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Behind the Mic: Juan Montenegro

Written by on Friday, November 3, 2023

“Let’s get started! 20th Century salsa, Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban music,” Juan Montenegro says as salsa legend Eddie Palmieri plays in the background.

Montenegro’s Friday morning show, “Latin Explosion,” is an auditory trip through the Americas featuring music interconnected with the stories of its makers.

“I focus on specific musicians, time periods and styles every week. Every show is different,” he says.

Montenegro is very knowledgeable about the music that he shares and its cultural significance. He has rows upon rows of CDs located on a bookshelf in his home—inspiration for his show.

“This is where ‘Latin Explosion’ happens,” he says.

Every week, Montenegro sits down at his desk to plan. He uses a notebook that is dated and depicts the theme for every show. And he keeps a record of almost every musician he has ever featured on “Latin Explosion” as well as detailed notes about them.

“Latin Explosion” first aired on a nighttime radio station in Chicago. Montenegro took over the station, previously named Buenos Dias Chicago, and began to explore different genres of music.

He received calls from interested listeners who brought his attention to Latin jazz and salsa and he soon fell in love with it himself.

“Seeing and meeting (Cuban percussionist) Mongo Santamaria live at Chicago’s London House in 1970 got me into it. I started the first ‘Latin Explosion’ show on WEDC Chicago shortly thereafter.”

During this time, the salsa genre was booming in New York City; it eventually made its way to other large cities, including Chicago.

“Timing is everything—I didn’t realize it at the time,” Montenegro says. His success with the station was due to the growing popularity of the genre in the 1970s and ‘80s, allowing him to make a name for himself.

But as the music scene evolved and developed, Montenegro eventually paused “Latin Explosion” in 1982.

He continued to stay involved in the scene by maintaining Spanish language radio stations and introducing various Latin music bands on Chicago stages when they came to town. He’s met with Latin reporters for magazines, making him a well known figure in the field.

Montenegro moved to Sarasota, with his wife, Claire Montenegro, after receiving a position at Solmart Media.

He was walking around the Rosemary neighborhood when he stumbled upon WSLR, which is located at 525 Kumquat Court. He poked his head in and eventually set up a time slot as a programmer. In June of 2018, “Latin Explosion” was revived.

Fans of the show are passionate about it.

“‘Latin Explosion’ is a great way to start a Friday morning,” says David Young, a former broadcaster and substitute WSLR programmer. Young used to spend Saturday mornings with Montenegro while hosting the WSLR+Fogartyville booth at the Sarasota Farmers Market.

“Latin Explosion” is a member of the Pacifica Network, allowing the show to be aired in other parts of the U.S. – currently 21 different stations.

Claire Montenegro

 

“I help with research, editing of interviews and editing and uploading the shows for Pacifica stations,” Claire Montenegro says.

“And I couldn’t do it without her,” Juan Montenegro emphasizes.

Latin Explosion airs on WSLR LP 96.5 FM every Friday from 7-9 a.m.

Get a preview of the week’s Latin Explosion episode as well as photos of album covers, concerts and interviews by following the program on Facebook.

Reported and written by WSLR intern Aria Lockman.