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Two AM stations make switch to Latino music

Goodbye Air America, hello "Rumba." Tomorrow at noon, Clear Channel stations WKOX-AM (1200) and WXKS-AM (1430) will switch from "Boston's Progressive Talk" to "La Nueva Rumba," both simulcasting a "tropical" format of primarily Spanish-language announcers and music, ranging from salsa, merengue, and bachata to the contemporary sound of reggaeton. Spearheading the new format, which carries the tagline "Orgullo Latino" ("Latino Pride"), is Rafael "Raffy" Contigo, a 26-year veteran of both English- and Spanish-language radio who has already flipped Clear Channel-owned stations in other markets.

"I really believe in what the Clear Channel Hispanic division is doing," said Contigo by phone from his new Medford headquarters. (He prefers the word Latino for "what we call ourselves" but explained that "Hispanic" remains the industry term.)

"Clear Channel has really recognized the power of the Latino consumer," said Contigo, who will also host the stations' weekday morning drive, 6-10 a.m. "This isn't a mom and pop operation. This is the biggest radio broadcasting company in the world, and they have pretty much given us the keys to the radio stations."

The company, he says, has bigger plans, including boosting tiny WKOX's power to 50,000 watts by August. (The station currently operates at around 10,000 watts during the day.) After the upgrade, the radio giant will separate the two stations, giving WXKS-AM its own, as yet undetermined format. Particularly if the upgrade goes as planned, said Contigo, these two stations should fare better than the similar-sounding "Mega" stations, WAMG-AM (890) and WLLH-AM (1400) which gave up on the "tropical" format and were sold.

A veteran of many formats, including Top 40, Contigo worked from 1995 through 2004 with the Miami-based Spanish Broadcasting System. Recruited by Clear Channel's Hispanic division in 2004, he has since programmed and served as a DJ in Miami, Denver, and Albuquerque . Until now, these positions have largely been at stations playing a format known as "Hurban," or Hispanic urban music, a mix of reggaeton and hip-hop aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds. "Tropical," with its older music, is geared more toward a 25-and-above crowd.

"As far as favorite formats go, mine is the Spanish tropical format," Contigo said. "It's my favorite music of choice, and, being of Puerto Rican descent, it's the music I grew up with."

With new stations to run, he's actively seeking those of similar taste. Bucking a Clear Channel trend, he says, the "Rumba" stations will have live DJs, ideally hired from the Greater Boston community.

"We are going to fully staff our radio station with local talent," Contigo said. That includes an afternoon personality, a production director, and a roster of part-timers for the other shifts. Weekend programming will probably include specialty shows, such as a salsa oldies program that Contigo himself will host. The only syndicated program he would like to bring to the station, he said, is "Daddy Yankee on Fuego," a popular reggaeton show that will likely air on Saturday nights. In the works, he added, is an hourlong public affairs program.

"Hispanic radio's bloodline is its contact with the community," he said. "We want to be tied in with the community."

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