Music

Radiored, a One-of-a-Kind Puerto Rican Radio Station Shutters Storefront

Lead Photo: Photo by Payola Isabel. Courtesy of the photographer
Photo by Payola Isabel. Courtesy of the photographer

It’s the end of an era for Puerto Rico’s Radiored. The genre-spanning, independent radio station announced the closure of its San Juan storefront yesterday.

Radiored was founded in 2015, and opened its coffee shop, record store and hangout spot from which local and guest DJs and hosts would transmit live, and where touring artists often perform ahead of concerts at local clubs, after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“Now, in accordance with the times, we’re going underground to keep playing #músicafresca,” the caption of the Facebook post about the closure reads. The corresponding photo inside the former headquarters shows co-founder Payola Isabel standing, hand on hip, her expression a stoic blend of accomplishment and melancholy acceptance. Most noticeably, though, she looks strong.

¡Gracias por apoyarnos! Fueron dos años de crecimiento hermosos en este espacio tan especial. Ahora, acorde con el momento, nos vamos subterráneo para seguir sonando #musicafresca.

Posted by Radiored on Thursday, May 7, 2020

The space is now emptied of all traces of its former purpose, save for a cluster of stickers still adhered to the front window.

While there won’t be a physical place anymore, and programming may change, “the essence of Radiored will always be there,” Isabel says.

The new Radiored base is taking shape inside her own apartment, she explains, with the help of co-founder Etienne Cardona, who handles the bulk of the project’s technical aspects. And there’s more to the transmission framework that needs reworking.

Isabel is also solving logistical puzzles: “With the pandemic, I can’t have people coming in, so I have to think about how to do it remotely,” she notes.

 

Puerto Rico’s Covid-19 lockdown began mid-March; rigid restrictions to help curb the virus’ spread are still in place.

Another transformation for Radiored was a likelihood even before this, though. The damage and displacement caused by January’s 6.4-magnitude earthquake in the southern region not only affected business, but also her focus: “[At that point] we didn’t have the desire to do anything but go out and help [those affected].”

The pandemic shutdown was the crux in officially deciding to usher Radiored into another stage.

Letting go of the storefront means losing the potential for in-person connections with like minded folks from around the world as well as the one-off performances from touring artists—of these kinds of connections, there were many. “It was a space for cultural exchange, like a culture hub,” Isabel says of Radiored’s physical space. “I’ll miss that.”

In the past few months, Radiored began adapting to our current social-distancing reality by featuring original mixtapes from artists like Helado Negro, Mula, iLe, and Lola Pistola. Those mixtapes, as well as an archive of programming, are available on Radiored’s Mixcloud.

What comes next, though, will be a surprise—a good one, we’re sure, considering how successful Radiored has been in adapting, rather than calling it quits, amid the constraints of whatever the world throws its way: Role changes, founder departures, the crisis post-Maria (remember the island-wide blackout?), Puerto Rico’s long-since ravaged economy, and so much more.

“It’s painful,” Isabel says of shuttering the storefront. But now there’s room for Radiored to shapeshift, once again.

“I think it’s the time to make the project more remote, to do shows in other places, residencies in other places, to do takeovers in other countries,” Isabel says. “It’s very important to me to build bridges; I think allyship is important. It’s something I’ll have in mind always.”