Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Joe Ortiz' Broadcasting Journey
Begins/Ends With Chico & The Man

(August 26, 2009) Joe Ortiz, a former newsman and radio-television talk show host, has had a unique if not an interesting career in and out of broadcasting.

Laying claim to being the first Mexican American to host a talk show on an English-language, commercial radio station, Ortiz’s entry into that medium is one he claims was being directed by someone else: God!

Though semi-retired, Ortiz continues to write for local and national media outlets, manages several Web sites and blogs when he isn’t working on his fourth book, or appearing on national media to promote his previous works.

“I didn’t go to school to study journalism and eventually end up as a talk show host, news reporter or newspaper columnist,” said Ortiz. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and fell into a broadcasting career that has lasted close to 40 years now.”

Joe says he believes the correct word for what he has done all of these years is one of being a “broadcaster,” which the dictionary defines as a person who goes about casting and sowing seeds in a broad and widely disseminating manner.

"Whether behind a church pulpit or a radio microphone, broadcasters are basically sowing seeds of philosophy, culture or religion,” said Ortiz. "Obviously, my earlier goal was to communicate the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the Mexican American community to the American public, a subject matter that I felt had previously received scant attention, either by being misunderstood and or ignored by mainstream America.”

Ortiz entry into broadcasting on radio was really a fluke. He was working as a Job Agent for the State of California in 1971 when he was approached by friend and salsa dj, Lionel “Chico” Sesma. Chico, who also worked with Joe Ortiz at the California State Department of Employment, asked Joe if he wanted to be on radio. Joe, thinking Chico was inviting him on as a guest, was told by Chico to go see Bob Walsh the station manager at KABC, and to take his resume.

When Joe arrived at the radio station located on La Cienega Blvd in West Los Angeles, still thinking he was going to be a guest on one of the station’s programs, he was surprised when Walsh took him into an empty studio and asked him to read a copy of a commercial for Lindberg Nutrition Store. After reading the commercial, Walsh told him “Thanks for coming in, we'll call you later.”(Photo: Chico Sesma in 1950 at 1580/KDAY)

A couple of days later, Walsh called Joe and told him he liked like his voice and his insights into the minority communities. Much to his surprise, Walsh told Joe he had the job, and asked if he would be willing to begin in two weeks and take on the Sunday morning show from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. He told Joe that Chico was hosting the job on a trial basis. He said that although Chico Sesma was a well-known radio man in Spanish language broadcasting, they were looking for a person who knew about and was more involved with Latino issues, which Joe Ortiz was.

Joe told Walsh that he did not want to take a job away from a good friend of his. Walsh said that Chico was not necessarily what they were looking for. He had a great voice and understood the mechanics of the console, but they wanted someone who knew the political issues and worked directly with various groups in the Hispanic community. Walsh said he asked Chico if he knew of someone that could fit that bill and he immediately recommended Joe for the job.

So Walsh asked: “Do you want the job or not?” Joe answered, “Of course!”

Two weeks later, Joe Ortiz became the only Mexican American in the country hosting a talk show on an English-language, commercial radio station. This opportunity resulted in a 21 year career as a talk show host, news reporter, newspaper columnist and a public relations career that is still online!

“I can honestly state that had it not been for Chico Sesma’s recommendation to KABC, I probably would still be working for the employment office as a Job Agent,” said Ortiz.

The Sunday before Joe started his newfound career, he sat in with Chico on his last day at the radio station, watching how he handled the telephone calls, which buttons to push and how to cue and handle the written commercials.

The following week Joe was on his own. He had to work a 5 hour shift, which is difficult enough for seasoned professionals. Walsh told him not to worry, that he was going to stay for the entire 5 hours of Joe’s first show, and the following weeks, if necessary, to help him out with any problems that may come up. Marty Capune, the show’s producer, also encouraged Joe and told him to merely relax and just have a conversation with the callers. Joe, to this day, remembers the first words he said over the Los Angeles airwaves. (Photo: Joe Ortiz at KABC in 1971)

“Good Morning Los Angeles. My name is Joe Ortiz. You can call me Joseph, you can call me Joe, or you can call me Jose, it really doesn’t matter what you call me, but do call me at 870-7263.”

After about thirty minutes into the broadcast, Walsh came into the studio cubicle where Joe was doing the show and said, "Hey kid, you are a natural. You don’t need any help. I’m going home."

Joe is soon gaining many fans and is featured in a two page article by Eastern Group Publications about his pioneering efforts in the broadcast arena. He quickly became not only the most recognizable voice for Latino issues in Southern California, the controversial talk show host became a positive role model for Latinos and paved the way for many of them who aspired to become news reporters and commentators.

After a year at KABC Talk Radio, he was asked to host another show on KABC’s sister station, KLOS/fm. He hosted a late night show called IMPACT, which focused primarily on minority issues. KCBS (then KNXT) Television soon offered him a job to host another talk show, called The Siesta Is Over, which was formally hosted by KNXT newsman Bob Navarro. Joe agreed to host the program but wanted to change the name. The producer (Jay Strong, at the time) agreed and they called the show BIENVENIDOS, which means ‘Welcome’ in Spanish. Joe hosted BIENVENIDOS for two years before the format was changed to include all minorities, not just Latinos. The name was changed to It Takes All Kinds. In the mid 70’s he was the only broadcaster hosting both a radio and television show, while working at a full time job as Press Deputy to Los Angeles City Councilman John Ferraro. In 1973 Joe received the Angel Award for Best Host, Los Angeles Television.

