National Radio Week: The Man Who Inspired DJ Kevin Cole, WGTB's Leo Del Aguila

Interviews, National Radio Week, The Afternoon Show w/ Kevin Cole
08/14/2017
Matthew Howland
photo courtesy of NPR Oye

As part of National Radio Week, Kevin Cole will honor the station that began his radio career: WGTB-FM in Washington D.C, specifically focusing on music director and DJ Leo Del Aguila (aka Professor Mota). Today on the Afternoon Show, Cole will air exclusive interviews with Del Aguila, as well as play a number of tracks which Del Aguila picked as emblematic of a classic WGTB playlist. Below is a testimonial from Kevin Cole about the impact Del Aguila had on the shape of his career, as well as Del Aguila's recollections of his own beginnings in radio, and the significance of WGTB. For more on WGTB's radio activism, check out this KEXP feature on WGTB's pioneering use of radio as a means to incite social awareness and change.

All of us can look back and point to key moments that changed the direction of our lives. Interning at WGTB-FM, a powerful East Coast freeform radio station licensed to Georgetown University in Washington DC, was one of those pivotal moments that transformed my life. At the time I was a music loving freak and Music Director at Gustavus Adolphus College, a small liberal arts school in Minnesota. I was working on an independent study degree in radio/broadcasting, and as part of that program did a semester internship at WGTB-FM. I’m sure I was nothing but a blip on the radar of Music Director “Professor Mota” (Leo Del Aguila), but the encouragement and opportunity he gave me changed my life. It opened my awareness to the creative potential and power radio could have, and set me on a path that’s included launching Rev 105, a brief stint at WOXY, and for the last 14+ years as KEXP’s Senior Director of Programming. When Leo gave me my air shift on WGTB, he told me “the airwaves are a blank canvas. Paint.” I use that line all the time! I’ve always wondered what happened to Leo. Working on our National Radio Week feature gave me a unique opportunity to track down and personally thank the man that changed my life. Thanks, Leo. -- DJ Kevin Cole

Leo's own beginnings in radio stem from a childhood fascination with the medium, as he explained in an interview with Kevin:

When I was a kid growing up in Peru and South America, my father was a merchant marine. Upon returning home from one of his trips, he had with him a short-wave radio. We connected it, and I remember for three months I wouldn’t get any sleep because I would get home from school and turn on the radio. I was able to listen to the world, the voice of America, Radio Moscow, the BBC, the Australian broadcasting commission. All these foreign languages and foreign music, interesting views of the world. That was my first experience with the medium of radio
Soon after immigrating to the United States in 1971, Del Aguila started to work at WGTB during the station's most radical period, which led to a number of conflicts between the Georgetown University administration and station managers. As Del Aguila explains, the station quickly accrued a strong listener base throughout the wider Washington D.C. area:
When Ken Sneeman became the general manager, he brought in people from the community as well as students from the university. The idea was to provide interesting music programming but also have news-oriented programs. There was a daily news show called the "WGBT News Collective." We had around twenty hours of music. Music was something that we wanted to program. There were no playlists at the time, and because FM radio wasn’t listened to as much at that time we had a lot of latitude in terms of what we could play.
In 1979, the station was abruptly sold, a political move by the University's administration. Del Aguila reflected on the sale of the station:
We were really popular in the Washington DC area. This was in 1976, and FM was taking a foothold in the broadcasting landscape. The station felt we were this thorn that the administration could not appease. They were in constant conflict with what we were doing. People would file claims with the FCC claiming rude and vulgar language was being broadcast from Copley Hall in Georgetown University. At one point, the administration and Father Timothy Healy, who was the president of the university, decided they had had it, and [that the station] was something they did not want to deal with anymore. They were having political issues with the District of Columbia, and Father Healy decided to give the station license to the District of Columbia, which was at that point developing a university, for one dollar. This was done on January 29, 1979.
Kevin Cole's tribute to Leo Del Aguila and WGTB will air at 3 PM PT on the August 14th edition of the Afternoon Show on KEXP. It will also be available on the two-week streaming archive. A documentary about WGTB, titled Radical Silence: The Story of WGTB-FM, was released in 2011 and is available for viewing below.

Radical Silence: The Story of WGTB-FM from Static Productions on Vimeo.

KEXP is celebrating National Radio Day all week long both online and on the air; click here to see all our coverage on the KEXP Blog.

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