By JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ, Tampa Bay Times
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — María Esther Flores was looking for an apartment to rent.
But instead of looking online, she called “Flea Market en el aire,” a Spanish-language radio show. She sounded desperate and tired.
“I need to move and I don’t have options,” she said. “The person that gave me a space to live needs the room.”
The friendly voice of radio host Luis Maisonet reassured her.
“We hope that someone will call you soon,” he said. “Everything will be fine. Thanks for reaching out!”
While a number of new streaming radio shows are using all kinds of platforms to catch their listeners’ attention, the “Flea Market” has stuck to its roots. It is committed to simplicity.
The program has been a staple in the Hispanic community for the last 40 years, where buying and selling things, sharing music and news are part of the mix.
“There are no secret formulas,” said Maisonet, a 64-year-old Puerto Rican.
The Tampa Bay Times is highlighting the contributions of local Latinos throughout the federally designated Hispanic Heritage month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Nearly one in five people in the United States is Hispanic. According to the 2020 Census, they accounted for more than half of U.S. population growth in the past 10 years.
Among the metro areas registering the greatest Latino growth is Tampa Bay, where 26% of the population is Hispanic.
Started by Cuban host Jorge Luis Capdevila in 1983, the radio show originally was called “Compra compra, vende vende, busca busca,” or “Buy, buy; sell, sell; search, search.”
“It was a program that started to help people in different ways. We’re proud of this radio show,” said Capdevila, 70.
The show grew and became popular among Latinos. It doesn’t have scripts and everything flows organically among their listeners, including the music and the news that Maisonet shares in Spanish.
“We treat our people with respect, and we always give them a chance to participate,” said Maisonet.
“Flea Market en el aire” runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. The show is part of the Hispanic radio station called Super Q (WQBN) 1300 AM/106.7 FM, the first Spanish-language station founded in Florida 60 years ago. The radio station is broadcast from 5207 E. Washington St. in Tampa.
Alongside Maisonet is a team that includes radio coordinator and administrator, Orfelina Reyna, born in the Dominican Republic; Puerto Rican radio personality Madeline Rivera; and executive director, Cristian Vallejo, who’s the son of Super Q’s Mexican owner, Norberto Vallejo.
María Alonso, 79, said she has been following the program since the 1980s. She likes its style and its connection to the community.
“When I was young, it helped me a lot because I could sell and help my husband with the bills,” she said. “Now that I am older and live alone, this program is still with me. It’s a blessing.”
Another loyal listener, Cuban contractor José Raúl Márquez, 64, said the show has a special connection with the people. Marquez likes to call to offer tips on how to detect scammers and to avoid unlicensed contractors. He has followed the show since moving from Seattle to Tampa 16 years ago.
“For me, ‘Flea Market en el aire’ is the king of programs because of its style, the respect it has earned in the community and the feeling that Luisito Maisonet gives it every day,” said Márquez, referring to the show’s radio host. “All of that counts.”
Maisonet has been the radio host of “Flea Market en el aire” for eight years. Before that, he worked at different radio stations between his native Puerto Rico and the state of New York. He came to the Tampa show after other radio hosts had left their personal mark and style, such as Capdevila, the late Chilean José Gustavo González, and Colombian Álvaro López Echeverri.
Maisonet brings more than 50 years of experience in traditional Hispanic radio. But despite all these years and having been immersed in the business since he was just a teenager, he never ran a program as special as “Flea Market en el aire.”
“People call us not only to sell or give away things but to ask for help,” said Maisonet. “And the most beautiful thing is that there’s always someone ready to give a hand.”
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