Carlos Lando has worked in radio for fifty years and has interviewed many jazz and blues greats such as Nina Simone and Dizzy Gillespie. But his most memorable conversation was with legendary bandleader Count Basie when Lando was hosting a popular jazz radio show in Puerto Rico.
“It was 1978, 1979, and Count Basie was flying his orchestra to the Virgin Islands, to St. Thomas,” Lando recalls. “A friend of mine who heard my show and owned a radio station in St. Thomas said, ‘Hey, I want you to come over here and meet the Earl. I’ve known him for thirty years and he’s playing down here .’ … We’re going to the amphitheater tonight, a fantastic show. And at the end of the show, this gentleman named George immediately says to me, “We have to go to Bill right away. It has to happen now, or else.” you won’t get a second chance.’ … I’m thrown backstage, and there’s Basie, and George says, ‘I want you to meet this young man; he loves your music.’ I was 28 years old and I just stared at him. He’s got his cigar and he sits back and says, “How are you, son?” And so I just started asking him all kinds of things, I was nervous.
“The most memorable part I remember to this day was the ending,” he continues. “I’m trying to get my little tape player running, and about the last five minutes of the interview – we were there for about ten minutes – there was a loud knock on the door. There’s a guy at the door and he says, ‘Please tell Mr. Basie we can’t keep these people waiting out here on the main stage.’ They rearranged the whole stage and there were all these tables and white cloth and champagne, they inaugurated the amphitheater and all these people were there. And Basie is in the back talking to me and his good friend George who introduced me to him… And that’s it. These guys stand guard at the door and allow Basie to give me five more minutes, he already gave me ten. So, about the third time there’s a knock, a guy opens the door and he just stands there, doesn’t he? I don’t say a word, he just catches Basie’s eye. And the Count nods, and he looks at me, and he stands up and says, ‘Okay, son, let’s go and talk.’ And we started walking out of his little cramped space. It was like this epiphany. This whole thing hit me where I knew that as soon as that door opened and the light came in, I knew we were just a few steps away from the main stage, and that this would be the last time I was ever there in person Count Basie would speak or see him.” He shook my hand, smiled with that cigar and said, “Son, just keep doing what you are about to do. We need people like you who not only remember, but push the music forward.'”
And Lando did exactly what the Count said: move the music forward. After 35 years at KUVO 89.3 FM, Lando is stepping down from his position as general manager but will continue his fan-favorite morning show. The morning set with Carlos Landowhich started in April and acts as an advisor to the jazz channel.
His father was in the Air Force and Lando grew up around the world, moving from England and Spain to several states before graduating from school in Puerto Rico. He worked for two popular radio stations in Puerto Rico in 1968 and 1969 before briefly serving as a weekday host for an underground rock radio show at WOUR in Utica, New York in 1970. He moved back to Puerto Rico in the mid ’70s before moving to New York City as a radio producer. By this point, Lando had a family and was visiting his daughters and ex-wife in Denver.
“I wasn’t on the air in New York City. I didn’t have enough experience at the time and it was hard to crack. But I knew I could be on the air in Denver, especially in the areas that I really love, which was music: soul music, blues, jazz and stuff like that,” he recalls.
In 1980, Lando moved to the Mile High City, where he was employed as music and programming director and lunchtime presenter at soul music station KDKO. He spent five years there before joining KBCO, becoming program director at KUVO in 1987.
KUVO began in 1985 as an independent public station founded by volunteers who wanted a Hispanic-run station. While the outlet began with a focus on Latin fusion music, Lando expanded that to include jazz, which in turn expanded the station’s audience and funding. “When I first took over, the whole Latin fusion thing was really kind of scattered, and we weren’t getting the responses that we needed to survive as a nonprofit community broadcaster,” explains Lando. “The reason we had to go to jazz is because Denver has a long jazz heritage. I told Flo [Hernandez-Ramos, who co-founded KUVO and served as its president and CEO for 23 years] that this was our lifeline, that in 1987 there were literally 80,000 people out there living, breathing and supporting jazz in our community. At least that’s what the audience measurements have shown us. And so I said, ‘We’ve got to get these. Get these people in here. And we will preserve our cultural roots. We’re going to help people understand what our community priorities are, but under the jazz umbrella.'”
With public relations and fundraisers, Lando not only helped keep the channel alive, but it earned respect across the country and even across the pond: The UK-based telegraph In 2005 and 2006 it was one of the best jazz stations in the world. At the same time, it was named Jazz Station of the Year by the JazzWeek radio airplay chart. Lando became the station’s president and general manager in 2012, and the next year the station merged with Rocky Mountain PBS, expanding its reach and keeping the station afloat amid the rise of podcasts and other streaming media. With a larger fan base, the outlets launched hip-hop broadcaster The Drop in 2019 to reach hip-hop and R&B enthusiasts and promote local artists in those genres.
“When Carlos first came to us as program director, it was like coming home because his passion and in-depth knowledge of jazz is truly amazing,” says Hernandez-Ramos. “Carlos and his team managed to build meaningful community relationships, reinvented our format and ran some very successful fundraising events that literally saved the channel. It’s really satisfying to see Carlos getting back to what he truly loves, going back to his roots and focusing on programs that support the jazz community and Colorado’s musical heritage.”
Program director Max Ramirez will take the helm as general manager during Lando’s transition. “In our current state, we’re in the process of reorganizing and making sure that each of our entities, whether it’s hip-hop or jazz, has a synergy, that we work together to create content for our city,” says Lando. “We all have different roots in our community and different groups of people that we reach in our community.
“One of the great things about Colorado and living here is that we have such a rich music base,” he adds. “The reason KUVO has managed to win awards is because we have always listened to our community. And without that, we wouldn’t still be here. We’re able to introduce a lot of new music that you won’t hear anywhere else. So the big challenge for Max right now is getting new music to come in to satisfy what we’ve had before, but at the same time balancing the classics and understanding that three quarters of our audience aren’t hardcore jazz people have come to us…because they like something different. You have to diversify a bit.”
Ramirez wants to uphold KUVO’s legacy, but admits that “it’s not easy to fill in the footsteps when Carlos leaves. But what I can do is promise the community that we will improve the current program and the music we have, improve the shows that serve the community, and we will move the sound in the evolution of jazz that will help us build a younger audience in the future. I promise that while changes are happening, they are for the advancement and best service to the community at KUVO.”
Some critics have said that KUVO, which is also known for highlighting local artists, is going mainstream. “As jazz advances, people’s interpretations of jazz remain in the generation in which they grew up in jazz,” says Ramirez. “I’m younger, I’m 34, so my jazz was contemporary fusion jazz, that’s my ear. But I can promise that just because I’m from a different jazz generation doesn’t mean I won’t serve their generation jazz to the best of my ability. Jazz is diversity, it is a petri dish of progress in artistic expression and interpretation.”
Lando agrees that jazz just changes, and while KUVO changes with it, the station’s roots are still strong.
“KUVO sounds a little different today and will sound a little different next year and the year after,” Lando concludes. “Because that’s what music is about.”
The morning set with Carlos Lando airs weekdays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on KUVO 89.3 FM.