It seems that every time I tune to a commercial Latin radio station in New York, they’re playing either merengue or reggaeton. And though I have nothing against these genres, I would prefer a little variety (thank you very much!). Enter WEXT 97.7, an Albany-based public radio station that is mixing up its playlist with “The Latin Alternative” program. The show, which launched this past Saturday, focuses on Latin rock, electronic, funk and hip-hop acts like Manu Chau, Café Tacuba, Aterciopelados and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
At the helm are hosts Josh Norek, who co-founded the Latin Alternative Music Conference, and Ernesto Lechner, author of Rock en Español: The Latin Alternative Rock Explosion. Together, they spotlight some of our favorite artists and introduce us to U.S.-based bands we’ll (hopefully) grow to love. I spoke to Norek about the program and here’s what he had to say:
Public radio has played the leading role in exposing audiences to Latin Alternative music in the U.S. Unlike commercial radio (which is dependent on advertising and demographics/ratings), public radio is not beholden to any one constituency—its mandate is to serve the public. So we saw a unique opportunity to do a dedicated Latin Alternative program for the NPR crowd.
Who are your listeners?
The audience for the show primarily consists of two groups of listeners: ‘Anglos’ with little prior exposure to Latin Alternative music, or Latinos who are English-dominant and consuming English-language media. While there is a lot of amazing music out there, we knew we had to come out swinging and win folks over quickly. So we’ll be playing many of the most important artists and songs on the show. Once we have the listeners hooked, we can dig deeper and expose them to some of the more underground music coming out Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Cuba, etc.
I was off seeing fireworks on Saturday—how was the first show?
It went great. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the audience (not to mention other radio stations). We now have 10 programs finished and recorded, and are aiming to have 26 one-hour episodes by the end of the year. I was pleasantly surprised to see that in literally one week, before the show even aired, we had 250 “fans” on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Latin-Alternative/97270379694?ref=ts). So I suppose there is a large, untapped audience for the show and we look forward to bringing it to many additional cities in the coming year.
I read that the program is focusing on "crossover-friendly" artists. What about artists that may not meet that criteria?
By “crossover friendly”, we mean artists whose music will resonate with an audience that is new to Latin Alternative music. Truthfully, the average Anglo listener doesn’t even know who multiplatinum bands like Fabulosos Cadillacs or Café Tacuba are. By crossover-friendly, we’re generally referring to a type of Latin fusion that will be new and revolutionary to listeners. Generally speaking, we’re not going to play a punk band that just happens to sing in Spanish. We’re trying to turn folks on to what’s uniquely special about the genre, whether it being cumbia-rock, electro-tango, norteno-hiphop, etc.
Aside from “Spotlight Artist” and “Homegrown”—any other segments we can expect?
We’re also doing a “Digging in the Crates” segment focusing on older music that pre-dates Latin-Alternative music, but that was an influence on artists. For example, Ray Barretto’s Fania-era music was an influence on Los Amigos Invisibles and you’ll be hearing him on the show.
Who are you most excited to have on the show?
You’ll have to tune in to find out . . . we have plenty of surprises up our sleeves!
Listen to “Latin Alternative” live on Saturdays at 8 p.m. EST at www.exit977.org.