Baja radio station adds alternative rock to Spanish-language mix


When non-locals tune into the newly revamped 98.9 MORE-FM radio station, they will hear a genre-bending blend of rock en Español, old alternative-rock and new alternative rock. They will hear a DJ speaking in English and Spanish. Or sometimes Spanglish. They will wonder if they have somehow landed on another planet.

But when locals from both sides of the San Diego/Tijuana border hear the mix of English and Spanish and the sounds of Maldita Vecindad, vintage Depeche Mode and new Chicano Batman, they will know exactly where they are:


“One of the things that we are definitely trying to reflect first is that border culture is very different from anywhere else in the country,” said Cesar Gonzalez, the man behind San Diego’s beloved Mama Testa restaurant and 98.9’s new disc-jockey and spirit guide.

“For people here, going to Mexico is not an international trip. You’re just driving to TJ for lunch. Or if you’re in Tijuana, you’re just driving up to San Diego to go to Walmart. We don’t see it as going to a whole other country. We want the music we play to be like that. We want to tell people that music will unite us. Instruments might be called different things in different languages, but they sound the same. We have so much more in common than we like to acknowledge.”

At the moment, the playlist is still dominated by such rock en Español stars as Café Tacuba, Soda Stereo and Aterciopelados.But MORE-FM has a long-running tradition of playing old-school alternative rock on the weekends, and it recently added Portugal the Man and Cage the Elephant to its weekday playlist. Bands on programmer Michael Halloran’s future must-play list include Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem and San Diego “Cholo goth” band, Prayers.

The Tijuana-based station’s transformation into what MORE-FM is calling a “Baja California/SoCal radio station” will happen gradually. Gonzalez will be the only DJ for awhile, and Halloran and fellow programmer Andres Mendiolea will be slowly adding more old and new alternative rock to the rock en español lineup. But the station’s roots will be planted in homegrown soil.

The musical makeover starts with two events designed to bring local music into the mix. On Saturday at 2 p.m., musicians from San Diego and Tijuana are invited to bring their recordings to Pitbull Audio in National City so new programmer Michael Halloran can start beefing up MORE-FM’S local-music collection. A second event will be held on April 7 at 2 p.m. at Jardin Secreto on Avenida Manuel Doblado in Tijuana.

Both CD-collecting parties are for the benefit of the station’s as-yet-unnamed local music show, which will air weeknights from 9 p.m. to midnight. In addition to the local show, which should hit the airwaves within the next week, Halloran plans to make San Diego and Tijuana artists part of the daily lineup.

“The mixture will depend on whatever new music is coming out that week, but local music will be the starting point,” said Halloran, whose three decades in San Diego’s alternative-rock radio scene includes stints at 91X, FM 94.9, and KUPR 95.7. “You could hear a band from San Diego, followed by a Cure song that isn’t ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ then a rock en español band from Madrid and then the Hives from Sweden. I don’t think we’re going to share a lot of music with any other station in San Diego.”

The eclectic, global sound will come from an international assortment of artists, but the MORE-FM blend is informed by the Baja/SoCal sensibility that was deeply influenced by pioneering local alternative-rock station, 91X.

As it blasted out the Cure, the Smiths and Depeche Mode to San Diego and Baja listeners from its studios in Tijuana, 91X formed a community of music fans that transcended language and borders. The 91X listeners were fans of Mexican ska band Tijuana No! and British ska band Madness. They went to shows at the Spirit club in San Diego and Iguanas in Tijuana.

In 1987, they poured into the Caliente racetrack by the thousands for 91X’s MexFest, an all-day blowout featuring Oingo Boingo, the Bangles, the Fixx, Squeeze, the Hoodoo Gurus and Chris Isaak.

These music fans were multicultural without even trying, and MORE-FM/98.9 wants to make these early adapters — along with their younger siblings, their kids and maybe even grandkids — feel like they have a club house again. General Manager Randal Phillips plans to have the station highlight and sponsor community events and concerts on both sides of the border. There is also talk of a Coachella-style music festival in Tecate.

The MORE-FM border-less vibe will start with the music, but if all goes as planned, it won’t end there.

“When my grandfather started our business with a small AM station in Tijuana, we did a little bit of everything,” said Mario Mayans, president of Grupo Cadena, which owns the station. “We had a live studio where local artists could come in and recite poetry and play music. We did the news. It was community radio, and we are going back to those basics now.”

Twitter: @karla_peterson