Here's how you know you're listening to a Hispanic radio station: There's talk -- in Spanish, of course -- about how to join a soccer league and where to buy corn tortillas,and requests for salsa music.
Here's how you know the station is in Fredericksburg: There's a feature on La Guerra Civil.
Educating newcomers on Civil War basics is just a small part of the mission of 1350 Latino Mix, the first all-Spanish radio station in north-central Virginia, a region where the boxes have been checked "black" or "white" almost exclusively for generations.
But in the last decade, the idea of a north-south border has taken on a second meaning in the area as the Spanish-speaking population doubled.
Two weeks ago, Latino Mix (WYSK-AM) went on the air, becoming the first Spanish-language medium -- radio, television or newspaper -- to reflect the presence of what the 2000 Census shows to be at least 10,000 Hispanic people in an area stretching from Fauquier County in the north to Louisa County in the south and Westmoreland in the east.
Hispanics' share of the area's total population of about 400,000 is relatively tiny; the city of Fredericksburg has the highest concentration with 4.9 percent. But the opening of Latino Mix connects Spanish speakers to one another and to events, services and issues in the community, empowering a population local officials believe will have a mounting presence.
"It's a fast-growing population," said Eric Nelson, with the Fredericksburg planning department. "Everything has been black-white in the South for years, and then you throw in this other minority -- small but growing. It's a whole new thing for us to deal with."
Only recently has the area begun to react to the Spanish-speaking community. Steve Manster, executive director of the regional Rappahannock Area Development Commission, which compiles demographics, said his staff is just beginning to sort through the Census data on the Hispanic population.
Legal aid groups that provide guidance to Spanish speakers over the telephone say they're scurrying to find Spanish-speaking lawyers. This fall, Germanna Community College will begin teaching English as a second language -- mostly to Spanish-speaking students.
John Moen, general manager of the radio group that owns Latino Mix, said the decision to invest in a Spanish-language station in the area now, when the population is still relatively small, is forward-thinking.
"Hispanics are now the largest minority in the country," said Moen, who runs the four stations owned by the Free Lance-Star Publishing Co., all in its building in Fredericksburg. "It's really not about the immediate potential, but the growth."
Exactly how many people are already listening isn't clear, and Moen said it should take about six months to gather statistics. However, on Andy Lazo's morning and afternoon shows, people are calling in to chat.
They talk about what they say is the region's lack of jobs, public transportation and bilingual education. They ask how to get access to everything from the electricity company to a lawyer. They also talk about light subjects such as Valentine's Day or personal matters. On Wednesday, a father called Lazo to ask how he could persuade his 25-year-old daughter to dump her 40-year-old husband.
The station is on 24 hours a day, with news in the morning and a talk show, "Hola Buenos Dias," from 7 to 10 a.m. Until 3 p.m., the station takes music requests -- the most popular these days is bachata, the guitar-picking country style of the Dominican Republic -- and then there is another talk show until 6 p.m.
Because the station is so new, station manager Clara Marshall said, it is trying to stick to light chat and hard facts about local resources rather than serious opinions and politics. At this point, the idea is simply to get the word out that it's on the air.
On Thursday, for example, Lazo asked callers: Which is more important to you, the car or the toothbrush? Seems like an odd question to pose to this region of commuters. "Everyone said toothbrush," said Lazo, who asked these hygiene-oriented callers how they would get to work without a car. "They said, 'If you don't clean your mouth, who will give you a job?' "
According to an unscientific study done by the station, the largest communities of Spanish-speaking immigrants in the area come from Mexico and Central America. Newcomers report that they picked central Virginia because the cost of living is low compared with the Washington area -- and so is the crime rate.
Larry Contreras, who moved to Fredericksburg two years ago from Chile, said the Spotsylvania realty company where he is assistant manager has developed a specialty in dealing with Spanish-speaking newcomers who don't know how to navigate the home-buying market. Although it may not seem like an obvious landing pad for Hispanics, Contreras said, central Virginia has been easier to acclimate to than the New York City area, where he lived years ago.
"In New York City, you never found the real Americans," he said. "These are the real Americans."
One place where the Hispanic population is very visible is the Fredericksburg-based Commonwealth Soccer League, the region's largest adult soccer league. About half the 22 teams are composed entirely of Hispanic immigrants, according to league director Mike Marino.
Even with safer streets, lower housing prices and growing numbers of Spanish-speakers, central Virginia still can't compete with Washington and Northern Virginia in providing a sense of community. Restaurants and places to hear music that cater to Spanish speakers are still limited, and Marshall said she has had a hard time trying to lure DJs south.
"They like the discos and to be celebrities, and there isn't much like that here," she said.
Between Fredericksburg and Washington, the two most substantial Spanish-speaking communities are in Manassas and Woodbridge in Prince William County, and each has its own all-Spanish radio station. There is also a station in Arlington.
"But those have nothing about this area," Marshall said. Latino Mix's signal reaches about 30 miles.
The station is a sign that the Hispanic population in north-central Virginia is digging in, said Lazo, who is from El Salvador. His presence in Fredericksburg is proof that the Washington area is subject to the constantly shifting ethnic sands. The station where he did Spanish-language programs until December, WKDM-AM (1600) in Rockville, just went all-Korean.