Listeners of the Spanish-language radio station KLAX-FM 97.9 La Raza have come to know and love the usual high-jinks and interviews with celebrities when they tune into Ricardo Sánchez’s show.
But it’s “El Mandril’s” rag-to-riches story on how he became the number one radio host in Los Angeles that makes him a fascinating Latino.
The story starts more than 20 years ago in Mexico City and at the very bottom: he was a janitor at a radio station. In June, the 47-year-old Mexican immigrant became the top-rated local morning radio host in Los Angeles, beating Ryan Seacrest and Rush Limbaugh – and most notably Spanish-language radio celebrity Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo.
“I got the (janitor’s job) when I was working at a school – doing miscellaneous jobs,” Sánchez told Fox News Latino. “I had a wife and four kids and one did not have health care. So I asked a student to help me get a job.”
The student’s father was the director of a local radio station.
After a short while, Sánchez eventually saw the opportunity and became an ad salesman. And when an announcer did not show to record a commercial, he filled in. This soon led to Sánchez becoming a radio host, gaining fame at a station in Tijuana.
There the station’s owner said Sánchez was in need of a nickname. A producer came up with “Mandril,” after the quick-witted mandrill in the Disney movie “The Lion King.”
“He said I was quick-witted in the radio booth,” Sánchez said. “I didn’t know what it was.”
But the nickname stuck and Sánchez’s show “El Show Del Rey Mandril” took off.
“This was some 22 years ago,” he said.
Then came Juan Carlos Hidalgo, vice president of West Coast Programming for the Spanish Broadcasting System — the company that owns KLAX. Sánchez said Hidalgo was driving through Tijuana and heard him broadcasting.
“He turned around and waited for me to get out of work,” Sánchez said.
Hidalgo told Sánchez he would do his best to get him on the radio in the U.S. — and he did.
In 2002, “El Mandril” crossed the border in San Diego and found work as a Hidalgo’s sidekick on KLAX.
“That first Christmas I was sitting on a bench watching a holiday parade and I was so sad because my kids and wife could not experience it with me — it was my first time seeing a holiday parade,” Sánchez said, recollecting about the early day in December. “Four years later, I was the Grand Marshall for the same parade.”
Eventually Sánchez’s wife and four children joined him in the U.S., and when another station offered him a job with help getting a work permit, he jumped at the chance.
In 2007, Sánchez returned to KLAX and in the last three years began to climb in the ratings, most recently reaching No. 1 in both English and Spanish-language radio.
“Just this weekend we got the ratings back and we were still No. 1,” he said. “I feel very normal – I do give thanks to God (for the opportunity), but I feel pretty normal.”
Sánchez attributes his humble nature to his family – especially his wife, who he says is very tranquil – “Her way of being helps me a lot,” he said.
“I feel very proud of being here,” Sánchez said. “I am flattered by all the attention I have received … we have worked hard to get here and we will continue to work hard.”
Follow Lucia I. Suarez on Twitter @luciasuarezsang