DALLAS — Did you know Dallas is home to one of the first AM radio stations to broadcast entirely in Spanish?

KWIP-AM 880, also known as La Campeona, meaning “the champion,” transitioned to all Spanish-language programming in 1992.

“It was one of the first to go 24/7 — 23 years on the air — in Spanish,” said Ayesh Shanah, the station’s chief executive officer.

With a 200-mile radius backed by a 5,000-watt signal, it can reach listeners from Portland to Eugene, from the valley to the coast to the west and Hood River to the east.

The station is broadcast from 1405 E. Ellendale Ave. in Dallas.

Jose Alfaro, one of the station’s two local disc jockeys, was hired in 1992 after graduating from California’s American Communications Institute. Alfaro had his first experience in radio as a teenager in El Salvador. In 1985, he moved to Los Angeles and eventually went to school to become a DJ.

In 1991, he moved to Portland and began looking for work in radio. He found KWIP, which at the time mainly played country music, but had Spanish-language programming on the weekends.

At the same time Alfaro was hired, the station made the transition to all Spanish. Alfaro said the music played on the station has changed over the years, but what he likes about the job hasn’t.

“I enjoy being on the radio, to deal with the community outside,” he said.

DJs and other station staff have plenty of opportunity for community outreach.

La Campeona participates in many events in its broadcast area, including a Sept. 16 (Mexican Independence Day) celebration in Woodburn, Cinco de Mayo festivities, numerous concerts, and even had a booth this year at the Oregon State Fair.

One of the more memorial events from this year was the annual Community Fiesta held each September in Independence. The fiesta was headlined by El Genio Lucas, the host of a syndicated radio show La Campeona broadcasts Monday through Saturday mornings.

El Genio Lucas is a nationally known radio personality and inspirational speaker who drew thousands of fans to Independence’s Riverview Park.

Christina Navarro, KWIP’s traffic manager and billing and advertising representative, still is amazed at the response. That morning, El Genio broadcast his show from KWIP and stayed in Independence to sign autographs for hours at the fiesta.

“Our booth was actually collapsing because people wanted to meet him,” Navarro said. “People waited three to four hours to meet him.”

That was reminiscent of La Campeona’s early days, when there wasn’t much competition on the air. Navarro said she’s been told stories by long-time staff that fans used to line up outside the station to meet or get a glimpse of the artists who stopped by for interviews on the station’s shows.

“I’ve gotten to meet a few,” Navarro said of musician guests. “I haven’t gotten to meet nearly as much as Jose. He’s met so many.”

Navarro, who has worked for the station for five years, first as an advertising representative and now as a full-time employee for a little more than a year, said even on the days when she doesn’t encounter celebrities the job is fun.

“Every day is different,” she said, smiling. “It’s not easy though. I’m still learning.”

She’s most proud of the station’s commitment to the community, though. Every Monday, the station has its “community hour,” in which the DJs interview area nonprofits about their mission and services. Recent guests have included the Oregon Health Plan, Chemeketa Community College and Alcoholics Anonymous.

“I thought that the radio station was all about bringing in revenue and commercials, but I learned as I started working here that it’s not really about that,” Navarro said. “It (the station) is really community involved.”

Then, of course, there is the music. La Campeona plays a wide variety of Latin music spanning more than four decades.

Shanah said the station is geared toward audiences in the 18-54 age range. However, most listeners and advertisers are not local, with the majority in the Salem, Woodburn and Corvallis areas.

Shanah, who has owned the station for eight years, said the station’s formula seems to be working.

“They (listeners) keep calling the station that they are happy with the programming,” Shanah said. “That makes you feel good because it’s a family-oriented station.”

With a small staff of just four, the environment feels very much like family — so much so that a retired employee, Lucy Villastrigo, has stayed on as a volunteer after working 14 years at the station.

When asked what’s kept her coming back, Villastrigo’s answer isn’t surprising: “Getting to know the community and helping the community … and the music.”

Program Schedule

La Campeona KWIP-AM 880 radio shows

• El Genio Lucas (syndicated) — Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

• Claudia Cruz Morales — Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

• Jose Alfaro — Monday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m.

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