Almost every weekday, shortly after noon, a man named Francisco calls radio station La Gran D’s Nampa studio.
It is the opening few minutes of El Mercadito, a live show that invites listeners to call in and announce on the air that they want to sell or buy something.
Francisco is doing neither. He usually just wants to say hi to a woman of whom he’s enamored or, sometimes, invite women to call and get to know him.
Who doesn’t know El Mercadito? El Matavacas is a legend.
Listener and fan Rick Godina
Every time, Gustavo Acosta, the deejay who runs El Mercadito, engages him in a brief conversation. Listeners known Acosta as El Matavacas — literally “the cow killer” — but that’s a different story.
Francisco might complain that he’s lonely or sad. Acosta tells him he needs to get out and introduce himself to women if he wants their company or offer some other piece of solid advice. Francisco hangs up after a minute or so, and the show goes on.
This has been going on for four years. Acosta said he’s never met Francisco, who he believes is mentally or emotionally troubled, in person. But he clearly has a special role in Francisco’s life.
“At the fair in Caldwell, someone came up to me and said, ‘I’m Francisco’s brother,’” Acosta said. “‘I appreciate that you always treat him well on the air. You never disrespect him. You always look for something funny to make him laugh.’”
Francisco is just one of dozens of callers who dial up La Gran D every day during the hour-long El Mercadito. More than the rest, though, he represents the importance of the show to the Treasure Valley’s Latino community and Acosta’s soft spot for it.
It’s always meant a lot to us that our community continues to safeguard our culture and traditions. El Mercadito plays a daily role in lives of not only our staff but the families we service. We’re a statewide institution, and I can tell you El Mercadito is heard all over.
Irma Morin, CEO of Community Council of Idaho
El Mercadito started 10 years ago.
Back then, a different company with Utah ties owned the radio station. That company had produced a show similar to El Mercadito.
Jorge Castañera, sales manager for the station, said he and another fellow employee decided to try the concept in Idaho.
“It was a success immediately,” Castañera said. “The people liked it. A lot of responses started coming in. A lot of businesses wanted to advertise on the program because they saw that there was a big response from the people.”
Acosta said he was nervous the first time he hosted the show. For years, he was a part-time announcer for the radio station. He started working there full time for a couple of years before El Mercadito started. This was a different kind of radio work.
On its surface, El Mercadito is a radio version of Craigslist or a newspaper’s classified ads. Running it is an exercise in multitasking. Acosta — or whoever is in charge in his absence — has to juggle phone calls, incoming text messages, Facebook messages, reading live advertiser announcements and drawings for various prizes.
“The program has to be done in an old-fashioned style. These days, radio stations do a lot with computers. Everything’s automatic,” Castañera said. “But when we’re doing El Mercadito, we need Gustavo to run it, and run it in a classic way.”
The most popular items on El Mercadito include tools, furniture, pets, jobs and clothes.
30-35 secondsThe average length of calls to El Mercadito
The radio station doesn’t let callers advertise vehicles for sale, Acosta said, because people flipping cars used the show for free publicity for their businesses.
Sometimes, people call in what amount to personal ads. Callers have reported missing children a handful of times, Acosta said. Occasionally, the show and its listeners help people find money to cover the cost of a funeral or get help straightening out an immigration problem.
“That, for me, is the best thing about the program: Broadcasting the message that the program isn’t just selling and buying,” Acosta said. “Instead, it’s also a medium for uniting us.”
Acosta is the unmistakable voice of El Mercadito and not just because he’s the one who runs the show most days.
His upbeat perspective — quick to laugh and slow to chide callers, even when their radios are turned up too high — sets the tone.
That outlook is one he’s grown into, not always comfortably. In 2010, Acosta said, his brother died after battling severe diabetes. Acosta said the death sped his embrace of positivity because his brother accepted the disease and enjoyed life even in his most difficult moments.
Acosta tries to pass that along during El Mercadito. He said sometimes people who are clearly depressed call in and just want someone to talk to. He tries to get them to focus on the good in their lives, whether it’s health, a job, family or simply a roof over their heads.
Even the music he uses to introduce the show is upbeat. He rotates four songs as signals that the show is beginning or returning from a commercial break. All of them are lively.
“I put on this kind of music because I imagine if I were in the field, if I’m in construction, if I’m sitting down enjoying my food, that it would be something that would liven me up, something that would give me energy to go back to work,” Acosta said.
That attention to detail has helped make Acosta a community figure for Latinos in the Treasure Valley, his colleagues said.
“I feel very proud to be able to work with El Matavacas,” said Yanira Corvera, Acosta’s fellow announcer who listeners know as “La Vaquerita” or “The Cowgirl” and who runs El Mercadito in Acosta’s absence. “It’s been a great experience. He is a person of the people.”
Sometimes, Acosta said, parents bring their children to the studio because the children want to meet him. He said listeners who have no idea what he looks like often recognize his voice when he’s out in the world. The most common reaction is surprise because people thought he’d be much older, shorter and fatter, he said.
The personal feel of El Mercadito belies its popularity.
Walk into any Treasure Valley business that specializes in serving Latinos between noon and 1 p.m. on a weekday, and you’re likely to hear El Mercadito playing in the background. People listen to the show even if they have no interest in selling or buying anything.
“Who doesn’t know El Mercadito? El Mata Vacas is a legend,” said Rick Godina, an employment and training counselor for Community Council of Idaho, a nonprofit that serves Latinos throughout the state. “People will even call in to give away stuff, so we always encourage our families to listen for furniture, jobs, free events and lots of laughs.”
That draw has brought commercial success for the radio station.
“In fact, sometimes we’re sold out,” Castañera said. “Sometimes, we don’t have space in the program. It’s just one hour and we only have so many minutes where we can put commercials, because the rest of the time we have to give to the public.”
The show’s draw has caught the attention of whites and other non-Latinos, Acosta said. Sometimes, they call the program to say they’re looking for workers or something else. They do their best to speak Spanish, he said.
Leticia Ruiz exemplifies El Mercadito’s seemingly ubiquitous appeal. First, Ruiz describes herself as an “avid listener.” As co-owner of Creative Key, a graphic-design business that caters to Latinos, Ruiz said she leans on El Mercadito and the radio station’s other programs for promotions.
Ruiz is also a spokeswoman for Community Council of Idaho. She said Acosta sometimes drops a line to help the group get the word out about jobs listings or events.
“It’s not just about the promotional products that individuals are trying to sell,” she said. “It’s kind of a networking site, you know, where we all get to have a little say.”
How El Matavacas got his name
Gustavo Acosta said his original radio nickname was Batman.
That was back in the early 2000s when Acosta was just a part-time radio personality. His day job was milking cows at a local dairy.
Two days in a row, he said, he was late to the radio station because cows died. Neither death was his fault, but his fellow radio announcers dubbed him “El Matavacas” or “The Cow Killer” anyway.
The name stuck and replaced Batman as Acosta’s radio persona.
Listen to El Mercadito
The show airs from noon to 1 p.m. on 106.3 FM.