Afternoon Delight

Every weekday from 3 to 7 p.m., KLAT's Carlos Martinez loves to talk about sex. Many in his Spanish-speaking audience adore him. But not everyone's happy with what he has to say.

Carlos Martinez has never met Lupita, a young Mexican woman who's just called him up in distress. You wouldn't know it, though, to hear their conversation. Lupita thinks she's pregnant, and Martinez is clucking sympathetically from his studio at KLAT radio, 1010 on the AM dial, in northwest Houston. In a soothing voice that sounds like a best girlfriend's after a few margaritas, Martinez starts asking question after increasingly intimate question. Is Lupita married, divorced, separated, going steady, abandoned, reunited? When was her last period? When did she last have sex?

The answers come surprisingly freely. Finally, from what he's heard, Martinez decides that his phone pal Lupita isn't pregnant after all. But still, there's the problem of her not getting her period ....

Martinez has an idea.
"Stand in front of the mirror," he instructs, with the comfortable, confidential tone of an older sister.

"Okay," Lupita says.
"Now take off your blouse."
"Mmmhmmm," Lupita says cooperatively, briefly muffled as she undoes buttons on the other end of the line.

"Okay, now ... Ya?' " Martinez asks, inquiring if she's finished.
"Now take a look at your breasts."
A silence hums over the airwaves.

"Take a good look at the nipples and areolas," Martinez goes on pleasantly. "Remember what they looked like 15 or 20 days ago. Lupita, do you see anything different? Any change in color? Any swelling or darkening?"

"No," Lupita reports, "they don't look like anything in particular."
"Then ... you're not pregnant!" Martinez crows.
"I'm not?" Lupita says, laughing happily.
"It's your NERVES, Lupita!" yells Martinez. "Just your NERVES!"

Lupita is still laughing, but the relief in her voice has transformed it. "Thank you, Carlos," she says. And in the vast audience that is Houston's Spanish radio, a collective sigh of release can almost be heard -- that, along with the occasional snarl of dismissal for this man who would say things like that to a woman whom he doesn't even know!

That mix of relief and outrage has made Carlos Martinez the undisputed king of Spanish talk radio in Houston. To his mostly female audience, he's a source of hidden information, a spy in the macho house of Latin love. To his predominantly institutional critics, he's vulgar, airing sometimes questionable advice about things that should be kept in the bedroom or the doctor's office. Alone in her home, Lupita may talk for all the world as if it's only her and Martinez on the line, but it's not. Sharing their tete-a-tete are thousands of Spanish-speaking Houstonians who listen with fascination to Martinez's show, Intimidades (Intimacies), every weekday from 3 to 7 p.m. In each show, Martinez offers them loud, off-color jokes, clinical sexual data and some commonsense advice: for instance, that a woman's nipples get darker in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Something about Carlos Martinez's voice, about the giddy way he giggles and whoops when someone first tells him her most intimate problem, seems to dissolve all constraints such as modesty and shame. Callers find themselves telling Martinez things they've never said aloud, as naturally as if they were describing a telenovela. And then, when Martinez starts asking for details -- about cycles, excretions, how long your husband spends touching you -- that assured, unembarrassed way of his somehow promises an answer. He, Carlos Martinez, human sexuality expert, will find it. Even if there's something slightly prurient about the way he goes about looking.

"Listen, I have another problem," Lupita says. "It's my sister."
"You have a sister!" Martinez cries. "Lupita! You have to introduce me!"
"She's kind of fat .... " Lupita falters.

"Nothing wrong with us fatties!" Martinez shrieks dizzily, overcome with his own self-generated mirth. "You know, we give satisfaction twice -- once with sex, and again when we climb off. They say, ahhh, thank God!" Unabashed, accurate sex talk, especially among women, has never been much of a tradition in Latino culture. But to the surprise of many, it's proved to be a resounding success in Houston, where Martinez's eight-year-old show is the number one Arbitron rated program out of about ten AM shows serving Hispanic audiences during afternoon drive time. Martinez likes to boast he has a clear lead over his AM rivals in Houston (he's also syndicated in Chicago and El Paso), and the numbers seem to agree; his closest competitor has only half his Arbitron market share. Some in radio, though, snipe that his numbers may be slipping.

But the fact remains that it's more likely than not that, if asked, any Spanish speaker in Houston will admit to having listened to Carlos Martinez at least once. Three months after its debut on KLAT in May 1994, Martinez's Intimidades branched out into syndication; it's also bootlegged and listened to throughout Latin America. Martinez has even been a guest on the internationally viewed Cristina show, one of the bellwethers for media notoriety in the Hispanic world.

In Houston, Latinos talk about Martinez's latest show in barbershops, offices and taquerias, alternately laughing at or inveighing against the latest exchange they couldn't help but tune in to. They talk about the woman who called up last month and told Martinez she was excited by his voice -- so excited that right there on the air, she commenced to masturbate. Needless to say, Martinez didn't cut her off.

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