American Finds Fame on Dominican Radio

Wednesday, July 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — A few years ago Amy Dinges had never even heard of the Dominican Republic. Now she's one of the country's most recognized figures.

The 23-year-old Detroit native came to the Caribbean country a year ago on a lark and stumbled into stardom as a sidekick character on the Caribbean country's most popular afternoon radio program. She became instantly recognizable by her distinctive voice and American accent.

``Since the first time I went on the program, people have been like, 'I heard you on the radio!''' she said. ``People treat me like a princess.''

Dinges is the foil for Jochy Santos on Rumbo Radio's ``Botando El Golpe'' — which roughly translates as ``Letting off steam'' — which rules the airwaves from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Dominican meringue, 1970s Motown, and a host that is part Jerry Seinfeld and part Howard Stern. Dinges' job is to provide the curious American's perspective, and much of the humor derives from her charmingly rendered innocence about Dominican ways and lingo.

On one recent show, Dinges called a woman who reads fortunes from coffee grinds. People on the show chatted about ways to predict the future, including the popular Dominican way of reading someone's urine. Jokes flew back and forth and by the end of the day, half the country seemed caught up in speculation about how to predict political leaders' fortunes this way.

On another show, Santos was astonished to discover Dinges had never sampled a beloved local cocktail mixing Clamato — a tomato juice-based punch — and the powerful local beer.

``What? With beer?'' Dinges exclaimed. ``We don't usually mix anything with beer.'' Santos wasted no time. ``The American must try Clamato! Would the grocery please send up a can?''

Within minutes the Clamato was dispatched from across the street. As national honor hung in the balance, Dinges sipped. ``It's good,'' she conceded. ``But I'm not sure I'd like it in beer.'' Her popularity survived the delicate episode undiminished.

Dinges graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where she majored in literature and worked at the college radio station as a disc jockey.

She moved to Santo Domingo thinking it would be a good way to learn Spanish — a little adventure in a developing country before settling down to a real job.

She started teaching English and met Santos through one of her students.

The radio star was immediately struck by Dinges' perspective on Dominican culture — which is Latin but at the same time very connected to the United States, with whom it shares a love of baseball and to whom it has sent as many as a million immigrants.

``She has a way of seeing things that's interesting, and she's very good on the air,'' said Santos, who has also hosted his protege on his Saturday afternoon television variety show. ``Amy is already a personality here. ... She could go far with this.''

Dinges isn't in a hurry to go back to the United States.

``I feel like I could be a DJ here. But if I'm going to do something, it's got to involve me thinking, not just ... Amy being cute.''

She said she's looking for a local cause to promote — possibly literacy.

Dinges has run the show herself when Santos was late, taking calls from Dominican men who wanted to meet her. She even has a following among Dominicans in the United States, who listen to her show on the Internet — where she is pictured and identified simply as ``La Americana'' — and send her e-mails.

``The fame thing, I just think of it as kind of cool. It's given me a great way to learn about Dominican culture ... People here have really made me feel welcome, everywhere I go.''

After doing the show twice a week for about six months, her Spanish is now almost fluent, laced with local phrases only a Dominican would understand. Petite, with fair skin and reddish hair, she stands out in a country where African ancestry is dominant.

People approach her at fast food restaurants, in malls, on the beach.

One taxi driver recognized her by a sentence fragment before she even entered his cab.

``You're Amy, aren't you?'' he exclaimed, pushing open the door. ``I always listen to you!''

The cab ride was free.


On the Web: The show's site: