My first career opportunity came in 2008, as a writer for Hypebeast. At the time, the site was literally only a handful of people big, if that, and nowhere near as sophisticated as it is now. The writing staff consisted of myself and my colleague Eugene and that was about it. For me though, it was an amazing first start in what would become a long journey in the world of web publishing. I ended up staying with Hypebeast 5 years, working my way up from a glorified writing intern to editor, senior editor and the company’s go-to North American. I was actually the only American presence the Hong Kong-based magazine had for many years, eventually allowing me to build a staff and take on more of a leadership role.
Before that, I worked my way up in the world of retail, from high school through college. I stepped foot just everywhere, from Finishline to Zumiez. I was never content with being another sales associate and couldn’t stand folding shirts all day, plus working holidays was torture. My drive for promotion eventually turned into management positions, which unknowingly prepared me for my career path in more ways than I could have ever imagined. In the end I just wanted to do something I loved, but constantly felt like society pigeon holed me into a certain stereotype and I had to get the proverbial monkey off my back.
I met my friend Mando last year at an event with Nike. He was an intriguing guy. Radio personality, brand influencer, youth motivator. I’ve always prided myself on my heritage and it was awesome seeing another fellow latino achieving his dreams. We shared a lot in common and I felt like his story was one that needed to be told. We caught up in the studio last week to chat about our journeys in the world of media and I got to know the man behind the Power 106 airwaves a little bit more.
Working in radio for as long as you have, you’ve obviously met a who’s who of the entertainment world’s elite, but aside from mingling with celebrities and enjoying the fruits of your labor, what brings you the most joy?
I’ve said this for a couple of years now. What brings me happiness and makes me feel accomplished isn’t necessarily talking on the radio, it’s not being on television, it’s not doing an interview… it’s creating, period. Creating anything that comes to mind. Coming up with an idea and a concept and just bringing it to fruition. For me, that’s what brings me happiness because I think as human beings that’s one of the most beautiful things; to create something from nothing. Something that didn’t exist, that lived in your mind, and just seeing it happen.
Recently I was brought on by Nike as a consultant to connect the brand with the Los Angeles youth a little bit more. We came up with this concept called East Side Rising, which challenged two of the city’s biggest high schools. Garfield and Roosevelt High School have had this rivalry for years, athletically and academically, so we instituted this program where at the end of this semester, the winning school, who worked their asses off and hit the books and hit the gym and gave it all they had, would receive money to help their athletic program, along with a huge party. Plus they also get to fight for the inaugural East Side Rising trophy. So through the next couple of years they’re gonna be fighting for it and it’s gonna be going back and forth.
Do you ever feel like you have a personal responsibility to steer LA’s latino youth towards a positive career path? I’ve had this talk with my pops many times, where sometimes we feel like our community can at times get too complacent and doesn’t strive to achieve its maximum potential.
I think one of my main goals in my career is to change the way media looks at Latinos. We’ve gone a long way in the past 50 years – the Latino community has done a lot in the entertainment industry – but even though we’ve come a long way, I think there’s still a lot of stereotypes out there. A lot of the actors, if you really look at the industry, many of these roles are cleaning people or cooks or killers, and we have heavy accents. Even Latino personalities have that very spunky I’m Caribbean and I speak very fast and I move my shoulders – the way the media portrays Latinos, I think, still has a long way to go. That’s something that I really hope to change.
When I started with MTV 3, that was my entrance into MTV. And the first year I was very happy with it and we were doing a lot of bilingual – like, we were interviewing artists that were big in pop culture and English artists, American artists. And then it was 50/50 – and then we were doing Latino artists like Marc Anthony, which is awesome. Then it became almost full Spanish and then I’m thinking, “Here I am, I can offer so much.” Just ‘cause I’m Latino I could only do MTV 3. I can speak fluent English I have no accent and I’m thinking, “I’m not gonna allow this to happen.”
Again, one of my goals is to change that stereotype and earlier this year I was brought on to MTV 2 – the only Latino on there – and over here as the token Latino, you know, with the maracas and the heavy accent – I’m just a regular American kid; who loves the same music, enjoys the same movies, and can do this job as well as the next guy. I just happen to be Latino. And I think we’re definitely missing a lot of that in the media. The only person that comes to mind when you think of a Latino host is Mario Lopez. And if you know Mario Lopez, you know he started his career on Saved by the Bell – and I’m not dissing people here – but he never really was given the chance to embrace his heritage. On Saved by the Bell you didn’t know he was Latino. He was just a guy. Like, you knew who he was – just that ethnic dude.
