WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) - It's 6:50 a.m. at the Channel 23 studio, where the show "Despertando Utah" - "Wake Up, Utah" - is set to go live at 7 a.m.
Even though the crew isn't in sight at this Redwood Road station, the show's two local anchors - Ely Martinez, 28, and Michelle Ortega, 23 don't seem worried as they read over final notes, retouch their blush and tame flyaway hairs.
For two years, the pair have been working as anchors, producers, reporters and editors of the local Spanish-language morning variety show, a production of cable channel 23, KBTU TV, owned by Bustos Media.
The daily morning show was launched as a half-hour program in 2006, then extended to an hour, before it was extended again to two hours in August. The show airs live daily, with edited "best of" segments repeated on weekends.
The station hopes to add news segments to the current program, which includes regular segments on beauty, health, local human-interest stories and interviews, as well as traffic and weather updates.
At first, the hosts had some on-air trouble reporting weather and traffic updates, but they learned the ropes by studying other local broadcasts. "It didn't go so well those first times," Martinez said.
The anchors' can-do attitude is a metaphor for the show, which the station hopes will develop a large audience among the state's burgeoning Latino population.
Right now, the fledgling independent station's ratings are difficult to measure. Operations manager Nelson Moran boasts that the station must be No. 1 locally, a claim that's hard to dispute, as its audience is still considered too small to track.
"We have the capacity, the elements, the talent and the equipment to do things right for the Spanish-speaking community," Moran said. "We are a small station, and we know that."
The "Despertando" hosts say they know people are watching because of the number of viewers who call with suggestions and questions. Recently, the show launched a texting campaign for ticket giveaways or coupons - an inexpensive way to learn more about viewers.
Utah's only Spanish-language, locally produced morning show was launched in 2006 by the Sacramento-based regional media company. The station doesn't want to air shows featuring scantily clad women, typical fare for Spanish TV stations, said Edward Distel, Bustos' senior vice president. Instead, the Salt Lake City-produced shows are intended to appeal to family audiences.
At 6:53 a.m., Martinez and Ortega thread microphone wires through their buttoned-down blouses. Ortega, who in her black high heels towers over the petite Martinez, sets up the teleprompter for her weather report. "We prepare everything the day before," Ortega said. "But there are always surprises."
She joins Martinez in the cramped bathroom for a few more squirts of hairspray. "I almost wore that color today, too," Martinez said, pointing at Ortega's cobalt-blue blouse.
The TV hosts take their seats at a high-top table in front of the set, which consists of framed-flower pictures and an enlarged photo of Salt Lake City's downtown skyline, shot by Martinez.
At 6:55 a.m., director Izidio Contreras arrives and begins to arrange cameras and move chairs, desk and props used the day before while shooting the station's local sports and music shows. Without a word, he disappears into the control room, and seconds later, the studio lights come on.
Then sound technician Anhani Juarez hurries into the studio, while Martinez and Ortega periodically check a digital clock on the wall as they wait for their sound check.
Sitting in front of a camera wasn't what either host had imagined for her future; each considered television work more of a hobby than a career.
Martinez, a former beauty queen and architecture student in her native Guatemala, occasionally taped fashion reports for a local station. At 22, after visiting Utah, she decided to continue her schooling here. Five years later, after meeting the man who would become her husband, that short visit turned into a permanent stay.
Ortega's TV career unfolded a little earlier. At 16, she hosted a local TV show about movies in her native Honduras. She was 18, studying psychology in college, when her family decided to relocate to Utah. "We both had other plans in our countries," said Ortega, who graduated in journalism from Brigham Young University. "But once we got here, there were other opportunities presented. When you come here, it's like a new life, so I told myself I'm going to do what I really want to do."
Contreras yells from the control room: "Thirty seconds."
"We really want to be that bridge of information" for the state's Spanish speakers, Martinez said. "There are so many people who want to share information and they don't have a medium to do it."
On cue, the TV hosts sit up straight in their seats, as they listen to the final countdown to air time through their ear pieces. "Bienvenidos a 'Despertando' . . ." Martinez says, and they're live.