It began, as many important conversations do, at a vending machine. Jasmine Garsd, then a producer at NPR's Tell Me More, would get her daily sugar craving and head to the vending machines for a treat. At a desk nearby, Felix Contreras, a reporter for NPR News, would sit and chat with her while she ate her snack. They bonded over their shared ties to Latin America and talked about music and literature, gossip and politics. Then, one day, it dawned on them: if they were having these conversations, so were other people.
Sneaking back into NPR headquarters after work hours to record a demo, Garsd and Contreras developed Alt.Latino, NPR's first program devoted strictly to issues in Latin America and issues facing Hispanic Americans.
And now it's coming to Austin.
Perhaps you have always wondered why, even when you don't speak Spanish, telenovelas are so compelling. Well, they've answered that.
On August 21, KUT, in partnership with NPR, launched Alt.Latino Radio. The 24-hour Latin American and Spanish alternative digital radio station is providing more than just the newest jams.
"We cover music, literature, political issues, protest movements," Garsd tells CultureMap. "We're not treating this like a marketing equation. We want to create [content] that reflects the conversation."
And it's a conversation that is certainly happening in Austin. According to 2010 Census data, one-third of the population of Travis County is Hispanic, a population that, as it grows, becomes increasingly underserved by the local media. In fact, it was the sheer outpour of support that Garsd and Contreras received during an Alt.Latino SXSW show that proved Austinites were itching for more diversity. "This type of programming represents the changing demographic of Austin and meets a need not being met by other stations in town," says Hawk Mendenhall, associate general manager and director of broadcast and content at KUT and KUTX. "We're also hopeful this new format will expand the audience for public radio."
In addition to multimedia packages and blogs from the hosts, listeners should expect innovative storytelling, too. Perhaps you have always wondered why, even when you don't speak Spanish, telenovelas are so compelling. Well, they've answered that. Want to know the seven greatest soccer songs of all time? They've compiled the list.
And let's not forget the music. Carefully crafted playlists, special guest DJs and features about the hottest bands from Latin America are sure to expand any music fan's repertoire. "Not only do Austinites love music, but they embrace all genres of music," says Mendenhall.
"It's so exciting to be (available) in Texas," says Garsd. "It's such an important place and rich in culture."
Alt.Latino is available online under the "Listen" section of kut.org and through the radio station's app.