More than 30 years after she began her career as a radio announcer, 80-year-old Adeline Idalina Mello is contemplating retirement.
It's making her co-workers nervous.
Whenever Mello talks about quitting her volunteer job at KTPB-FM, the station's other employees pretend they're not listening and change the subject.
"Most of our listeners listen because of her," said Mary Serpa, the closed-circuit station's general manager. "Anything we need to know, we go to her."
And when the listeners don't hear Mello, they also get nervous. During one recent stretch on the air, Mello was tied up on a lengthy long-distance call, which prompted a frantic call from a teen-age boy who only heard music from the station. He wondered if anything had happened to her.
"He was so relieved," Mello said. "He said, 'My grandmother was so worried about you.' I didn't think people cared."
Mello is on the air three hours a day on weekdays at KTPB, which station President Ralph Alves said is the country's only 24-hour all-Portuguese radio station. On Sundays, Mello has her own 4 1/2-hour radio show, "Aurora of Portugal."
The station's other announcers broadcast Portuguese music, live soccer games from Portugal and Catholic prayers. Mello does that, but what draws listeners to her shows is the local information she passes along: birthdays, anniversaries, obituaries, even job openings.
It's a throwback to the days when radio was often the main source of information for people who couldn't read newspapers. Even today, many of the station's 10,000 listeners from Gorman to Merced rely on Mello for news, Serpa said.
Mello also translates items directly from the Fresno Bee, including the Dear Abby advice column, into Portuguese. Listeners then call in over the air and give their opinions of the news to Mello, who adds her own comments.
"If I feel I have to say something, I will," said Mello, whose mother didn't let her go to school past the seventh grade. Still, Mello received a special degree and taught English and the U.S. Constitution to adult classes for 32 years.
Mello was born in Portugal, but her family moved to New Bedford, Mass., when she was an infant. When Mello was 16, she moved to Hanford. Since 1930 she has lived in Tulare, where there is a large Portuguese population.
Mello, who is also the station's bookkeeper, began broadcasting 32 years ago as a favor to a friend who owned Tulare-based KGEN, now KBOS. She has been working for five years at KTPB.
Because of her close ties to her co-workers, Mello has delayed retiring, even though she insists the time is near.