It's not always obvious that there's a serious side to Renan Almendarez Coello, a.k.a. El Cucuy, "the Bogeyman" of Spanish-language radio. As one of the most popular personalities on American airwaves, El Cucuy regales his fans with a wacky amalgam of wisecracks and real-time melodramas culled from the calls he gets from listeners seeking help with their families, jobs or love lives. His over-the-top antics have propelled his KSCA show to the top of Los Angeles talk radio.
But a somewhat different side of Almendarez Coello was in evidence at the black-tie benefit for the El Cucuy Foundation Nov. 19 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. This was the man who grew up impoverished in Honduras, immigrated to the United States 20 years ago and regularly uses his syndicated radio show to raise funds for victims of natural disasters, cancer patients and needy members of the working poor in the United States and Latin America.
A cross-section of the Latino pop culture world turned out for the event, which featured an all-star entertainment lineup: Mexican crooner Jose Jose, sultry pop singer-songwriter Ana Barbara and singer-guitarist Jose Feliciano. A pre-dinner silent auction offered autographed Feliciano guitars and boxing gloves signed by Oscar de la Hoya (opening bid: $300).
Wearing a black suit with a boisterous yellow-and-orange tie, El Cucuy, speaking in his native Spanish, lamented the inadequate state of social services for the poor in his adopted country. "To be sick is expensive, and to die is more expensive," he said, displaying the barbed wit of his on-air persona.
Penny Raile, the foundation's executive director, said Almendarez Coello's personal involvement has helped the foundation get beyond language and cultural barriers to serve Latinos directly. "I think what makes us unique is we have Renan's voice, and he is trusted by his listeners," she said. "Who wants to get their finger pricked [for diabetes testing]? But if they see Renan down there doing it, they'll do it."