The DJ Who Decided It's Drive Time

L.A. morning DJ El Piolín, in Langley Park, brought 1 million letters supporting immigration reform.
L.A. morning DJ El Piolín, in Langley Park, brought 1 million letters supporting immigration reform. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2007

Just past daybreak a sleepy front yard in Langley Park has been transformed into that most turned on, tuned in, powered up, zoomed out, blasted off of urban spaces -- a Latino pop radio studio. Pedro Biaggi, Washington's top Hispanic morning man, is crowing into the microphone and bouncing on his feet, in what could be a high-impact aerobics routine, or an attempt at flight.

"¡En-cen-dido!" he erupts with his trademark greeting. On fire!

Biaggi is live on the radio, 99.1 El Zol, and on the telephone, with Eddie "El Piolín" Sotelo, the most listened-to morning DJ in the country, whose trademark salutation back home in Los Angeles -- "¡Despiértese!" (Wake up!) -- goes unsaid, because Biaggi is several stages beyond awake.

Instead, Sotelo -- whose nickname means Tweety Bird -- is asking Biaggi for directions. He's like 15 minutes away, after driving across the country in a mad caravan of producers and fans. Like two radio worlds colliding, the DJs are joining forces for the morning, in what will presently become a packed fiesta of baby-kissing, autograph-signing, swag-distributing, cellphone-videoing, all to a soundtrack of happy salsa and sad ballads of broken corazónes.

But there's a serious purpose. Sotelo comes bearing what he says are more than 1 million signed letters addressed to President Bush and Congress in support of immigration reform. Biaggi and CASA of Maryland -- the day laborer advocacy group in whose front yard this meeting of radio potentates is taking place -- have been collecting thousands more.

The plan is for Biaggi to hand off his thousands to Sotelo, who will take the boxes and boxes of letters to Capitol Hill, where a bunch of senators and congressmen have agreed to receive them.

"I am sure it will have an impact," Biaggi says. "Everything we do, we do it with class, we do it with style, in a peaceful way, and we will make a difference."

To Biaggi, in times like these, the loud-soft, funny-sad, outrageous-understated, frivolous-political schizophrenia of Latino radio makes perfect sense. "The idea of the morning show is to entertain, to make people laugh, to forget about the daily problems that they have," he says. "But it would be a sin on my behalf to have that stage five hours a day and not address the issues. . . . Yes, my job is to make you laugh. But between every laugh I will let you know what's going on with you, what's going on with us."

When Sotelo finally arrives, he is mobbed by hundreds of fans who alternate chants of "¡Piolín, Piolín, Piolín!" with chants of "¡Reforma, reforma, reforma!" A dozen reporters for Spanish-language television and print outlets crowd form a scrum around the star.

He puts on headphones and an assistant wipes sweat from his brow with a tissue. His show isn't even carried in Washington, but he's known by reputation. In addition to local fans, he's brought hundreds of people who joined "la caravana de Piolín" as it made stops the past five days in Albuquerque, Dallas and Chicago.

"If he said go on to Russia, we would go on to Russia," says Amalia Miranda, an Albuquerque homemaker with her husband and daughter clad in "Home Sweet Home New Mexico" T-shirts.

Sotelo's Univision Radio broadcasts, heard on 28 stations across the country, helped turn out the huge crowds for the immigrant-rights marches in Los Angeles last year. Biaggi, more of a regional than a national power, played a similar role in Washington and served as master of ceremonies for one of the marches.

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