A local Puerto Rican radio station received an unexpected letter this week from the Biden administration, congratulating it for its on-air contributions on its centennial anniversary.
“I offer my congratulations to WKAQ 580 as you celebrate your 100th anniversary,” the president’s letter began.
WKAQ 580 is Puerto Rico’s leading radio station that provides an expansive range of coverage, from hard-hitting breaking news to emergency and natural disasters, while maintaining a firm grip on cogent cultural issues.
“For 100 years, WKAQ 580 has served as a trusted source of news and entertainment for listeners across Puerto Rico,” the letter read.
The station, currently belonging to Univisión and poised for acquisition by Hemisphere Media Group, airs 24-hour programming through all of Puerto Rico’s coastal, mountainous, and metropolitan regions.
On the island, celebrations commemorating WKAQ’s historic anniversary began in May, the month of radio, ahead of marking its centennial birthday in December.
“Remembering its history, or at least making people remember is the best contribution we can give,” Joel Lago, the station’s general manager, told El Nuevo Día, hoping to revive the station’s memory.
“The centenary is a good opportunity to do it, and for people not to forget how WKAQ started, and where we’re headed,” he continued.
On Dec. 3, 1922, Joaquín Agusty delivered the very first radio wave from a space in San Juan, the island’s capital, after finagling with coils and cables from his apartment, a frequent and fervent pastime of his.
“This is WKAQ, in San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico, where the best coffee is produced,” was Agusty’s opener and the first words uttered into the island’s broadcasting history, and they continue today.
With Agusty’s introduction into a transmitter, San Juan became the birthplace of massive communications operations, one of three at the time — including the U.S. and Cuba — before radio underwent a continental expansion into Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
WKAQ primarily aired entertainment in the form of theater and music, thereby inducting a slate of permanent cultural powerhouses like José Luis Torregrosa, who shaped the first scriptwriting format for Puerto Rican radio, and who authored the first textbook that captured its history.
“From keeping Puerto Ricans informed with day-to-day news and providing emergency updates during natural disasters to celebrating exciting developments in sports and music, your station has helped keep listeners engaged with their community,” the White House’s letter underlined.
Listeners in the 30s, 40s and 50s enjoyed long-form programming that included original dramatic works, in addition to classics like Tarzan, where the heroic adventurer’s howl reverberated in Puerto Rican homes.
Over time, though, as media consumption changed in Puerto Rico in the 70s, so did transmission at WKAQ.
The station altered the way Puerto Ricans consumed political news by introducing political analysis segments into its news programming, a format that has endured the test of time and is still true to this day.
WKAQ, beyond serving its communications duty, is an encyclopedia. It has, for decades, recorded pivotal moments in history for its audience — including JFK’s assassination — becoming the framework for breaking news broadcasting on the island.
But WKAQ also had a permeating effect on the industry’s talent. It forged a class of locutores (radio show hosts) who cultivated intimate albeit far-reaching relationships with families who tuned into their shows and whose names defined a generation of listeners.
WKAQ also shaped news reporting and generated a talent pipeline of Puerto Rican journalists who, to this day, helm nationwide breaking news coverage on the island.
One such name is Luis Francisco Ojeda, a Puerto Rican newscaster and the first radio news reporter who routinely brought political figures to task, on some occasions resulting in shouting matches on his late show, Ojeda Sin Limite (Ojeda Without Limit).
“On this centennial anniversary, I hope you are proud of the enduring impact WKAQ 580 has had in the Puerto Rican community and on the lives of all your listeners,” the letter, signed by President Joe Biden, concludes.