'Piolín' hopes to reboot his career

 'Piolín' hopes to reboot his career
Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Barely three months ago, Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo's Spanish-language radio career appeared to be derailed.

He had lost his popular "Piolín por la Mañana" morning program amid allegations of sexual and emotional harassment by a male co-worker. In the days that followed, six other former co-workers alleged that they too had been harassed by Sotelo, setting off an ongoing legal skirmish.


Although Sotelo repeatedly denied the accusations, he and his longtime employer, the powerful media conglomerate Univision Communications Inc., parted ways in July. The rupture followed years of gradually declining ratings, as Sotelo's show was overtaken by Spanish-language rivals.

But now Sotelo is back and, he insists, bigger than ever. On Oct. 18, he will launch the four-hour "El Show de Piolín" on SiriusXM's Piolín Radio channel 147, which will air live locally from 6 to 10 a.m. and repeat throughout the day.

"It's like I was playing in a sandbox and now I'm going to play in Griffith Park," Sotelo said of his switch to satellite radio.

On Monday, seated behind a console at his new studio in a Wilshire Boulevard office tower, Sotelo, 42, whose nickname means Tweety Bird, was characteristically chipper as he spoke about his future.

He voiced confidence that his blue-collar radio fan base would be willing to pay a subscription fee to follow him to Sirius for a program of his signature mix of topical commentary, guest interviews, pranks, listener call-ins, contests and Mexican regional music.

"I'm going to have more liberty," he said. "Now you're going to be able to listen to Piolín through the whole United States and part of Mexico."

Piolín Radio will be part of the $5.99 Spanish-language monthly subscription package SiriusXM Español. Subscribers also will have access to "Piolín y Más," a complementary trial package that will allow them to tune into Piolín's show as well as a lineup of Spanish- and English-language music, sports, news and entertainment channels on smartphones and other devices, as well as online.

SiriusXM is seeking to add to its current 1.7 million Latino subscribers, out of a total customer base of 25 million. Jim E. Meyer, its chief executive, told investors last month that recruiting Sotelo was an unexpected but welcome development.

"When we saw the opportunity, let me tell you, it took us a week to get that done and jump on it," Meyer said last month at a Goldman Sachs investment conference.

Entertainment analysts had mixed reactions to Sotelo's new satellite venture.

"This is a very risky move for Piolín because he could fall off the radar and lose his relevancy with his audience," said Adam Jacobson, a Spanish-language media consultant based in Miami. "But for Sirius, this is a great move. They need a bigger platform to reach the Latino audience and there are many areas of the country with exploding Latino populations, including in the Midwestern states, where there are not that many terrestrial Spanish-language radio stations."

Julio Rumbaut, a Miami-based media adviser, agreed.


"For SiriusXM, this is a good strategy because they need a tent-pole personality, someone who is a real draw, to attract more Hispanic subscribers," Rumbaut said, adding that he doubted Sotelo's audience would hold the allegations against him. "Piolín gets a clean start here."

Although Sotelo was eager Monday to discuss his latest career twist, his upbeat demeanor slackened whenever the conversation turned to the allegations against him, which he said were false and motivated by jealousy and greed.

"I feel really betrayed," he said. "And it's so painful. I don't want no one to go through this."

Pressed about his assertion that he was completely innocent of any wrongful behavior, Sotelo repeated his previous denials: "They're doing it because they want money. It's an extortion."

In August, Sotelo filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the six former staff members, alleging they had banded together to extort $4.9 million from him.

Robert Clayton, a Los Angeles attorney for the six former employees, said in a statement Monday that his firm is in the process of filing a motion to dismiss Sotelo's "publicity stunt lawsuit."

"Mr. Sotelo's attempt to silence the people that worked on his show will not work," the statement read. Asked why, if the allegations against him were untrue, he and Univision had parted company so suddenly, Sotelo declined to give details, acknowledging that he had signed a non-disclosure agreement.

"I think in anything there's seasons," he said. "This is my new season with SiriusXM. That was my season with Univision. And it's a good change."

Sotelo, a native of the Mexican state of Jalisco, crossed illegally into the United States when he was in his teens and washed cars for a living before making a name for himself in radio. He became a U.S. citizen in 2008. Sotelo's Univision Radio program was carried on about 50 stations from coast to coast, including locally on KSCA-FM (101.9).

His rags-to-riches story endeared him to his audience, as did his championing of issues such as immigration reform. He was widely credited with using his on-air pulpit to boost turnout at the mass immigration-reform marches of the mid-2000s. He also sponsored a drive to gather 1 million signatures in support of reform.

In documents obtained by The Times last summer, Alberto "Beto" Cortez, the former co-worker, alleged that, when the drive fell substantially short of its target, Sotelo ordered staffers to clandestinely photocopy letters bearing signatures.

Sotelo refuted those claims again Monday and said he did not believe that they would limit his ability to attract high-level guests such as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

"That's not going to be an issue," he said. "I think I'm going to have more opportunity to talk more, because I'm playing less music."

Sotelo said he also hoped to continue working occasionally in English-language film and television. He has had minor roles in movies including "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and "The Muppets."

To that end, he has been working on improving his English, practicing with Rosetta Stone language software.

In all these endeavors, he said, his fans remain behind him.

"If I succeed they feel like 'Man, that's one of us.'"