Awilda Rivera: On the Air
Depending on the nature of the program, putting one together can be a laborious task. For instance, Sunday Morning Harmony, the first regular program she did at WBGO, emphasized pianists and guitarists. Over time, as she assembled play lists for the show each week, Rivera increasingly had to seek out more jazz guitarists to avoid relying heavily on obvious choices like Bucky Pizzarelli or Pat Metheny. As she tracked down more guitarists, she became more knowledgeable of jazz guitar and gave many unknown performers more exposure. Pianists, she admits, were easier to find.
On her current Evening Jazz program, many of the records Rivera plays blend upcoming artists with legendary favorites, and they are mainly low-key, smooth performances appropriate for the intimacy of evening radio. Placing her audiences first, she offers a one-on-one relationship with the listener that feels like a friend who stops by to play her latest CD purchases.
Every Tuesday night, though, Rivera turns the WBGO studios into a party, as she hosts the two-hour Latin Jazz Cruise. The Latin Jazz Cruise is perhaps the only radio show in the nation dedicated to this unique blend of black American music and pulsating Caribbean rhythms, exposing listeners to artists such as Machito and Ray Baretto. After having been on Saturday nights its popularity has grown even more since moving to Tuesdays. It's both a vindication of Rivera's efforts and a testament to the music's popularity, even if commercial radio stations don't appreciate it. "Spanish-language stations have been encouraged to play it," she says, "but they won't, because it doesn't sell."
Unlike such stations, of course, WBGO is a public radio station, so it relies on meager annual government funding. In fact, the majority of the station's financial backing comes from its members by way of its on-air fundraisers, and the station tries to seek more donations through fundraising drives. Rivera enjoys the opportunity to take part in fundraisers and team up with pitch partnersusually fellow DJ's Brian Delp and Sheila Andersonbecause the partnership allows them to be less formal on the air. "You get more of a sliver of our personalities [during fundraisers] than when we're doing our own shows," Rivera says.
Clearly, listeners inclined to make a pledge will be more encouraged by such an approach. "When we do a fundraiser in the studio, we're loosening up, we're having fun, and I think people respond to that," Rivera explains. Not that the approach always works. "Sometimes," she laughs, "folks will call in and say, 'You guys were so entertaining, I forgot to make a pledge!'"
Awilda Rivera continues to entertain people by communicating her love for jazz. Not only has she remained a popular presence on WBGO, she's also provided the voice-over narration for Jazzwomen, a documentary by Italian film maker Gabriella Morandi about the role of female jazz pioneers in the music's history. Rivera has been able to share her passion for jazz with her audience, which has gotten bigger thanks to the availability of WBGO on the internet. No matter how big her listener-ship gets, though, it remains very much an intimate circle of friends thanks to her ability to talk as if she's talking directly to you. And she's having the time of her life doing it.
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