Latin Radio Pioneer David Gleason Interview: “Miami AM Radio Covered Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica”

David Gleason (seated) in Record World Magazine

David Gleason is a Latin radio pioneer. His fifty-six years in radio broadcasting have included executive, management, and consulting positions for major radio stations in the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador and Puerto Rico. He has stood at the highest levels of companies like Univision. He is also the architect of one of the greatest standing radio history libraries on the whole internet. If you are looking for searchable information inside the most respected periodicals and trades for the past hundred years or so, you have to check out his American Radio History website. Here’s what Gleason had to say about Miami radio, the Tone Latino label, and bolero-rock.

HSM: Did people in Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas used to listen to Miami radio stations on shortwaves?
David Gleason: It really was not shortwave radio that exposed folks in the Caribbean to US pop and R&B music. It was plain old AM radio which propagated by skywave at night to cover much of the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica and even beyond. The Miami stations were particularly easy to hear, particularly in Cuba. WGBS 710, which had its pop / bright AC era, WQAM, WFUN (790 in the 60’s), WINZ-940 and a few others put pretty reliable signals over much of the area at night. And there were some high power US stations that played blues and r&b at night, like 50 kw 1510 WLAC in Nashville, that also penetrated the area.

HSM: Are you familiar with bolero-rock – artists like German Garcia’s and Xiomara Alfaro, and their work for the Tone Latino label? They recorded at Mac Emerman’s Criteria Recording Studios in City of North Miami), but sung in Spanish in the late 60s and early 70s.
David Gleason: I am familiar with the genre, but it never got widespread attention across Latin America. It was too afro-influenced for much of the area and in the 60’s there were simply not enough Top 40 stations in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean Basin for the music to get airplay

The first Top 40 in the Antilles was WKAQ in Puerto Rico, and it debuted in 1968 and played little Spanish language pop, being mostly hit salsa and US rhythmic and pop songs (Motown to Tony Orlando & Dawn). WUNO, which I managed starting in 1970, played more Spanish language pop, and less salsa but did not go into the bolero rock genre as, if I recall, we never heard any of it.

The first Top 40 in South America was Radio Musical, HCRM1, in Quito, Ecuador in December of 1964. I put that one on myself.

HSM: Ever heard of Tomas Fundora or have any recollections? (He was involved with the Tone Latino label with Henry Stone)
David Gleason: I knew “Thomas Fund” from his music publishing activities, and remember when he bought the dead Record World where he wrote the Latin column. He did not have the money to keep it going, and was trying to start it back up from his rambling tropical home in Hialeah. Quite a character.

HSM: What was radio promotion like for these stations?
David Gleason: I don’t know about the English speaking areas. Jamaica had only two radio voices, in AM networks. One was owned by the government, one by private interests. In the Bahamas, ZNS was the only station and it was government owned. There is a history of ZNS in Book form in the Station Books part of my site.

Cuba, by the early 60’s was all socialized with the government owning all the radio outlets. There were no longer any private record companies, and the state took over music in all its forms during that decade. No promoters.

In the rest of the area… Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, etc., there were record companies that promoted their songs with promoters. Most big stations had Program Directors who did standardized playlists, so they were the ones the labels sent promo copies to. There were still some independent DJ shows, and the promoters would talk to them as well, but by the end of the 60’s those shows were in decline as Top 40 took over pop music.

However, recorded music in what were Third World nations was not big business. In my years in Ecuador I never got visited by a single promoter, despite having, at one time, 12 stations including some top rated music ones. I did get some new releases by mail from other places (Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Chile) but had to work to get that music service.

HSM: What was the role or place of Miami in Latin market music history?
David Gleason: Miami did not really become an important center for Latin Music until perhaps the last few years of the 70’s. The US Latin music companies were based in NY (Fania, Caytronics (the CBS / Columbia licensee) or LA (Latin International, the EMI licensee) or even in Puerto Rico (Alhambra and other labels).

Miami became popular as a place to record when there were found to be good studios and Spanish speaking studio staff. Then, the big labels took their material away from the licensees and opened offices. CBS started, with offices in Coral Gables. Eventually, those offices managed the international repertoire for the Hemisphere. Many artists looking to break big went from their native countries to record in Miami. And the local scene bloomed when a local band… one that used to play for me for free at remotes when I managed Radio Hit for Metroplex in the early 80’s… Miami Sound Machine… made it big.

But Miami’s big focus was as the management center for Latin America for the biggest labels. Many artists got homes there, such as Julio Iglesias, and many management companies used it for HQ. It had better communications with Latin America than the agents’ and talents’ home countries and also had the best air connections.

HSM: How did you get involved with Metroplex’s Spanish language AM and programming for WSUA and WCMQ and WAMR?
David Gleason: I was looking for a mainland opportunity in 1980 after the company I was with was unable to follow through on a purchase of an AM/FM in Miami, an FM in NYC and an FM in Hartford. So I was contacted by a friend, Bill Tanner at Y-100, about managing Metroplex’ new Spanish language station in Miami. I moved there and stayed in Miami for several years before going back to PR to fix a network of FM stations. Besides Metroplex, I set up a radio format syndication business in Miami for Latin America, and consulted WSUA (which had been WHTT) and then WCMQ after Metroplex got out of the Spanish language format.

In 1995, I joined Cecil Heftel at his LA stations, KTNQ and KLVE. One of my first projects, also joined by Tanner, was to take 107.5 and make it into Amor. I am still involved with that one after 23 years!

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