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Can 'Piolin' have a radio future?

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Popular Spanish-language radio personality Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo's departure from Univision Communications Inc. in the wake of sexual harassment allegations won't necessarily be a career-ending blow, but a comeback could be tricky, experts said.

"I suspect he's a bit radioactive until this matter is resolved," Howard Bragman, a crisis public relations consultant and founder of the firm Fifteen Minutes, said Tuesday of Sotelo's job prospects. "Allegations of sexual harassment are taken more seriously than ever, and the fact that he's gone might indicate that his employers gave these allegations credence."

Until last week, Sotelo hosted the nationally syndicated "Piolín por la Mañana" radio program, which aired locally on Univision Radio's KSCA-FM (101.9) and about 50 stations from coast to coast.

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Univision last week severed ties with Sotelo, refusing to provide an explanation. According to documents obtained by The Times and reported Tuesday, Sotelo's show was canceled after a performer on his program, Alberto "Beto" Cortez, accused Sotelo of sexual harassment over a period of three years ending last winter. The claim was made in an April 16 letter from Cortez's attorney to executives of Univision, which broadcast and syndicated the show.

Representatives of Sotelo, who has a loyal following among Mexican immigrants, have started conversations with other radio companies about finding a new home for his show, according to two people with knowledge of the talks. And competitors already are trying to take advantage of the situation.

Univision has not decided how it plans to program the early morning drive-time period that Piolín ruled for a decade. For now, the company is playing Mexican regional music during that slot. During the month of June, the most recent month that has ratings data available, Sotelo's show was tied for sixth place among morning programs in the competitive Los Angeles media market.

Other radio personalities have bounced back from seemingly career-crushing controversies.

Don Imus, who was fired from CBS Radio in 2007 for making racially insensitive comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team, returned to radio with his nationally syndicated "Imus in the Morning."

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Rush Limbaugh continues to reign over conservative talk radio despite revelations that he had an addiction to painkillers.

Bubba the Love Sponge, a Tampa, Fla., shock jock whose real name is Todd Alan Clem, survived a lawsuit, a sex-tape scandal involving his ex-wife and wrestler Hulk Hogan and animal cruelty charges after a wild hog was slaughtered during a live broadcast.

"Opie and Anthony," two New York shock jocks, Gregg "Opie" Hughes and Anthony Cumia, had their Infinity Radio show canceled in 2002, days after the pair broadcast a couple simulating sex in a vestibule at St. Patrick's Cathedral, which prompted hundreds of complaints to the Federal Communications Commission. Hughes and Cumia now have a show on SiriusXM.

Sotelo's fans might be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, or forgive him, radio industry executives said. That could hinge on whether the allegations turn into a full-blown lawsuit. It is unclear whether attorneys for Cortez will file a discrimination lawsuit against Sotelo, and/or Univision, or try to settle the matter quietly outside the public eye.

"If these allegations are true, it will be a sad mark on an otherwise spectacular career for Piolín," said Adam R. Jacobson, a Miami-based consultant and strategist for Latino media.

In addition to allegations of sexual harassment, Cortez claimed that Sotelo ordered his radio production crew to inflate the number of letters from U.S. citizens gathered in support of an immigration reform drive that Sotelo promoted heavily on his program in 2007. Sotelo that summer presented the letters to members of Congress.

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"Piolín was a symbol among his fans as an immigrant who made it, and if he lied to members of Congress that could be potentially more devastating to his career," Jacobson said. "If he has broken that trust with his listeners it could be hard for him to come back."

Sotelo's attorney forcefully disputed Cortez's claims that half of the signatures Sotelo presented to members of Congress were falsified. Sotelo's attorney, Jeffrey Spitz, issued a statement Monday that Cortez's allegations were false and motivated by money.

With Sotelo off the air, at least temporarily, his rivals in the hyper-competitive Spanish-language radio market may be able to draw listeners from KSCA.

Last week, El Cucuy (Boogeyman), the on-air persona of Renán Almendárez Coello, a native of Honduras known for his animated, jokey personality, returned to the radio airwaves this year after a several-year hiatus. He now broadcasts "El Cucuy de la Mañana" on Tijuana's XEWW Radio 690, which is widely heard in Southern California.

Another possible replacement is Ricardo "El Mandril" (The Mandrill) Sanchez, who had surpassed Sotelo in popularity. Sanchez currently hosts a program of regional Mexican music and commentary on KLAX-FM (97.9). His show, which had been in seventh place in its time slot in the Arbitron ratings as recently as April and was fourth in May, catapulted to the No. 1 spot in June.

His show drew 5.3% of the available audience weekdays in the L.A. market from 6 to 10 a.m. His bosses at Spanish Broadcasting System, a competitor to Univision, sent an email blast this week to radio industry executives announcing plans to make Sanchez's program available for syndication.

"They see blood in the water," Jacobson said. "The competitive battle has already started."

Meg.james@latimes.com

Reed.Johnson@latimes.com

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