The only visible hint that Viviám María López, the business suit-wearing executive assistant to Wolfson Campus president Richard Soria, is a veteran host of a weekly radio program is the microphone stand tucked away in a corner of her office.
López’s active role outside the College is based on her devotion to preserving the musical culture of her heritage. The poised administrative assistant balances her job at Miami Dade College with a colorful and musical existence. López’s binder of clippings from her career in the spotlight, shows a charismatic and glamorous life that after 5 p.m. requires sequined gowns or a radio mixer.
While working full-time at the College, López often spends up to four days preparing for her Wednesday night radio program called Cubaneando on WDNA 88.9 FM. Her show specializes in Cuban music as well as its history and global expansion. Three nights per month, López also acts as a master of ceremonies at social affairs such as charity events and conferences.
“I love doing all these things that allow me to be super connected to my community,” López said. “I’m very engaged. Dedicating a lot of my hours every week to my community is very essential. I feel like I could not be without doing this.”
On a typical Wednesday night, López scans the walls of the WDNA music collection, with thousands of CD’s lining the bookshelves from the floor to the ceiling, looking for the right sounds to feature in her program.
She almost always gravitates toward performers like Cachao López and El Gran Fellove, but often likes to features newer, more obscure artists, like Lucas Van Merwijk and his Cubop City Big Band, a band from the Netherlands, who recently released an album with Spanish versions of classic Earth Wind and Fire songs.
In the studio, López multitasks between managing the equipment, speaking to her listeners and picking the next song. The equipment clicks and whirs. Lights blink on the mixing board. After every song she gives a brief description of the title and artists, before delving into a quick lesson on the contribution each artist has made to Latin jazz.
López’s Cubaneando program is a combination of heavily curated and researched playlists to interviews with renowned figures in the Miami arts and culture scene. She has interviewed all kinds of musicians, sculptors and theatre directors. The list has included anyone from Nilo Cruz, the first Hispanic Pulitzer prize winner for theatre, to Bebo Valdés and Israel Cachao López, famous Cuban musicians.
“There’s over 70 musical genres stemming from a beautiful little island called Cuba,” López said. “I would always hear that kind of thing at home, so I think I got that from my dad.”
For López, having many of these artists featured on her program is an important documentation and also a way to share that history.
“In a way it’s saying: I’m rescuing you here. Your history will not be forgotten; your legacy is with us,” López said. “And: Hey! New generations, learn about these magnificent musicians that are performers and really, creators and pioneers.”
One of the most interesting experiences that López had on her program was the reunion of three musical legends in 2006, Bebo Valdés, Cachao López and Generoso Jiménez, who were already in their 90’s at the time.
The three masters hadn’t seen each other for more than 50 years, but they were all featured on the program at the same time.
Besides hosting, López is involved in the production process of the program, from working the equipment and creating playlists to responding to people on social media.
“Everything that I do is my baby from beginning to end,” López said. “Pre-producing, doing research, finding recordings, finding rarities. The show really comes with that preparation and researching”
She also serves as the vice president of the board of trustees for WDNA, attending weekly board meetings and representing the station at public events.
Staffed by more than 30 volunteer DJ’s and hosts, WDNA’s mission is to provide quality music and cultural programming to the residents of South Florida and beyond.
WDNA general manager Maggie Pelleyá said López is committed to the station’s mission of promoting jazz, alternative voices, and the marriage of entertainment with enrichment.
“You want somebody involved in the station that cares about the vision, that cares about broadcast. Someone that cares about the importance of keeping a nonprofit radio station going,” Pelleyá said. “Our main focus is to educate, and in her case, it’s about Cuban music and its roots, and not only its roots but coming into the contemporary. She tries as much as possible to keep abreast of all kinds of Cuban music.”
Despite the added responsibilities, López loves being involved in producing her show and having complete creative control of the program. She has also worked in radio news at Univisión América a Spanish language radio station that covered Los Angeles, Texas, Chicago and Miami. It was a natural fit despite her lack of experience. From 2012 to 2014, she also maintained her program at WDNA.
“I had never done news in my life. I’d written in cultural newspapers but actual hardcore news, I had never done it,” López said.
As a team of eight journalists was reduced to three, López became the only woman on her team, working with people who were veterans in the field. She created daily news packages on topics like the weather, the 2012 elections, the Boston bombings and the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy.
“I said, you know, I’m just going to jump in and do it like I’ve always done,” López said.
A day for Lopez started at 3 p.m. at Univisión; her workday ended at around 2 a.m.
“Starting my news, researching my news, looking for audio, making phone calls, starting to write, editing, recording, adding audio bites, creating these capsules, I would also do the weather and the traffic,” López said. “On days that I had my radio show I would use my dinner time to go to the other radio station. Thankfully it was not too far. So I would do my radio show right there, change hats, and then go back to Univisión.”
A family seeped in Cuban culture and the arts
López was born to Cuban parents in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she was raised and attended university. She came from a family of educators, being fluent in English, Spanish and French as well as speaking some basic Italian and Portuguese.
As a hobby, she also played the bass guitar. After graduating with the highest honors from Universidad de Puerto Rico with a degree in public communications, López moved to Miami in 1988.
Within a week, López found her first job here. She worked in the human resources department at Hamilton Risk Management Co. for about seven years before moving on to become the executive assistant to the president and CEO for the next 15 years.
Despite her administrative background, López always felt that working in radio was her passion. For López, radio was the perfect way to blend her love of people, music and language. In 1995 she started hosting a similar show at WDNA. While at the same time working as executive assistant to the president and CEO of Hamilton Risk Management. She hosted a two-time award-winning show called Fusion Latina, a bilingual cultural program with an educational focus.
“It’s so magical; it’s so powerful,” López said about radio. “It can get to so many places at the same time. I paint a picture for you and you absorb it the way you want it. I’m able to let your imagination fly.”
Carlos Oliva of the band Los Sobrinos del Juez, and longtime friend of the radio producer said López is very knowledgeable and has a unique passion for music.
“[She’s] just like any musician. She not only speaks well and knows about music, she feels it,” Oliva said.
Stability in Administration
In 2014, López started working at MDC as executive assistant to former Wolfson Campus College President, José A. Vicente. She credits him with encouraging her involvement in various MDC events, like voicing and hosting more than two dozen MDC-TV recordings as well as emceeing the Miami Animation and Gaming International Complex grand opening.
“I know this College is so ever-growing and this campus is home to so many amazing events that I knew I could contribute to,” López said. “Not just in the administrative part of it, but I also could bring a more artistic side that would give it some color.”
Her current boss, Wolfson Campus President Richard Soria, praises her work ethic. López is in charge of Soria’s calendar.
Soria said she is “a role model for other staff on campus.”
López credits her love of radio to strong desire of wanting to educate and communicate effectively.
“I always wanted to educate people; I always wanted to teach people,” López said. “I’m always very patient, detailed. It’s a combination of that internal educator in me but that artist in me who is a little bit crazy. I’m happiest when I’m behind the scenes. I’ll always be a producer at heart.”