various all-Spanish radio stations in the Tri-Cities. In July 2020, he helped launch Spokane-based Spanish-language radio station Ke Buena, and serves as its lead DJ.
Ke Buena is familiar for “it’s a good one,” according to Ben Reed, who runs the station from his southern Idaho home and whose distinct baritone can occasionally be heard on the air.
Broadcasting on FM 95.7 and AM 1330, Ke Buena is the first local Spanish-language commercial radio station in the Northwest, although not the first of its kind. radio station in Spokane. From 2014 to 2016, KMBI broadcast in Spanish—coincidentally on the same frequency as Ke Buena—with content sourced from its nonprofit owner, Moody Bible Institute. KMBI eventually became rock station KYOZ, or OZ 95.7, but when that station folded in June 2020, it opened the door to new ownership and a new format.
Ke Beuna is a mix of locally produced and syndicated shows. On weekends, for example, Cárdenas hosts La Voz del Pueblo, or “The voice of the people”, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. It is co-sponsored by two local outreach organizations, Mujeres in Action (Women in Action) and Comunidad Cristiana Church of Spokane (Christian Community of Spokane). Third of the Hour is also available – free of charge – to local organizations, such as Latinos en Spokane and Spokane Association of Hispanic Business Professionals, whose message is aimed at the Spanish-speaking community.
After Cárdenas’ weekday morning show, Ke Buena fills the airwaves with syndicated programming. MLC Media The Number One from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. it’s mostly contemporary Mexican music, while from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Hispanic host Oswaldo Diaz plays three radio personalities for Entravision’s popular comedy show called Erazno and La Chokolata.
During the day, listeners within 60 miles of the Spokane transmitter should be able to hear both the FM and AM broadcast, which is also available online at kebuena957.com. At night, Ke Buena’s AM signal and coverage drops to about 10 miles in any direction.
BBefore launching Ke Buena, Reed says the research revealed a growing Spanish-speaking market in the Interior Northwest. Census data, Nielsen reports and other sources suggest that potentially 50,000 people within Ke Buena’s listening range speak Spanish, says Reed, who grew up speaking Spanish in Arizona.
In many Latinx communities, radio is culturally more important than in other communities, Reed says.
“He has the same appeal as with the Anglos 40 or 50 years ago,” says Reed, who hosted a radio show while living in Argentina, and lived, taught and earned a degree in theology while while living in Mexico, where he retains dual nationality.
“His Spanish is perfect,” Cárdenas says admiringly of Reed, whom he met in 2015 when Cárdenas was a DJ at a Tri-Cities station known as La Ley.
Then as now, the two men are better known by their nicknames. The reed is El Chupacabrathe mythical creature believed to suck the blood (chupa) of livestock, including goats (cabras).
Cárdenas’ nickname has also been the name of his radio shows: picakuasa word beyond the capabilities of Google Translate (and this writer).
Fortunately, we end up at Marando’s Bar & Restaurant, where Cárdenas and some friends are waiting for the start of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers between the United States and Mexico (the United States won the match). Marando co-owner Mario Ruiz provides an assist: As Cárdenas makes a jumping motion with his hand, Ruiz explains that picakuas relates to a happy bird.
Cárdenas earned the nickname of foreman in the apple orchards of central Washington, where he had worked in the mid-1980s. He had hoped to earn enough money to return to Mexico, but instead found his voice as an advocate Spanish speakers and culture.
He marched with activist Cesar Chavez (Martin Luther King was another of his idols) and got involved in local radio, first as a volunteer, then as a paid DJ in 1991 with KDNA in Tri-Cities. He worked in several other stations, including La Reyna. And he talked about the treatment of undocumented workers.
“Some people are afraid to speak in public,” Cárdenas says, “but I like it.”
Thus, every morning of the week, he gets up well before dawn to greet the listeners on El Show de Pichakuas, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. It plays music and reads local weather, traffic and headlines. He also shares a daily motivational reading.
“It’s my favorite thing,” Cárdenas says. “I love helping people, uplifting them.” ♦