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Why counting Latinos in small town USA matters

Posted by Elena del Valle on February 3, 2010

By Josh Norek

Josh Norek, deputy director, Voto Latino

Photo: Josh Norek

My wife – a first generation Salvadoran-American attorney who grew up in some of the roughest areas of Los Angeles – once described part of my nearby hometown of Albany, NY as “the scariest place I’ve ever been.” When a girl from East LA thinks Albany is the most dangerous city in America, you know upstate New York has a problem.

Make no mistake: upstate New York is a microcosm of America’s Rust Belt and agricultural communities. As manufacturing and farming declined upstate, so did the area cities’ populations and their corresponding tax bases: in the Capital District region, Albany’s population dropped by 29%, Schenectady’s by 32% and Amsterdam’s by a staggering 43% between 1950 and 2000. Had Latino immigrants not moved to these small cities in the past two decades, the population losses would have been far higher.

Click here to read the complete article.

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New York station launches Latin alternative music program

Posted by Elena del Valle on July 15, 2009

Chris Wienk, program director, WEXT

Chris Wienk, program director, WEXT

Photos: Christopher Wienk, Josh Norek and Ernesto Lechner

WEXT 97.7, an Albany, New York station recently launched The Latin Alternative, a Latin alternative music weekly public radio program for national syndication, about Latin rock, electronica, funk and hip-hop. The first hour long program, hosted by Josh Norek and Ernesto Lechner, aired at 8 p.m. July 4 and spotlighted Manu Chao, Café Tacuba, Aterciopelados and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. The show can be heard live online Saturdays at

“WEXT 97.7 prides itself on playing a wide range of music. As a Triple A station, we’ve embraced artists like Manu Chao, Juana Molina, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs from the start,” said Chris Wienk,  program director, WEXT. “We recognize that Latinos are becoming an important part of the public radio audience, and we also know that non-Latin audiences love the Latin alternative genre. When we launched the station in 2007, we were surprised to discover that there were no syndicated Latin alternative public radio shows we could pick up to air. So we thought ‘why not create one ourselves?”

Wienk indicated that although the station won’t have audience numbers for a while, the first show had a great initial reaction and that people are buzzing about it.

Josh Norek, co-host, The Latin Alerternative

Josh Norek, co-host, The Latin Alternative

“There is something amazing about a radio station in Albany launching the nation’s first syndicated Latin-alternative radio show. In my childhood growing up in a small town outside of Albany, I couldn’t wait to leave the area and move to a bigger city that had a Latin alternative music scene,” said Norek. “Ironically, now I live in Los Angeles and it’s an adventurous radio station in upstate New York that has taken the lead and launched the first syndicated show for the genre.”

Ernesto Lechner, co-host, The Latin Alerternative

Ernesto Lechner, co-host, The Latin Alternative

The audience for the show primarily consists of two groups of listeners: Non Hispanics with little prior exposure to Latin alternative music and English-dominant Latinos who consume English-language media.

“While there is a lot of amazing music out there, we knew we had to come out swinging and win folks over quickly. So we’ll be playing many of the most important artists and songs on the show. Once we have the listeners hooked, we can dig deeper and expose them to some of the more underground music coming out Colombia, Mexico, Spain, and Cuba,” said Norek by email.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see that in literally one week, before the show even aired, we had 300 fans on Facebook ( So I suppose there is a large, untapped audience for the show and we look forward to bringing it to many additional cities in the coming year. Generally speaking, we’re not going to play a punk band that just happens to sing in Spanish. We’re trying to turn folks on to what’s uniquely special about the genre, whether it being cumbia-rock, electro-tango, norteno-hiphop, etc.,” said Norek.

There are 10 programs finished and recorded already and the co-hosts expect to complete 26 one-hour episodes by the end of the year. They plan to expose their listeners to a new genre featuring crossover friendly artists whose music will resonate with an audience that is new to Latin alternative music, offering a type of Latin fusion they consider new and revolutionary.

Norek is co-founder of the Latin Alternative Music Conference and frontman of Latino-Jewish rap group Hip Hop Hoodíos. Lechner is a contributing writer for Rolling Stone, LA Times, and Chicago Tribune and author of the book Rock en Español: The Latin Alternative Rock Explosion.

Exit 97.7 WEXT is a special listener-supported music service from WMHT Educational Telecommunications established to provide a unique listening experience with music that knows no boundary of genre. The focus is on emerging artists, classic songs that regular radio has forgotten, and especially music from the region (the Local 518). The the station operates with listener support.