Radio legend Enrique Santos’ career has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, twists and sudden sharp turns galore. In the last 20 years, the Cuban-American faced stomach-churning drops and powered through multiple loops to make strides for Latino communities across the U.S. as a passionate radio voice. His syndicated “Enrique Santos Show” broadcasted every morning from Univision Radio in Miami for the past nine years. Once his contract expired, Santos hopped off one steep slope and copped the fast pass to a more extreme, yet enjoyable ride upon accepting the job offer of a lifetime.
“I’ve been working all throughout my career for this moment,” Santos told us at iHeartRadio’s home base in Miramar. “My show has been in syndication in the past, but not at the level that it needed to be. I’m excited for myself obviously, but I’m much more excited about what we’re going to do for Latinos.”
As chairman and chief creative officer of the newly-created iHeartLatino, Santos, 41, will determine iHeartmedia’s Latin direction and strategy. His business partners in Magnus Management Michel Vega, Marc Anthony and his lawyer Alexander Brown crafted a plan that would give the top media company in the country a refreshing, Latino vertical, something iHeart CEO Bob Pittman couldn’t see a future without.
At press time, it’s only been a few weeks since Santos first stepped foot in his new studio at TÚ 94.9, yet Santos owned his surroundings as if he’d been there for years. Right before our interview, the iHeartLatino pioneer had just wrapped up his morning show, during which he spoke to Senator Tim Kaine about the presidential election and expressed his fears of a potential Donald Trump presidency.
“I like being able to express myself and tell people where I stand and why I stand for it,” Santos explained. “It’s also about the importance of telling people ‘get out to vote, register to vote.’”
Weeks later, Santos would be a special guest at Jennifer Lopez’s free show in support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton along with Marc Anthony. After we spoke about his thoughts on the election, Santos shifted gears and reflected on the tragic death of the Miami Marlins’ star pitcher José Fernández. We also discussed his new mission statement for his newly-syndicated shows in both Spanish and English, as well as his predictions for Fiesta Latina, which is set to go down Saturday (Nov. 5) at the American Airlines Arena in Miami.
VIBE Viva: It’s only been a couple of weeks, but what differences have you noticed between Univision and iHeart?
Enrique Santos: I had a great time at Univision. There’s a lot of great people there. They offered me many opportunities and I grew a lot within Univision. But iHeart is an entirely different animal. It’s the largest media company in the United States. Our reach is massive with our events. Our relationships with the artists are at a whole different level. Internally there are a lot of talented people here, such passionate people. iHeart is really about nurturing talent and bringing creative masterminds together. I don’t really like comparisons but people and human beings, we all need reference points to be able to compare things (laughs). So for people to have compared me, throughout the majority of my career with Ryan Seacrest, or “the Latin Ryan Seacrest,” and now to work alongside Ryan, to talk business with Ryan and come up with different things as well as Elvis Duran and the Breakfast Club in New York. Again, these are very passionate people that get it who aren’t on the radio just to be on the radio for a paycheck. We love this, we eat this, and truly live for radio and media in all of its essence. So it’s all very exciting and I’m blessed to be in this position.
What would you say is the mission statement for your new show?
I don’t like to sound cliché but when we talk about empowering latinos, I would say that’s one of the things I truly want to own. I feel like sometimes we don’t have a voice or someone who will stick up for us that’s truly a leader. I like to think that I lead by example but obviously being behind a microphone, which is such a powerful medium. The amount of consumption by Latinos and African-Americans in the United States specifically with just radio is amazing, and they listen more than any other demographic. To partner up with the most powerful media company in the United States, to build this awesome new Latino vertical, and to analyze our radio stations that maybe need to care more for Latinos and be able to have a say and dream it up, construct it and then to hear and watch it flourish, I’m looking forward to more of that.
You’re pretty fearless on the air. I know you have no problem venting your opinions about different social issues. How have you incorporated that into your new show?
In the past for a number of different reasons, I wasn’t able to really express myself, and it’s radio right and its here to entertain and inform. In the process of entertaining and informing, people want to hear somebody that’s opinionated. Somebody that stands for something. So I’m very clear on what I stand for but I don’t like preaching to people. So I’m very careful. Just today, I had talked to Senator Tim Kaine and I had no problem in saying that I think the majority of people in this country, and we’ll see it in November, are going to make a very important decision. I hope that all of us will make the right decision. It’s not to talk bad about anyone. The truth is I’m freaked out with the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency. Everything he means and he says, whether it was “locker room talk” or it was just him as an entertainer, I’m scared of a Trump presidency, and I think we should all be considered for the future of our country. Politics sometimes stays out of radio, TV, and people don’t like to say who they’re with. I’m not a journalist; I’m an entertainer. I’m very conscious of my position. So I like the fact that at iHeart, I’m able to express myself truly about what I feel and what I’m passionate about without preaching to people. In other words, I don’t tell people ‘you need to this, you have to do this.’ I think some people have a tendency of doing that especially on Latin radio which it’s sad that that happens.