Yeah [laughs] he’s just, like, ethnic and until recently he’s been more open and verbal about being Mexican and all of that. Which is great. I applaud him and I think there should be more people like that in the industry because there’s a lot of Latinos that – just like you and I – that do speak fluent English… no accent, and they’re put on to speak with accents; heavy accents. I really hope to change that.
Mando Fresko & Krystal Bee crowning Garfield High School in Los Angeles
For some reason, I get asked all the time if I’m full Latino. It might be the last name [laughs] but maybe its just a lack of familiarity? I don’t know.
I don’t know what it is man. Maybe it’s because there aren’t that many of us in media. But it’s kind of been a little bit of a weird struggle with – I don’t know if I wanna say acceptance ‘cause I don’t think people really look at it that way – but more with stereotypes than anything else.
I think media and television and film, even radio, honestly… has sort of evolved in a good way, but still has a way to go. In the ‘90s, the Latino that was on the radio [in LA] had to speak almost like a guy from the street. Like, “Ey big dawg,” you know? Like, “Ey fool, you crazy, you crazy as hell dawg, ‘dis foo,” you know what I mean? Just straight up from the hood. And I’m from the hood, I’m from South Gate and you know there were gangs and drugs and all that… but we don’t all speak like that. Honestly now, hardly anyone speaks like that… I think now we don’t have to speak that way for someone to know we’re Latino on the radio, you know? I embrace my heritage and where I’m from… online, on the radio, on television, and I’m not getting away from that – in no way am I ashamed of that. I just want people in mainstream media in America to get that. It’s like, hey, we can do the same job that this other guy can do. And more really. Because we have a whole different side to us.
At the end of the day I think I want to inspire that kid who never thought they can amount to much, especially coming from not the best community. I think a lot of people get stuck and comfortable in an urban community, and we feel like there’s only a certain amount of jobs we can do and in order to get this you have to go to school for this amount of years and in order to be successful you can only follow this path. Really there’s a bigger road and path to be successful. And there are many roads in this world we live in now. As corny as this sounds, just follow your dreams and hard work pays off, man. Hard work doesn’t go unnoticed and I kind of live by that. As soon as I hopped on in 2005 I was given a shot in just six months into my early career because they saw. “Yo, this kid is working his ass off.”
How’d you get into radio?
I started in radio in 2005. My first day at Power [106 FM] was June 27, 2005 – I remember it like it was yesterday. [laughs]
How old were you then?
I was 18, going on 19, when I started at the radio station. I started DJing when I was 14 years old and it was just a passion of mine. I saved up and got my first pair of turntables when I was 16. My parents weren’t too happy about turntables. My dad wanted me to play piano [and] guitar and I wanted to play with the turntables. In college, at 19, I was planning on going into a medical program. And all throughout middle school and high school I went to USC for a medical program that they pretty much train you to go into medicine.
In college that’s where I thought I was gonna go. One day I was walking down campus and I heard a little speaker outside a radio station and it was like, “WPMD – where people make a difference. Black Eyed Peas featuring Justin Timberlake “Where Is the Love?” And I heard the song and I’m like, wait that sounds like a cool class. I walked in and gave myself a tour of the radio station on campus. I was at Cerritos College and I just kind of fell in love with the radio station. I always had a passion for music so the next semester I took the course – I took intro to broadcasting, I took radio production. That’s all I needed to really say this is what I wanted to do. [Laughs].
I would live at the radio station, so much so that my professor would eventually kick me out. He’d be like, “Hey it’s time to close shop, you gotta go home Mando.” Eventually he got so tired of kicking me out that he actually let me close shop. He was like, “Dude you know what? Just close shop Mando, it’s all good.” We would close at 9pm; I would stay ‘til midnight sometimes.
Mando on-air at Power 106
What were you doing?
I was working on imaging, working on commercials, and just, you know, working out my craft. I just loved it so much. I took that class and I wanted to enter for Power ‘cause Power was growing up in LA – that was the best radio station in my opinion. I tried to be an intern there. They didn’t give me the chance to become an intern. I would call every day and say, “Hey, have you guys filled your intern positions?”… Two months later, I get a call from the promotions director and he’s like, “Do you want to still work at Power?” Here I was at Sav-On, holding some rolls of toilet paper and here I am talking to the person that would pretty much change my life. And that was it. I started a month later. I was doing promotions, hitting the streets. They liked me so much that they offered me a position overnight. At the time the station was going through a lot of movement – people were leaving and coming in. They needed to fill a slot and it was like, a 2-5 in the morning [slot]. You had to be there live and I was like, “Of course!” when they asked me if I was interested. DJ E-Man, who’s part of Big Boy’s Neighborhood now, came up to me and said, “Hey, would you be interested?” And I said, “Hell yeah!” internally. To him I said, “Yeah, of course.” But inside I was dying.
