Family breathes new life into historic space

Christina Morales Berger

From : http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/article/Family-breathes-new-lif...

A new event space in the traditionally Hispanic East End pays tribute to the city's first Spanish-language radio station, which broadcast from the building for more than two decades.

The recently renovated and rechristened Morales Radio Hall, site of KLVL-AM from 1972 until the station's sale in 1994, is available for "broadcasting life's events," as one marketing consultant put it, from graduation parties and business functions to funeral receptions.

Both the station and the Morales Funeral Home were owned and operated by Christina Morales-Berger's grandparents. In addition to broadcasting Tejano music, then a rarity on local radio, they also hosted a popular program, "Yo Necesito Trabajo," or "I Need Work," where recent immigrants could call in looking for jobs. The station began broadcasting in 1950, and the impact of the work program spanned generations.

"To this day, people come into the funeral home and say, 'I found my first job coming here to Houston through "Yo Necessito Trabajo," ' " Morales-Berger said.

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Houston's East End has experienced rapid changes since the sale of KLVL. Townhome construction and the rebranding of a portion of the neighborhood known as EaDo have brought an influx of artists and young professionals looking to live close to downtown.

Morales-Berger said she welcomes the change, but she hopes to preserve some of the neighborhood's Hispanic culture. The intimate space, which is adjacent to the funeral home, features photographs of the Morales family and Latino performers who visited KLVL throughout the years.

"The timing was right for this venture," she said. " ... We made use of the space that was already here and honored the history of it."

The renovation marks an important milestone for Morales-Berger: She has completed the business growth plan she created while attending the Goldman Sachs-sponsored 10,000 Small Businesses program. The course provides small-business owners free access to personal business advisers and classes on business development.

She does not expect the event space to be profitable for two years, but she sees it as the type of creative investment the Goldman Sachs program encouraged her to pursue. The funeral home has gross revenue of $2 million a year and employs five full-time and five part-time employees.

"I realized that marketing and thinking outside of the box were important things to help my business grow," Morales said.

Morales' business adviser, Sarma Taylor, showed her funeral industry financial information so that she could better align with industry standards and more accurately forecast growth. Taylor said independent funeral businesses, feeling the pressure from acquisition-hungry national corporations, must now compete on a higher level.

"Even though you may think you're going to achieve a certain profitability, it's good to know what the environment is out there," Taylor said. "That's not just in your industry, but also in the demographics of your location."

At an open house on Saturday, old and new East End residents came to the renovated space for a 1950s-themed event that featured an appearance by former KLVL DJ Gus Garza and a raffle benefiting KPFT-90.1 FM, the local Pacifica Radio station.

Morales-Berger said she booked two new clients for private functions during the open house.

She also noted one of the benefits of running an event space attached to a funeral home: Funeral receptions are held during the day, leaving the radio hall open for nighttime festivities, "something a little more fun and new where we can have an event that's joyful."

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