Passing of the baton

The office of KIGS AM 620 just east of Hanford. The station has switched entirely to Indian language programming under new owners, ending the long Kings County tradition of having a local Portuguese radio station.

Once upon a time, waves of Portuguese immigrants sustained a vibrant community in Kings County, a virtual culture-within-a-culture with its own local festivals, celebrations and, yes, an all-Portuguese radio station in Hanford.

Times have changed.

KIGS, AM 620, operating out of an iconic stucco building off Highway 198 just outside Hanford, has switched to an all Indian-language format, broadcasting in Hindi and Punjabi to serve a growing community of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent residing in Fresno, Selma and Kings County.

Few people are more aware of the burgeoning Indian presence than Falguni Patel. Later this month, she and her husband, Kevin Patel, will celebrate the one-year anniversary of Bombay Indian Food & Chai House, Hanford’s only Indian restaurant.

“There is a large [Indian} community in Hanford, and it is growing,” she said.

So large, in fact, that it attracted a group of four Indian investors who already have an ownership stake in Indian-language radio stations in Washington and Canada.

For more than two decades, the Hanford station broadcast in Portuguese 24/7, sending out a powerful signal picked up from Turlock to the Grapevine. But when station owner Maria Pereira died in 2012, it went off the air.

A family trust resurrected the station in 2013 as a Fox Sports Radio affiliate. Portuguese programming was reduced to one day a week, on Saturdays.

The sports venture didn’t last. Earlier this year, the station was sold to New Media Broadcasting Inc., a partnership of Harinder Singh, Rajinder Singh Dhaliwal, Sukhdev Singh Dhaliwal and Narinder Singh Ghag

It’s not hard to put two-and-two together and figure out why the AM frequency has gone Indian. There’s a growing Punjabi community in the Selma area – so big, that the Sikh Center of the Pacific Coast is located there.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion originating in the Indian subcontinent that has approximately 30 million followers worldwide, with an estimated 30,000 living in the central San Joaquin Valley.

Falguni Patel said the radio station is a fusion of many different Indian cultural and religious traditions. She said it’ll provide welcome advertising for businesses catering to an Indian population – and it saves local Indian listeners from having to buy (and wear out) Indian music CDs.

“It’s put us in a good mood,” she said. “It’s a nice thing to have.”

For the dwindling Portuguese-speaking subculture in Kings County, however, the language switch marks the end of an era.

“It’s just a big loss to the Portuguese community,” said Herminia Lemos, secretary of St. John’s Society in Hanford, which operates St. John’s Hall for Portuguese and other events. “We’re trying hard to keep our traditions going.”

“[The radio station] helped to unite the community,” said John Sousa, a deacon at St. Brigid Catholic Church. “

Sousa said the station used to have a daily calendar of events that would keep the entire San Joaquin Valley community of Portuguese speakers informed about regional and local happenings. The station also did religious broadcasts and soccer games.

“Now, not being able to announce our events on a regular basis, the community is a bit more disconnected,” he said.

Sousa said that Portuguese immigration to Kings County came to an end in the 1970s, leaving the area without new infusions of primary-language Portuguese speakers. The process of assimilation and the death of older generations have steadily reduced the number of fluent Portuguese speakers.

“The numbers of everything done in Portuguese are dwindling,” he said. “The festas, they’re getting smaller and smaller.”

I hate to see [the Portuguese radio station] gone,” said Hanford resident Dianne Costa.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@hanfordsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @snidever.

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