Coming to a cross roads between a political life and broadcasting, Ortiz left Ferraro’s office in 1975 to seek work at a news station to learn the ins and outs of news reporting. A friend of his, Moctesuma Esparza (now a renown film maker of movies such as Selena, Gods And Generals, Gettysburg, The Milagro Beanfield Wars, to name a few) was hosting a minority issues show on KPFK in early 1975. Esparza recommended Joe to KPFK news director Carol Breshears and he was hired as a reporter. A few months later Joe was appointed as the station’s Chief News Reporter. He was a member of the news team that won a Golden Mike Award for “Best News Team” in 1976. After a year and a half at KPFK, Joe found religion and left the station to pursue a career as an evangelist. He served in the ministry until 1987.

(KPFK-FM wins Golden Mike for "Best News Team" in 1976)

“Broadcasting is really about disseminating and sowing ideas, concepts and doctrine to the masses,” said Ortiz, who preached throughout the country, sharing the information he wrote in his first book, Saved? What Do You Means Saved?

“I was telling my audiences in churches throughout the country that religion is not about pontificating a holier than though attitude towards others; it’s about forgiving, consoling and helping the homeless, the infirm and the downtrodden,” says Ortiz (photo from pulpit by Gary Karno).

About eight years later, Joe developed a Christian talk show for a church he was attending in Highland Park, and launched a two hour talk show called Heart & Soul, at KPPC in Pasadena with the church's pastor, Mike O’Brien. The station's management was impressed with Joe’s talent and asked him if he would be willing to host his own show on KPPC-AM. Thinking his broadcasting days on secular radio were in the past, the exposure on Heart & Soul rekindled a little “fire under the belly,” and a few months later he launched “Prime Time with Joe Ortiz” at that station. Joe’s show was basically a general topics format, but he also allowed discussions about Christian topics to ensue from his callers. Joe felt that the two subjects (religion and world news) could be dealt with without any major problems. It worked!

After about a year at KPPC, his broadcasting friend Al Gross asked him if he wanted to bring that format to KPZE-AM in Anaheim where he was working. KPZE-AM was mainly a Christian-oriented station, but had decided to transition to regular talk programs. The station felt Joe’s “mixed” format could work well during the station’s transition. After conducting his weekend show for about a year, the station recognized that Joe’s format helped the station to smoothly segue from Christian programming to general topics discussions.

A few months later, the station manager at KPZE, asked Joe if he wanted to host the daily morning drive slot replacing the departing Al Gross who went to work for James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” show. After a couple of weeks, Joe told management he wanted to bring on comedian Cris Franco, a friend of his, to co-host the show. Voila! “Mornings with Joe & Cris” was born and ran for over a year.

During this period, Joe was also hired by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) to raise funds and coordinate special events for the Latino advocacy organization. After one year at MALDEF, Joe fulfilled a life-long dream of operating his own public relations company, Joe Ortiz Associates, which he founded and still manages on a limited basis. In the 1988 edition of Hispanic Business Magazine, Joe was also listed among the 100 Hispanic Influentials along with Latino luminaries such as Rita Moreno, Paul Rodriguez, Geraldo Rivera and others, for his broadcasting excellence.

He eventually left the radio show in 1989 to handle the burgeoning public relations clientele he quickly acquired. In addition to his hectic schedule, Joe also wrote a syndicated column, It Seems to Me, for Eastern Group Publication’s 10 community-wide newspapers in the northeast section of Los Angeles. Joe was repeatedly asked by fans to return to the air waves however, as much as he enjoyed talk radio, it was not as lucrative as public relations.

But, Joe did return to radio for one last time! In 1992, he was called in by KABC management to see if he would sit in for (now nationally syndicated) Dennis Prager for one evening during the Desert Storm crisis. He said “Yes” and Joe conducted his last official show on the air, at the same station he began his career, 21 years earlier.

“I thought that was so cool,” beams Ortiz, “to do my last official on air appearance, my swan song, on the same station where I launched my career, was an amazing experience.”

Ortiz, who is often called upon by local and national media to expound on his three books on theology, and also on his views concerning the Latino community, said doesn’t believe there should be any dichotomy between world affairs and theology discussions, that the public should be allowed to intermingle religious dogma with the political. He believes this would bring greater understanding to the national and international dialogue in order to get a greater perspective as to how both genuinely are connected to each other.

“I’m a devout Christian and my books do present scripture in an orthodox manner; says Ortiz. “However, they also challenge right wing evangelicals who promote the Pre-Tribulation Rapture and the Left Behind doctrines of Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, John Hagee and other Christians who promote war as a solution to world problems.” His books include The End Times Passover and its sequel, Why Christians Will Suffer Great Tribulation, both published by Author House.

In addition to his writing projects, Joe also serves as the President of the Official Tom Flores Fan Club. He has been friends with Flores for over twenty years and is working to get the former Oakland Raiders quarterback and twice Super Bowl winning coach for the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders football teams, inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

“Until Jesus Christ returns to put all things back into their proper working order, my job is to continue broadcasting seeds of hope, charity, patience, forgiveness and caring for our fellow human beings.”

Joe Ortiz (r) and Lionel “Chico” Sesma (l) are reunited after not seeing each other in over thirty years, seen here enjoying lunch at an East Los Angeles restaurant last year. The two stay in touch through phone and emails on a regular basis. You can reach Joe

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