The ambitious experiment to have a Spanish-language radio station in Madison first started in April of 2000. More than 15 years later, La Movida 1480 AM is stronger than ever.

“I remember those very early days,” says Luis Montoto, the owner and program manager of La Movida 1480 AM radio. “It was just La Movida weekends. That first weekend we had [Centro Guadalupe’s] Romilia [Schlueter] and Lilliam [Post]. Actually, they were our very first guests on the very first La Movida Show.”

Two years later, on Oct. 14, 2002, La Movida started broadcasting 24/7 and have never looked back. They are still Madison’s only Spanish radio station and are extremely popular with Madison’s 50,000-plus Latinos. Owned by Mid-West Family Broadcasting on Madison’s west side, the station airs local Spanish language music and talk programming along with national news breaks from CNN en Español Radio. La Movida is a balance of Spanish news, weather, sports, talk, and Top-40 music.

The Latino husband-and-wife duo of Luis and Lupita Montoto, who have innumerable connections to Dane County’s Latino community, are what keep La Movida thriving.

Luis does not need a script because he is a natural-born talker. “Before I met Lupita, I worked in radio in Texas. So, I was always comfortable talking,” he tells Madison365. “Even before that, I was a musician. I first got on the microphone when I was with one of these garage bands and they needed somebody to be the emcee and talk on the mic at these events we went to. We were just kids. Everybody in the band was afraid to do it. I was like, ‘Hand it over. I got this!’ From there, it just grew and grew.”

Lupita, who is also co-founder of La Movida Radio and one of its favorite radio personalities, always comes off as shy, but that is probably because, more often than not, she’s next to her gregarious and outgoing husband, Luis.

“I never had radio experience until La Movida but I learned very quickly,” says Lupita Monoto, born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico. Lupita Montoto has become a great interviewer because she knows the community so well — not just the Latino community, but the whole community. It’s easy for her to make personal connections with guests and listeners.

“Many people in the Latino community find themselves in difficult situations when they are here. For a little bit of time we try and take them back to their country with the music and with the culture and help them forget their problems they might have here,” Luis Montoto says. “And we in the Latino community do have a lot problems that we are facing.”

Sometimes they temporarily take listeners away from their life problems. More often than not, they are working to help them solve those problems, too. La Movida is music and entertainment and jokes and fun, but it is also a vital community resource.

“I think it’s important for us to be educational and to bring important resources and information to the Latino community, but we also like to have fun,” Lupita Montoto says. “Both are important. Through all of these years operating 24/7, we have done just about everything. It’s important that we keep contact with the people and keep them engaged. They are what make our station a success.”

Lupita and Luis Montoto in the La Movida studios on Madison's west side
Lupita and Luis Montoto in the La Movida studios on Madison’s west side

La Movida regularly hosts many important Madison people and agencies that give listeners access to information they would never otherwise have. “Information is power … and our goal is to empower our community by providing information that they want and need,” Luis Montoto says. “I like to describe our station as a bridge. We’re a two-way street. The Latino community benefits from the information on health, education, and life. They also benefit from information on our local Latino businesses and what they have to offer and promotions that the local Latino community can take advantage of. The business community takes advantage of the buying power that the Latino community has.”

Through the radio station, the Montotos have been exposed to so many great people and personalities in the Dane County area and have gotten to know many agencies, businesses, and organizations from throughout the Madison community.

“We all work together in the Madison community to keep people informed whether it with Centro Hispano, Catholic Multicultural Center, LASUP. We all collaborate to benefit the Latino community. We can work with anybody and everybody,” says Lupita Montoto. “It’s all about partnerships. It’s a privilege for the Latino community to have so many resources here that you won’t find in other communities in other cities and states.”

La Movida has its share of traditional radio listeners, but they also are streamed online and have an app so you can listen on your phone. An important part of La Movida’s mission is not only touching people through the airwaves, but through the many events they host. “We love events because it gets a chance for us to see and meet all of the people who are listening to us every day,” says Lupita Montoto. “We love the personal contact and interaction with people.”

“What gives me a lot of satisfaction, personally, is to see somebody in person and the camaraderie that you build,” Luis Montoto adds. “‘Hey, Montoto. ¿Cómo estás? Nice to see you.’ There are so many people out there that we are able to touch and sometimes we lose track of how many people we reach.”

La Movida volunteers their time at Radiothons in the city to raise funds for worthy causes and are regulars at the Dane County Fair and the Jefferson County Fair. They help host a “Family Day” at Little Amerricka in Marshall, Wis., and the Viva Mexico celebration at the Alliant Energy Center. They also host the annual Hispanic Heritage Luncheon which is now in its 5th year and growing.

Every year, more and more gringos show up at the events that La Movida hosts because there is no ignoring that the Latino populations here – like everywhere else in the U.S. – continues to explode.

“Our numbers have grown by leaps and bounds. And I think the Latino community has evolved,” says Luis Montoto. “I think we at La Movida have played our part and helped to bring the Latino community around in keeping them informed and engaged. I think the Latino population here is very well informed – much more than [in] many major urban cities.”

As they inform, La Movida is careful not to do it in a partisan way. Politics, Luis Montoto admits, can be a double-edged sword. “We don’t get involved too much one way or another,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean that we don’t work hard to give people all of the resources and information they need to make good choices.”

On their show, La Movida does talk about immigration, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). They talk about the presidential primaries. “We do talk about all that. That’s out there. We can’t hide that from the Latino community. That’s on Univision. That’s on Telemundo. It’s part of what we have to do as well,” Luis Montoto says.

“We get the information out to the people that they need to know. Just like the police, we are here to serve and to protect the Latino community,” he adds. “That’s the community that provides for us. And that’s our job.”

Mayor Paul Soglin was a recent guest on La Movida Radio.
Mayor Paul Soglin was a recent guest on La Movida Radio.

The Montotos also own Voz Latina, a Spanish-language newspaper that compliments the radio station in keeping the Latino community informed. A few years ago, there was talk about the Montotos starting a Latino TV station here in Madison. They’ve backed away from that a little bit for now. “We do want to create a YouTube channel because we do have the equipment and we do have the capabilities to do things locally,” Luis Montoto says. “We were thinking about a full-fledged TV station but we kinda stepped back from that for now.”

Two years ago, La Movida expanded their radio station into Rockford, Ill. Northern Illinois is now home to WNTA-La Movida 1330AM. “I would even dare to say that Rockford has a larger Latino community than Madison,” Luis Montoto says.

“In Rockford, the Latino population is very largely Mexican. Here in Madison, it is more diverse,” adds Lupita Montoto.

That expansion has made the Montotos eager to get into other markets, too.

“La Movida is no longer a regular old radio station; we are La Movida Network now,” Luis Montoto says. “La Movida can expand to any other city that it wants to. That’s what we want to do. We’ve talked to station owners in Nebraska and Iowa and upper Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana about expanding La Movida.

“I could see us in Appleton, Green Bay, Eau Claire,” he adds.

What about Sheboygan — hometown of Madison365 editor Dave Dahmer?

“Si!” smiles Luis Montoto. “I think I see some potential there, too! I’m going to look into that.”