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Daily Press

DJ Uses Radio Gig To Connect Hispanics

By WIL LAVEIST, Daily Press

October 1, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Daily Press. All rights reserved. 

Tuning into Carlos Casanova-Munoz's radio show for the first time, I could almost taste the Latin flavor at El Padrinos restaurant.

Munoz had recommended I interview him over lunch at the Puerto Rican eatery in Norfolk. Come sample the Hispanic community, he said. He didn't know he was making yet another Latino connection.

"Ah, you know something about this," he said, as we looked over the menu.

My mother is Dominican, so yeah, I know about platanos, pasteles, and codfish cakes. Just don't ask me to speak Spanish.

"Ah, very interesting," Munoz said with a smile. "This is why I do the radio show, to connect the community."

The area's pioneering Latin disc jockey shares that flavor across the airwaves from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays as host of "La Fiesta After Dark." The music and information show on Norfolk State University's WNSB-FM is one of the few lifelines that connect the small, but vibrant, Latino community here. Munoz spins cuts by the hottest big name and independent Latin music artists, and mixes in announcements and interviews about events, and cool Latin hot spots. If you're not tapped into the grapevine, just tune in. Munoz can hook you up in English or Spanish. He is bilingual on-air.

"We needed something to get connected," said Munoz, who is Puerto Rican. "We're spread out. There's no barrios, no Spanish neighborhoods like in New York or Miami."

Munoz turns listeners on to popular nightspots, such as "salsa night" each Sunday at Knickerbockers in Norfolk, or Amadeus Cafe in Newport News. He's in the mix too, hosting a Friday night jam at MOJO's in Jillian's at Waterside in Norfolk.

But the show is also about information. He shares news from newspapers like El Eco and the Tidewater Hispanic and announces cultural events like the Hispanic Heritage Month exhibit currently at the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Hispanics make up about 5 percent of Virginia's population. They hail from a number of different Spanish-speaking nations, including Puerto Rico, Mexico or Panama -- and the Dominican Republic. The term Latino tends to refer to those from the Caribbean. In Virginia, Mexicans are the largest sub-group, followed by Puerto Ricans, who are also U.S. citizens. Most Hispanics in Hampton Roads live in Norfolk.

"Latinos, we come in all shapes sizes and colors," Munoz said. "You can meet a Latino with blond hair and blue eyes. Hey, look at you. The average person would say you're black but your mother is Dominican. When I got here, a lot of people thought I was a light-skin black, a red bone. I was like the movie character Superfly with my Afro and dashiki."

Munoz's head shines now and he prefers Negro League throwback jerseys, but that community pride remains.

Like many in the area, the 50-year-old Munoz settled here after a stint in the military. He still works for the Navy. The radio gig is all passion and no pay.

While studying communications at Norfolk State, Munoz and a friend, Francisco Flores, in 1982 pioneered the first Latin radio program in Hampton Roads. The idea was born when a school research project on the region's ethnic groups revealed that Hispanics were being overlooked here, he said.

"We weren't even counted," said Munoz, adding that Hispanics were lumped in with Filipinos. "A bulb came on for me. I know my community and we really didn't have anything like a radio program, that we could identify with."

A number of stations turned Munoz down, but Hampton University's WHOV-FM caught the vision. The show took off and grew even among non-Hispanics, he said.

"We started by giving a little history of the cultures, profiling countries and playing their music," Munoz said. "People eventually got tired of traveling all around the world, so we strictly went with music."

After about 10 years, he turned the show over to others "to give it some freshness" and to spend more time with his wife and five children. Eventually, he missed it and go back on-air, joining WNSB-FM in 1998.

Along the way Munoz also started, stopped and re-started a Latin summer festival at Ocean View Beach Park. In August the festival drew about 6,000 people, he said.

"My radio program is the best kept secret in Hampton Roads," Munoz said. "I get joy out of introducing people to what's happening."

You just connected another Latino listener.

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