“Today happens to be Julio Iglesias' 75th birthday,” Carter said. “So I’m going to do only Julio Iglesias tonight.”
Carter is the host of WETS’ only Spanish and English radio show. The live broadcast from East Tennessee State University features Latino music from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sunday nights, and also promotes events of interest to the Latino listeners.
“Sometimes it can be like ‘oh he’s got to go’ when we want to do something else. But most of the time it’s okay. I know how much he loves it, and I think a lot of the community and the people who listen to it also look forward to it, so we’re glad about that.”
– Maria Del Mar Carter
“On different occasions I’ve had people come in just to interview them,” Carter said. “I’ve had a lady that worked with a health fair that was being held in Bristol. Whenever we can help the Latino community put out the word for special things or a meet-your-neighbor type of thing, I try to do that.”
Meeting your neighbor can be difficult for Spanish- speaking Latinos in Northeast Tennessee. According to the 2010 Census, the Hispanic or Latino population of Hamblen County was 11.9 percent, and Unicoi County’s population was 4.8 percent. Washington County had a Hispanic or Latino population of 3.5 percent. Greene, Johnson, Carter, Hawkins and Sullivan counties had a Hispanic or Latino population of less than 3 percent.
Carter says he gets listeners from all over. A translator broadcasts the station’s signal out of Lenoir, North Carolina, then rebroadcasts it on a different frequency at low power so that the show reaches into the valley between Blowing Rock and Hickory, North Carolina. Listeners are also able to stream “Ritmo Latino” over the station’s website.
“I have this one lady that calls from L.A. off and on,” Carter said. “I’ve had people call from North Carolina, all the way down to Morristown and up into Southwest Virginia. … I had some Uruguayan students here back in August, and they were streaming the program down in Uruguay.”
“Ritmo Latino” started in 1998, thanks to the idea from an ETSU student.
“A student by the name of Martin Stephens came to me and had this idea for a program that would combine Latino music with information to the Hispanic community,” station manager Wayne Winkler said. “Martin Stephens was studying Spanish language, so he and a few other students were responsible for putting the program together.”
When Stephens left the show, it was hosted next by the man who had been producing it, Juan Chiu.
“As happens when you have something that’s run by students, the students graduate and then they’re gone,” Winkler said. “It wound up with Juan Chiu being the host of the program. He had never been on the radio before, but he found that he liked it and that he liked getting feedback from the listeners, so he would always do the show live.”
Carter met Chiu in the '70s when they were both coaching youth soccer in Johnson City. Carter visited Chiu regularly at the station during “Ritmo Latino,” and he would spend the evening at the station talking about soccer while Chiu played the music.
“Dr. Tino Diaz started working with him,” said Carter. “I would still come in occasionally and shoot the breeze with them.”
Chiu passed away in February 2016. After that, Carter and Diaz co-hosted the show until Diaz, a physician, left because he had to work on Sundays.
“By the fall of 2016, basically I was doing this by myself,” Carter said.
He grew up in Santiago, Chile, listening to Latino music. His father was an administrator and professor at a seminary. His mother was a librarian and piano teacher. Carter returned to Johnson City, where his mother’s family is from, when he turned 18 to study at ETSU. During the week, he teaches Spanish at Science Hill High School in Johnson City.
“It’s just something that he does that he’s very passionate about,” Carter’s wife, Maria Del Mar Carter, said.
Del Mar Carter, who was raised in Mexico, Spain and Chile, said she understands her husband’s dedication the show and what it means to the community.
“Sometimes it can be like ‘Oh, he’s got to go’ when we want to do something else,” she said. “But most of the time it’s okay. I know how much he loves it, and I think a lot of the community and the people who listen to it also look forward to it, so we’re glad about that.”
With a library of 700 to 750 CDs, “Ritmo Latino” plays music that ranges from Latin pop to rumba. Some of the artists played on the show include Ricky Martin, Selena and Shakira.
“He’s got such a variety of songs and different types of music, so I enjoy that,” Del Mar Carter said. “Then, of course, there are some that are my favorites to listen to. And I also just like to hear him and hear his voice.”
Carter said that while he enjoys hosting the show, someday he plans to pass the job along.
“The Uruguayan students that I met and invited here, one of them is very interested in the potential of this program,” Carter said. “I’m seriously thinking of inviting him to come and assist if he’s not working, and just see where things go.”
At the end of the show, he places the Julio Iglesias CDs back in the bag he brought them in. He leans into the microphone to tell his listeners one last thing in Spanish and then English.
“Well, we’ve come to the end of another ‘Ritmo Latino,’” Carter said. “I hope you’ve enjoyed tonight’s musical selection, and I hope you’ll tune us in next Sunday evening. This is Charles Carter, speaking to you from the studios of WETS-FM on the campus of East Tennessee State University, wishing you a good night.”
Above right: Charles Carter sorts through the CDs he will play on Ritmo Latino.
Above left: Carter addresses the listeners. (Photos by Emily Dingler).