By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The show was an instant hit with young Latino students, and because of the bilingual commentary, many non-Latino students tuned in, too. Households within a 15-mile radius of campus were also able to pick up the tiny 5,000-watt signal.
Alma's rise proved fortuitous for Eddie Lopez, who'd been inspired to start a radio program with a similar format at Pepper-dine before he transferred to Loyola in 1976. Alma was then being offered more on-air hours, so more staff was needed. Lopez, now also an editor at Channel 52, joined Alma as a DJ-announcer in 1976. After Resendez left in 1985, a rotating pool of music directors took over, until Lopez was elected by the committee in 1991 to the position he holds today.
IT HADN'T TAKEN MUCH LONGER THAN A year for Alma to expand to four hours, after the school became unhappy with the reliability of the previous Sunday programmers. The trouble was, nobody wanted to hang around campus on weekends, so students working at the station frequently flaked on their duties. But to the fiercely committed Latino students, engineering the classical-music programs was just doing whatever it took for Alma to stay on the air.
Impressed by this eagerness, school officials offered more time to the ambitious Alma crew. By this time, Villa, Soto, Resendez and Lopez were firmly at the helm. They experimented with bilingual news, and Eddie initiated The Brazilian Hour, which was subsequently syndicated to NPR. Little by little, the Alma collective was offered even more airtime, until finally they'd bagged the entire weekend, Saturdays and Sundays. All day. Open programming. Commercial-free. Live. It was a DJ's dream come true.
With the increased need for more volunteers to cover two 12-hour days, Alma evolved into a training camp for students who wanted to break into broadcasting. More than 100 volunteer DJs have been involved since the program's beginning. Alumni include Argelia Atilano, now a reporter at Channel 52, and Bernardo Osuna, sports anchor for KMEX Channel 34.
In the wake of Alma's success, and way before the dawn of College Music Journal, a slew of other college radio shows with similar bilingual-commentary and all-Latin-music formats sprang up, most notably at Cal State Northridge, Cal State Long Beach, UCLA, USC and Santa Monica College's KCRW.
"WHEN I FIRST JOINED, WE WERE URGED not to use the term salsa, which was just coming into use in New York and Miami," says Lopez. "Some fans openly disliked it, so we decided to continue calling the music 'Latin jazz,' since hardly anybody out here even knew what salsa was anyway. Since then, of course, Latin jazz has become a subgenre in its own right, and salsa is now . . . salsa."
Salsabecame the required term for new Latin music in the mid-'70s, which was a period when a "third wave" of touring Latin dance orchestras hit L.A. The first era had come when mamboists Perez Prado, Desi Arnaz, Xavier Cugat and Rene Touzet (the cha-cha king) played here in the '50s alongside hip mambo-jazz coolsters like Cal Tjader. A second wave in the early '60s brought Machito, Beny More, Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente, among many other greats.
Alma organized ticket giveaways for a series of amazing salsa shows at the Palladium in the mid- to late '70s. Puerto Rican bands such as El Gran Combo, Fania All-Stars and Dominican merengue stars like Wilfrido Vargas made this third African-Latin-Caribbean wave an unforgettably fun time. Shows also featured New York/Miami stars such as Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Willie Colon, Oscar deLeon, Eddie Palmieri and Panama's Ruben Blades.
While continuing to work at Alma, Eddie Lopez also became co-host, with original founder Jorge Madrid, of KCRW's Latin Dimensions. When Madrid left the show in 1979, Lopez asked station manager Ruth Seymour if he could continue, and she assented.
The strain of working both shows became too much for Lopez, however, and within a year he brought in two non-students, Alan Geik and Bill Strauss, to help out. Strauss suggested Nina Lenart, who came aboard a couple of months later. Geik and Lenart also joined Alma in 1981, and the two continued to work both shows until Dimensions was finally yanked off the air for the last time in 1987, after several confusing cancellation-reinstatement-cancellation episodes with Seymour.
WHILE NO RADIO STATION IN MIAMI IN THE '80s dared to play Cuban music for fear of violent reprisals and bomb threats from the island's exiled bourgeoisie, who were convinced that punishing artists from their homeland was an effective way of getting back at Castro, Alma continued broadcasting vintage and new Cuban releases throughout the '80s and '90s. Lenart, who had begun playing newer Cuban music on Latin Dimen-sions in 1980, became friends with Emilio Vandenedes, a young Cuban-immigrant music fanatic who joined the Alma team in 1983. With the support and involvement of everybody on the committee, Lenart and Vandenedes were largely responsible for the Cuban influence that became a new chapter in Alma's saga.
Vandenedes, who died at age 41 from leukemia last year, was a deeply respected DJ and in-house encyclopedia of Cuban music during a six-year tenure at KXLU, when he gave now-renowned bands such as Los Van Van and Elio Reve their first radio exposure in L.A. In his second role, as underground record distributor, Vandenedes has come to be canonized as a pioneer in the dissemination of Cuban music in the USA. Once, he even scooped a copy of the latest Los Van Van album before it was out on the island itself.