Oldies but goodies music lives on in Santa Rosa’s bilingual radio station KBBF

Mayra Lopez
Written by Mayra Lopez

It was love, and a shout out from a radio DJ, that made Juan Roman fall for oldies music. As a 14-year old student at Lawrence Cook Middle School, his crush refused to hold his hand, leaving him heartbroken. He resolved the only way to get his crush back was to send her a dedication over the radio.

“I was at home listening to Frankie Cruz play some oldies and I kept on calling and he wouldn’t pick up. The telephone was busy. I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to desahogarme (pour one’s heart out),” he said. So Roman came up with another idea. He wrote Cruz a note and rode his bike down to KBBF radio station to deliver his dedication. “When I got home and turned on the radio, he was throwing me a shout out, telling me: ‘Don’t worry about it little vato, the storm will pass,’ he shared. “I felt as if he was talking directly to me.”

Now, years later, Roman continues to foster a love for the oldies, music created between 1950-1970’s, with his show “Late Night Oldies” on KBBF bilingual radio in Santa Rosa. The radio show also runs a dedication line, reminiscent of Art Laboe, the Los Angeles DJ who coined the term “oldies but goodies” and was one of the first to start on-air song dedications. 

Roman has been manning the decks at the station for about 9 years, where he began as a producer. He describes himself as naturally shy and resisted when he was first approached by Omar Malfavon about starting a show. “I still get nervous and anxious, but here I am 9 years later,” he said. 

“Late Night Oldies” DJ, Juan Roman, poses at  KBBF radio station in Santa Rosa. Mayra Lopez / La Prensa Sonoma

Oldies music “describes a time of life that has happened, whether it’s falling in love, getting our hearts broken, being hungry or feeling cold on a rainy day,” he elaborated. “That’s the music that tells our story. And we enjoy playing it.”

Over the years, Roman has collected quite a following of listeners and memorable dedications. He remembers a male caller who called in after Roman had played ‘You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down’ by James and Bobby Purify. The caller told him he had been a listener for about two years and was feeling down. “He said he felt like I was talking to him and it lifted his spirits,” Roman said. “It was kind of a reflection of when Francisco Cruz threw me that shout out.”

When he first began the show, most of the callers were local, within the Northern Bay Area. Two years ago, the show began streaming online and the listener base has broadened extensively. Now he has listeners call in from all over the West Coast and has even received calls from as far as Oaxaca, Mexico. 

Roman doesn’t claim to know everything about music. “I’ve known oldies for a long time but I didn’t know exactly how to diagnose the meaning of oldies,” he said. Sometimes it’s the listeners who teach him. He cites a listener from Cotati who introduced him to Ronnie and the Ronettes. 

The creation of the show has opened up doors for Roman in many ways. He has been invited to VIP access at concerts and has even had the opportunity to connect with some of his idols, including Brenton Wood and the band War. 

Juan Roman wears a shirt from his radio show, the “Late Night Oldies” show. Mayra Lopez / La Prensa Sonoma

The love of this particular genre of music is transcending generations of people, the  tradition of soulful sound.“I grew up listening to this music and now I have my daughters listening to it too.” Both of his young daughters have developed a love for oldies music, music that was created generations before them. 

Roman shared that they listen to oldies on their way to school. “One day ‘I’m Your Puppet’ by James and Bobby Purify came on, and my youngest Tatiana says ‘Daddy, turn it up! That’s my jam!” he said, smiling. “These are the memories we hold on to, they are special to us.”

As a member of the Sonoma County Lowrider Council, Roman knows how closely tied the lowrider community is to oldies music. “You can’t be into the oldies and lowriders without being political,” he explained. “I talk a lot about social issues happening in the barrios.”

He sees the “Late Night Oldies” show as a platform to uplift the Chicano community, especially the youth. “I try to amplify the love for our culture,” he said. “I love being a Chicano, and I promote that. One of the reasons I promote that is that I don’t want our kids to walk around feeling ashamed, internalizing the pain of being unwanted or other.”

For Roman, the show really is a labor of love. “You know, I do it because I love it, I’m not getting rich off and I’m not getting famous for it,” he said. 

“I’m going to stick around till they tell me no more,” he said with a smile. 

The Late Night Oldies show plays every Sunday from 10 pm-12 am. Archives of past shows can be found online as well. To make an on-air radio dedication, call 707-545-0318. 

[Versión en español]

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Reach La Prensa Sonoma’s Editor Ricardo Ibarra at 707-526-8501 or email ricardo.ibarra@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ricardibarra.

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