That was your big break.
Yeah! I mean, that’s the reason why I was there. So it’s like you being a towel boy for the Lakers and someone walks up to you and says “Hey, do you wanna hop on and play with Kobe real quick?” You’re like, “What?! That’s why I’m here but I didn’t think that was going to happen!”
In 2007 I joined LA TV – that was my first TV gig – in 2010. I joined MTV 3 in 2012 and this year I joined MTV 2.
Seeing how you’ve segued into television from radio, how do you feel the explosion of social media and the Internet, in general, has affected terrestrial radio? Now as opposed to back in the mid 2000s.
Well, first of all, it’s had a major impact. Terrestrial radio was huge in the ‘90s and mid-2000s. It was obviously huge before that, if you go back to the ‘50s, radio was bigger than television. Radio as they call it, or used to call it, was the theater of the mind. So I think radio’s gonna be around for a long time, but it’s definitely gone through a lot of changes. One thing discovered by program directors and those in charge of radio stations was that the listener has a very short attention span… so talk breaks, which were two minutes, three minutes long were cut down to 30 seconds.
Another thing that I noticed with this new – I hate calling it a digital world ‘cause I hate that word, when I think digital it’s so old school [and] corporate [laughs]. It’s like, “I’m gonna go to Minneapolis and we’re gonna have a digital meeting out there. For lack of a better word right now, in this new media world that we live in, a lot of changes were made aside from just radio, broadcasting, and programming. I think people started realizing that we needed to create more content to bring in more listeners and listenership. It took a very long time for people to realize that we had to have cameras inside of the studios and everything.
We lived in a very live radio world 5, 10 years ago. You went on the air, you hit your microphone, and your shift was over and that was that. And now, obviously, it’s all about creating content so everything that we do is recorded for a rebroadcast of it online to brand and market your show on the radio station. Now you start seeing a lot more competition – terrestrial radio has competition with satellite radio, they have a lot of apps; the Pandoras, the Songzas, the Beats music, iTunes radio now as well. So all of that has definitely made it tougher for radio, but, surprisingly radio has been doing well and sticking around – I think again they’re gonna be around for a long time.
Terrestrial radio is also still really big, especially in cities like Los Angeles and New York because of the population and just the commute that people have from and to work. Being in cars, people still want to listen. They can listen to a new song. I can listen to the new Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake on my iPhone, I go onto iTunes or Beats Music or whatever – but, I won’t know of it until I really hear it on the radio. So people are still discovering new music on the radio which is a big benefit; a big plus for terrestrial radio.
So aside from our ethnic background, one thing we most likely share in common is our parents not really understanding what we were getting into (career-wise), when we did. My folks didn’t specifically want me to be a lawyer or doctor, but they pushed education like no other when I was growing up and wanted me to have a profession that required a suite and tie. I don’t think they really understood what I did until they saw my name in print… after that, they would give a copy of that magazine to anyone and everyone they could.
Yeah, my family is a traditional Mexican family. Especially my father. I would say traditional is an understatement. He believed in me wearing a suit and tie and if I wasn’t wearing a suit and tie to work I wasn’t doing something right. And for my mom, she was always supportive. I mean, I can literally be doing anything – anything – and she would be supportive and happy for me. That’s just my mom. My pops has always been tough to please… it wasn’t until 2010 that he kind of gave me the okay – 5 years into radio. Which is funny! The things that really impressed him were two things: the first, he loved soccer. I would host these soccer viewing parties for Nike during the World Cup, and we would have 800 people show up to these events. I brought him in and gave him a VIP area that had food and drinks for him and for my brother and some friends of theirs. And they saw me on the stage and all these people cheering and that’s when he was like, “Wow, this is kind of a big deal.” I would do that, like, four times out of the week during the World Cup – sometimes more, sometimes two times a day – and so that was the first time, as little as that was – to me at least – it was a big deal for him.
And a second thing was: He’s a big Vicente Fernandez fan. I took him and my mom to watch Vicente perform at the Gibson Amphitheater and then took them backstage to meet him. I had met him prior and done an interview… he’s a legend in the Latino community. I took them backstage and at that point I’d never seen him so excited and nervous at the same time. My mom didn’t know what to do with herself. Because to them that was, like, their Elvis, their Jay-Z and I mean, even Jay-Z is really not as big as this guy is to the Latin community. At that point… he kind of gave me the okay, the salute: You’re doing something right. If you just had me meet my hero, you know you’re doing something right.