Friday, September 27, 2013

El Gallito Madrugador

On August 10th, Rio Grande Valley radio pioneer Jesus "Chuy" De Leon celebrated his 89th birthday. His family spent the day with him at the San Juan Nursing Home. 

Chuy, at this advanced age, has some issues with his memory.

"I think he enjoyed it, he recognized (us)," said Juan De Leon, 63, about seeing his father on his birthday. "Pero hay veces que no conoce (There are times when he doesn't recognize us), y hay veces que si (and there are times when he does)."

Born in Harlingen in 1924, but raised in Donna, Chuy found work at Weslaco's KRGV studios in 1941. As a teenager, he studied the craft of radio broadcasting under Benjamin Cuellar. According to STCA president Lupe Saenz, Chuy spent a brief stint away from the microphone, as he completed his mandatory military service.

Chuy returned to the Valley and KRGV in 1945. Two years later, on December 23, 1947, Chuy married Donna-native Julia Prado. Together they had four children; two boys and two girls. Julia passed away earlier this year, on July 12th at the age of 84.

Chuy caught his big break when he got the attention of Martin Rosales in 1955.

"At that time, Martin Rosales started working at KGBT as the program director, and he heard about my dad," Juan said. "The (KRGV) show was getting a bit popular so he offered my dad a show at KGBT and my dad took it at 4 o'clock in the morning. That's where Martin coined the name 'El Gallito Madrugador' (The Early Morning Roster)."

"El Gallito Madrugador" would often schedule guests for live performances, Saenz said. Musicians that appeared on Chuy's program include Ruben Vela, Gilberto Perez, Baldemar Huerta (Freddy Fender) and Pedro Ayala.

"He opened the door for a lot of conjuntos," Juan said about his father, who was also a local dance promoter in the Valley. "It was part of the job."

According to Juan, one of his father's most memorable moments took place in 1967. As Hurricane Beulah was set to hit the Valley, Chuy and a man that Juan identifies as "Mr. Vela" took off to La Feria, where the KGBT radio tower was at. While all the other radio stations were off the air, Chuy spent the night there covering the category five hurricane.

"He was the lone voice during Hurricane Beulah in 1967, " Juan said. "(He was) getting all the information from New Orleans and broadcasting it por todo el Valle (for all the Valley)."

Throughout his radio broadcasting career, Chuy found work not only at KRGV (Weslaco) and KGBT (Harlingen), but also at KXEX (Fresno, California), KIRT (Mission), KSOX (Raymondville) and KIWW (McAllen). After five decades of broadcasting, he bid farewell to the airwaves in the late 1980's. The fans got to say goodbye to him during a retirement ceremony at La Villa Real in McAllen. In 2008, he was inducted into the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame in San Benito.

I asked Juan, "How would you like people to remember your dad?"

"As a humble man, he served his people, his community," Juan said. "That's how I would like for him to be remembered. But most of all, as a loving caring father."

He notes that his father still has moments where glimpses of his past resurface. He shares a scene that his nephew witnessed recently at the San Juan Nursing Home.

"Somebody gave him a microphone and for about 15 minutes he was his old self," Juan said, as he described his father's Spanish-language radio DJ style. "He didn't catch it on video, it would have been great."

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