DENVER — When KBNO radio host Fernando Sergio launched his weekday Spanish-language talk show in 2004, you’d have been completely crazy to predict that the President of the United States would call in for a chat about seven years later.
But now his show, “La Voz del Pueblo,” has grown to be the biggest and most-trusted Spanish-language talk show in a state where Hispanics could easily decide the presidential election.
And so, on Tuesday morning, a woman’s voice on KBNO said, “Hi, give me one moment, the President will be on the line.”
“No problem. No problem,” replied Sergio.
A minute later, Obama said, “Hello, Fernando?”
So began an interview that was scheduled for 10 minutes but ran about 20. (Read about it here.)
“To the best of my knowledge it’s the first time a sitting president called into Spanish-language radio here in Colorado,” Sergio told me. “You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t appreciate that. It was a very positive experience for me and [my listeners] to have the most important man in the world calling.”
So how’d Sergio land Obama?
“We approached the Obama campaign,” Sergio told me. “They did their research and expressed interest. And then we approached Secretary Salazar, and the Secretary said, ‘I will ensure that they know your show is an important show and that the President should speak to you.’ We heard back in a couple days.”
“Four years ago, I was able to speak with John McCain twice, but we were unable to speak with Obama,” Sergio told me. “Instead, we got Joe Biden.”
Republicans are reaching out to Sergio this year as well.
“I had a conversation with [Colorado Republican Party Chairman] Ryan Call,” Sergio said. “He told me, ‘You can be sure that I will have Governor Romney on your show at least twice this year.’”
Has a date been set for Romney?
“Not yet,” Sergio replied. “It’s just a promise. It’s up to him. The doors are wide open. We will be as respectful with Governor Romney as we were with the President.
“At some point during this process I will make the case for one of the other,” Sergio said. “Twenty or 30 days before the election. Here is who I’m going to vote for, and here are the 10 reasons. But let people become well informed first.
“I stress how important it is to vote. Every single day, I say, ‘You go out there and you vote. Don’t let anyone else decide this for you.’ This will be a permanent theme until November.”
It’s an approach that’s in keeping with how Sergio runs his radio show, which he sees as a “platform is to try to help people.”
The show, which airs 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on 1280 AM, mostly addresses consumer issues, like problems with the banking industry and issues with police and immigration. Immigration attorneys make regular appearances on the program.
“The platform has worked out for us,” says Sergio, who’s been doing radio for 18 years. “It’s kind of like Martino’s show, but we’re more into helping people than promoting businesses.”
Sergio has an active presence on Facebook, but his show isn’t streamed online, because of steep fees that are required due to the fact that KBNO mostly airs music, Sergio told me. He hopes a solution can be found and online streaming will be added at some point.
Asked about the issues he thinks are most important to Hispanics, Sergio said he wavers between the economy and immigration.
“From my perspective, of course, it’s the economy, but immigration, for me, it’s a matter of respect. It’s emotional. I feel it. There is no other issue that has the same emotional impact. I was born in United States. But I witness the difficulties they face. I listen to the phone calls and the abuse.”
“I am an independent,” said Sergio, who supported Michael Bennet in 2010 and is leaning toward Obama. “I try in my own wisdom to do what’s right for my listeners.”
Jason Salzman runs the BigMedia blog and writes frequently at Huffington Post and Colorado Pols.
(Image of Obama: Hooper)