Eddie Lopez, famed DJ of KXLU’s “Alma del Barrio,” dies at 66
Ever since he was a child in Koreatown, Eddie Lopez has been fascinated by radio.
He tinkered with a Craig tape recorder, interviewed family and friends to put together his own radio program. He stayed up past his bedtime tuning stations in Rosarito, Mexico. Then one day in high school, he heard Latin jazz star Leandro “Gato” Barbieri’s wild, high-pitched saxophone.
“Only he loved that, and it really drew him into the world of tropical music, said his wife Vanessa Salum. “The 70’s salsa music was partly political and he liked the messages and the African rhythms, the drums, the horns and the ability to dance to it.”
Lopez brought his love of music to Pepperdine University radio station before transferring to Loyola Marymount University in the 1970s. There he began volunteering for a third-year weekend radio show called “Alma del Barrio,” which was unique in the Southern California Latino radio landscape by focusing on Afro-Caribbean music and presenting it with DJs, the English and English spoke Spanish.
“Alma del Barrio” became one of the most famous radio shows of its kind in the United States, and Lopez was among her most famous voices. For years, Lopez hosted every other Sunday from 2pm to 6pm until the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted his schedule. He began pre-tapping shows through the fall of 2022.
He would spend hours researching music history in local libraries or quizzing artists at local clubs about specific songs in order to properly inform his listeners. Before playing a track on air, he took the time to put the artist’s lyrics into context and explain to the listener why the saxophone evoked a sense of pain or the singer squealed in fear.
And since it was all for college radio, Lopez always got his work done for nothing.
“Best of all, there are many students willing to volunteer and keep the flame going for years to come,” Lopez wrote to a friend on Facebook after calling him a “true keeper of the flame.” had.
“He understood the importance of this little college radio show having such an impact on the community,” said Alan Geik, a longtime friend and former colleague who hosted “Latin Dimensions” on KCRW after Lopez pushed him to take the lead and later to take over the KXLU for about 25 years. “He was deeply involved in the politics of what was going on, more so than anyone else on the station. Because he lived it 24/7, he brought a perspective that I certainly didn’t have and that gave us a unified view.”
Lopez, a mentor to many, died Jan. 8, Salum said. He was 66. No reason was given.
“Eddie was a tireless advocate of this life-giving genre of music, the consummate radio professional on the air, an experienced salsa curator and someone who cared deeply about the radio station,” wrote LMU radio director Lydia Ammossow in honor of her colleague.
Devoted fans took to social media to share stories of how they heard Lopez over the weekend while cruising around Los Angeles.
For Eric Wiig, a 30-year-old Koreatown resident originally from Minnesota, Lopez’s show served as a “cultural exchange.”
“It felt like an opportunity to learn about the city of Los Angeles and some of the people in it through this music,” he said. “He just made you feel like you had to take care of it because he cared so much.”
“Alma del Barrio” quickly became part of the Los Angeles fabric under Lopez’s leadership.
He discovered aspiring college students as DJs and encouraged his young team to behave like professionals at commercial radio stations. When newcomers queued up pop or rock hits, Lopez would quickly call them during their set and remind them of the station’s mission, said Nelson Rodriguez, who joined Alma del Barrio in 2007 and still hosts today.
“He’s one of our stars here in LA when it comes to our music,” Rodriguez said. “Some people think it’s just musicians and not people, but sometimes it’s the people behind the scenes.”
Anabel Marquez came to Alma del Barrio as a 22-year-old student at LMU. She was interested in a career in communications and loved to dance salsa. A friend introduced her to Lopez and he immediately invited her to be his guest on the air.
“I guess it was kind of a feeling for me and also making sure I fit in well,” she said. “The chemistry was there. We chatted in Spanglish… we laughed a bit but it was more like an interview but a very friendly sort of welcome talk without necessarily hiring me.”
Lopez later offered her the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sunday slot, which she held until she graduated. Sometimes, Marquez said, he’d call during her slot to compliment her.
“He was just a very stylish, elegant mentor and he just always, really just encouraged us to do it for the love of music, more for other personal reasons,” she said.
Friends say Lopez has always made sure to combine his passion for politics and music. In his day job as an editor for KVEA-TV Channel 52 Telemundo, he embedded Afro-Caribbean music into news packages where he honed his nose for news to produce award-winning work. In 1980, listeners called KXLU to accuse staff of being communists for broadcasting Cuban music. Lopez, Geik recalled, reminded his team to remain compassionate towards callers, as some might have that attitude due to the trauma they experienced in Cuba.
“The view had to be taken that we have the right to play this and you have the right to listen,” Geik said. “If you do not wish to contribute to us, we understand and apologize for your personal pain. I never said that because I have a slightly stricter view.”
The listeners also used “Alma del Barrio” to mourn together. When an 8.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Mexico City in 1985, listeners shared stories about their family experiencing the natural disaster while also providing local resources and connecting mom and pop restaurants.
In his private life, the ‘Alma del Barrio’ ethos continued. At his Pasadena home, parties often led to jam sessions with local musicians grabbing some of the many instruments he had collected or spinning some of his many records. At times, Lopez would briefly slam his conga drums before leaving it to the pros. He loved cruising around his neighborhood in his classic canary-yellow 1973 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia with his wife and their Westie, Winston. He also kept a kite ready in case the wind was perfect for flying.
“He was pretty much everywhere,” Sulam said. “And he was always like, ‘I don’t have enough time to do all the things I love to do!'”
Lopez is survived by his wife and their 25-year-old daughter, Nina. Alma del Barrio plans to honor Lopez at its annual salsa festival this summer when it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
“It’s hard to believe I’ve been with the show and KXLU for 40+ years,” Lopez wrote in his KXLU bio. “It doesn’t seem possible, so please keep it to yourself! lol It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.”
https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2023-01-26/eddie-lopez-kxlu-alma-del-barrio-dead Eddie Lopez, famed DJ of KXLU’s “Alma del Barrio,” dies at 66