When Rancho Alegre Radio hit the airwaves on KOOP 91.7 FM last August, it brought Tejano and Conjunto music back to FM radio in Austin.
“We’d been disappointed for years that you couldn’t find Tejano music on FM radio here,” says Rancho Alegre co-host Piper LeMoine. Austin lost the last of its Tejano music radio stations in late 2005, which sparked a fight to get the music back on the airwaves. In 2008, Tejano music returned to the air and was soon simulcast in both FM and AM. However, today Austin has only one Tejano music station — KTXZ 1560 AM— after the FM station switched formats.
“Rather than complain about it, we saw an opportunity to change that,” LeMoine says. She and co-host Baldomero “Frank” Cuellar went through the KOOP radio training and launched the hour-long program, which now airs every Monday at 9 a.m.
The show, which features Texas roots music and in-depth interviews with musicians, has gained a loyal following that stretches beyond Austin in its first year. Since the show can be streamed online and also heard through the TuneIn radio app, it’s attracted listeners everywhere from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest.
For Cuellar and LeMoine, the radio show is a labor of love and an extension of the work they’ve been doing for years to preserve and promote Tejano and Conjunto music. In 2012, they launched the Rancho Alegre Conjunto Festival (which took a hiatus this year) and Rancho Alegre Radio became a nonprofit organization last fall. The pair hopes to continue documenting the history of these musical genres through oral history interviews and digitizing their huge catalog of rare and out-of-print vinyl records.
“When people think of Conjunto music they think of Flaco Jimenez,” Cuellar said in a 2012 Austin360 interview. “That’s great, but sometimes we only get half the story. There are so many more artists out there, from the Rio Grande Valley to Alice, Texas.”
Conjunto’s squeezebox melodies and strong narrative lyrics have experienced a resurgence in recent years with new artists infusing a fresh energy into the traditional sound. And while Tejano artists are still performing live and recording new music, they’ve struggled to regain the popularity they once enjoyed decades ago when artists like Selena Quintanilla Pérez were capturing international attention.
Since its launch, Rancho Alegre Radio has aired interviews with artists and community leaders including Austin accordionist Marcelo Gauna and Latin Grammy Winner Felipe Borrero. In the future, Cuellar and LeMoine hope to incorporate in-studio performances to their radio show.
From Conjunto and Tejano fans to those who aren’t familiar with the sound, LeMoine says the Rancho Alegre radio program offers something for every music lover. “We’ll be your (music) guide, and after listening to the show you’ll be able to tell Tejano from Norteño, Conjunto or banda music.”
To listen to some Rancho Alegre interviews, click here.