A photo posted by Enrique Santos (@enriquesantos) on
I like being able to express myself and tell people where I stand and why I stand for it. It’s also about the important of telling people ‘get out to vote. Register to vote.” It’s scary also, and we discussed this with Senator Kaine on my show, that some people are just tired of the political process. I’ve heard a lot of people on social media and who call into the show that are going to sit this election out, that’s very unfortunate. My parents came from communist Cuba. They’re here as well as my grandparents thanks to this great country that was built upon and founded by immigrants. My grandparents are dying off and they were never able to vote in a free Cuba. So how can we come and be here in the United States and say that we’re just not going to vote because we don’t like either candidate. I think that we do a disservice to our country and for those brave men and women who have sacrificed it all and some have even given their life so that we have the right to express ourselves and to vote.
You’ve definitely become a revolutionary of sorts for oppressed millennial Latinos, from illegal immigrants to the LGBT community. How do you feel that you’ll use this show to continue to touch their lives?
I think it’s great and important. Again, I’ve worked all of my career for this. Not just to have a syndicated show, but I’ve always thought of my show to truly sound like the Latino who lives in the United States, and we’re going to accomplish that. My Spanish show gets syndication on 27 different markets, and then we have an English show that’s going to run on the weekends for two hours but tailored to the English-speaking Latinos in the U.S, and that will run on 75 different markets across iHeart. So it feels good. I’ve worked all my life to make a difference and I’m blessed that I’ve had a great career, but it definitely hasn’t been an easy one. I’ve hit a lot of bumps in the road. I’ve encountered a lot friction along the way with people who didn’t think the way I thought. Here’s a perfect example.
I remember a program director frowning upon the first gay pride parade in Miami Beach. I expressed my strong view that I thought the radio station should participate and that I was going to participate. The answer I got was ‘Well if Enrique wants to participate, let him go but we’re not going to send the station vehicles.’ They didn’t want the station involved in the gay parade, and that was 5-6 years ago. Now every radio station begs to get into the gay parade. Times have changed and its historic times. We’re living through a bunch of movements and things that are changing. People are waking up, and they’re truly able to stand for something. I feel honored and blessed that I could be that catalyst to filter a lot of that and change public opinion. But very conscious, again I don’t like preaching to people. I tell people where I stand, why I think the way I think and I like people to make their own informed and educated decision. We can always agree to disagree. This whole election, to me, has been an eye opener and soul opener because you get to really look at what’s going on and realize as a nation if you’re on the right side of the conversation or if you’re not involved in the conversation, then maybe you’re part of the problem. It affects all of us.
After the devastation from Hurricane Matthew that left both Cuba and Haiti in ruins, how do you feel about becoming a civil servant to the people of the Caribbean?
I think we should all help. It’s not just Miami and the Cubans or Miami an the Haitians. It should be a national effort. Hours after the hurricane hit, I was happy to see American helicopters land in Haiti with first aid. It’s been horrible for the Haitian people between the earthquakes and hurricanes. They just can’t seem to have a moment to breathe during their time to rebuild. They got sideswiped by this hurricane. It’s the last thing they needed. Shakira actually donated $15 million to the cause. So anytime that we’re able to help out or step up to the plate then absolutely. It’s a social responsibility. We should because as a human being it’s the right thing to do.
I know that you were also very close with José Fernández. How has his passing affected you?
Well a few weeks back was the launch of my new show here in Miami, and it was bittersweet because of the loss of my good friend Jose Fernandez. I had just seen him two weeks before he passed at “Live Like Bella,” which is a ball we celebrate for the third year for a young lady named Bella Rodriguez-Torres who lost her fight unfortunately with cancer and was a big listener to my show. I’ve been the MC to Bella’s ball to raise money for cancer research and pediatric cancer research. So Jose always involved every year. Two weeks before his passing, he was on stage with me raising funds. He was also a frequent guest on my show and listened to my show constantly. He would always text me that he was listening and would say ‘how funny was that bit.’ It really hit home.
So what we did was I broadcasted my show for 94 hours straight (I took only power naps) and we were able to raise $100,000 for the JDF16 Foundation, which he started the paperwork and then tragically passed and then his mother and family along with the Miami Marlins finalized the paperwork and it came to life. A lot of people donated in $16 increments, which was his jersey number that was retired by the Marlins. The first person to donate was Pitbull with $25,000. Marc Anthony donated $31,500 and Elvis Duran from Z100 in New York donated $5,000.
Fiesta Latina is quickly approaching. What can we expect from the major event?
Don’t expect to know what to expect. It’s going to be full of surprises. You know what’s cool about Fiesta Latina. First of all we have a red carpet roll out concert outside of the arena that’s free for everyone. The concert starts at regular time, but before that at like 4 PM, you can come out to see Farruko, Shaggy, Zion y Lennox, and Los Five. You don’t need tickets. The concert itself is already sold out, but at 4 in the afternoon, you can come out to the plaza at the American Airlines Arena and enjoy all these artists absolutely free. DJ Extreme will be out there mixing and we’ll be having a party before the party. That’s the beginning of a lot of surprises that Pitbull, Enrique Iglesias, J Balvin, and others have in store for us.