Cruz’s Coast-to-coast Latin Beat Radio To Ring In New Year

Ray Cruz

Ray Cruz

Come New Year’s Eve, when you’re relaxing at a party with friends and family, Ray Cruz is hoping you’ll also be enjoying the sound of Latin jazz as a backdrop.

“People love Latin music; there’s something infectious about it once they hear the percussion,” Cruz noted.

If anyone should know, the Mililani resident and assistant director of operations at Hawaii Public Radio would: He’s been a fixture on the Latin music scene in Hawaii for more than 20 years, and he’s now hosting a weekly show, Latin Beat, for HPR from 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays.

Brooklyn-born Cruz moved to Hawaii in 1988 because of his job with United Airlines. But his start in radio came earlier, when he was still a student at University of New Mexico.

“I was the first person to host a salsa show there,” Cruz recalled.

After he moved, Cruz worked at University of Hawaii’s student radio station, KTUH, for a year, before shifting to HPR as a volunteer in 1990, hosting a weekly salsa and Afro-Cuban Latin jazz show, Sabor Tropical.

Everything was going great, but Cruz wanted to spend more time with his son before he went to college, so in 2012 he took Sabor off the air.

“Nobody gives up primetime on a Saturday night just like that,” he laughed. “But if I had to do it all over again, I would.”

In October, Cruz felt the itch to get back on radio, so he did. But he decided that his new show would step away from the salsa that Sabor favored.

“Latin jazz is a little bit more community-at-large friendly. By that, I mean that salsa has a lot of Spanish lyrics, so a lot of times you lose a lot of the whole feel of the music when you don’t understand the language,” Cruz explained. Latin Beat focuses on instrumental Afro-Cuban jazz and Latin Big Band classics.

Cruz calls the community response “phenomenal.”

“The really good thing is, all those years I was hosting Sabor Tropical, I never really had a lot of people from the Mainland and internationally listening, but now with technology, you can podcast the show.”

He’s happy for the influx of new listeners, but acknowledges that radio isn’t quite what it used to be. The technology that makes his show more accessible also enables listeners to skip radio altogether, and marketing interests tend to dominate programming.

Public radio still has its benefits, though.

“I’m very proud of the fact that, at HPR, for all the years that I’ve been here, we’ve always opened doors for new artists to be heard here, to create a bridge, if you will, between Hawaii and the Mainland.”

And his New Year’s Eve special will do just that, as he’ll feature three guest DJs from New York for a four-hour “coast-to-coast party.” Listeners should expect “all types of genres of tropical music,” Cruz revealed.

You can listen to Cruz’s show on HPR-2 at KIPO 89.3 FM. His New Year’s Eve show is 8 p.m.-midnight Dec. 31. For details, visit