The Next Wave

A dedicated group of Latin Americans breaks the sound barrier with rock en espanol

"The definition of rock is pretty open," Ortiz admits. "We have to ease into this. People can be threatened by the term 'Latin rock.' They think it's going to be really harsh. So we have to mix it in with other sounds to get them used to it."

Ortiz immigrated to Miami four years ago from Peru, where he had worked in radio. Shortly after his arrival here, he took the job of assistant program director at what was then called Exitosa, where he plugged in salsa and merengue all day. In those days, about the only chance he had to play Latin rock was when he put on a tape in his car during his lunch hour. Then last December, Heftel, which also controls Radio Ritmo (98.3 FM) and Radio Mambi (WAQI-AM 710), bought the ailing tropical station and turned it into Super Q, with the idea of targeting a younger Latin audience. At that point, program director Leo Vela gave Ortiz a shot at running a new Latin rock show, Super Q Internacional.

"The important thing is that we're giving an hour a day to this type of music," Ortiz contends. But perhaps even more important, he stresses, is that singles by Marta Sanchez and Los Fabuloso Cadillacs now are in the station's regular rotation. "This is not just a program," he insists. "It's a concept for a radio station."

Down the hall from the programming office, Vela is on the phone in the Super Q studio. Speaking Spanish with an American accent, his voice booms over an afternoon mix of salsa and disco music. Vela, a well-known local radio personality and Miami native whose heritage is Cuban and Puerto Rican, came aboard as Super Q's program director last November. He made the switch from dance-oriented Power 96 to create what he envisions as a Top 40 variety station for bilingual Latin listeners.

"In the last fourteen years of radio in South Florida, we have only provided to the Hispanic audience -- regardless of who they are -- either salsa, merengue, or ballads," notes Vela, a hefty 40-year-old with a wild grin. "Those are the only musical formats that have existed, and everybody's doing the same thing. These people offered me the opportunity to bring to Hispanic radio the same professionalism, the same standards that were before only known in mainstream Top 40 radio.

"This station represents a lifestyle," he continues. "I'm literally programming to myself and to all the other bilingual people in South Florida, whatever their origin. There are more people here who speak both languages than either just Spanish or English, and yet no one has ever broadcast to them." But Super Q still relies heavily on tropical dance music and -- even worse for committed rockers -- monotonous techno versions of generic disco tracks. Young Latin Americans may think salsa and disco suck, but Vela remains confident that his formula will lure them in as listeners. And the latest ratings show that someone is listening -- the station's spring numbers indicated a one-point increase (a significant rise) over the previous quarter.

"On Super Q you can hear from Celia Cruz to Mana to El Gran Combo to Calo A sort of an Ace of Base in Spanish A to Rey Ruiz to the Barrio Boys," Vela emphasizes. "That's the kind of variety our young people want. Before, to find their sound, they always had to go to Anglo radio -- they don't want to listen to Hispanic radio. But they'll tolerate Willy Chirino if they know they're going to hear Sound Factory next."

On a Sunday in early July, late-model cars fill the parking lot of La Covacha, extending far off into the darkness as they line the grassy shoulder of NW 25th Street. La Covacha, a Cuban-style roadhouse that usually plays salsa music while it serves up barbecue, becomes La Carcel ("The Jail") each Sunday, presenting a weekly Latin rock party.

While a postmodern Santeria ritual is carried out on several monitors in a video by the Spanish band Radio Futura, La Covacha owner Aurelio Rodriguez makes his way through the clean-cut crowd of twentysomethings, who drink Polar beers and dance between the tables.

"I call this a Latin disco inferno," jokes Rodriguez, a beefy former model who once appeared in a Cuban-American pin-up calendar. The restaurant owner is a newcomer to Latin rock and club music, but an enthusiastic one. "I don't even play American house music any more," he says. "I just play Argentine house."

Eduardo G centsmez, one of the organizers of La Carcel (with other supporters of his Latin rock fan club, Revoluci centsn Musical en espa*ol), stands in the back corner of La Covacha, where DJ Alfredo Vegnia, by day a producer at Univisi centsn, is playing Latin rock classics. "I love this, it's like a family," bubbles G centsmez, who before arriving in Miami five months ago lived in Los Angeles for eight years. Once here he was surprised to find there was little support for Latin rock in South Florida. "I was like, 'God what's going on here?'"

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