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Polito Vega, the ‘King’ of Spanish-Language Radio, Dies at 84

The NYC radio legend was a pivotal player in the rise of Latin music in the U.S.

Polito Vega, the larger-than-life radio personality and longtime programming director of New York City’s WSKQ (Mega 97.9 FM) — the top-rated Spanish-language station in the country — who for decades reigned as the most powerful man in that corner of radio, has died, the station confirmed on Thursday. He was 84.

Vega spent more than 50 years on the air in NYC, earning the moniker “El Rey de la radio” (The King of Radio). He was known as much for his deep booming bass, which anchored numerous popular shows through the years, as for his trademark starched white outfits and baseball cap.

Vega was so well-known in the city that there was an oft-told joke that went like this: Two friends are standing on Fifth Avenue in New York as Polito Vega and the Pope stroll by, talking together. One of them asks, “Who’s that?” The other replies, “I don’t know who the old guy with the white robe is, but he must be important if he’s that friendly with Polito!”


Vega’s importance to Latin music cannot be overstated. He was the most influential tastemaker in the country’s top market dating back to when tropical music first became popular in the city in the 1960s and 1970s and stretching all the way to the 21st century.

“The architect of Hispanic radio at a global level,” wrote DJ Alex Sensation on his Instagram feed.

In 2009, Vega celebrated 50 years on the air with two shows at Madison Square Garden featuring performances by a group of A-list talents – Enrique Iglesias, Laura Pausini and Luis Fonsi, among many others. The shows were meant to signal his imminent retirement.

Three years later, in 2012, he celebrated 53 years on the air with “El Megatón Mundial de Polito Vega” (The Polito Vega World Megathon), a show at Citi Field in Queens featuring performances by Gloria Estefan, Don Omar, Alejandro Sanz, Juanes, Ricardo Arjona, Daddy Yankee, Paulina Rubio and Tito “El Bambino,” among others.

“I’ve only done radio in New York; I belong to the city,” he told Billboard at the time. “I go out on the street and people go crazy saying ‘Polito, Polito, Polito.’ I still have the same enthusiasm I had at the beginning; the same positive attitude in front of a microphone.”


Born Hipólito Vega Torres in Puerto Rico, Vega came to the Big Apple harboring more artistic ambitions. He wanted to become a singer, but instead found his calling behind the microphone inside a radio booth rather than on stage. It was the early 1960s, and in NYC and around the country, Spanish-language radio was a fledgling business where broadcasts mostly lived part-time on AM stations. Vega’s first job was as a DJ on a half-hour show called “Fiesta Time,” which aired on the now-defunct WEVD-AM.

“The radio station was part time, but they decided to program 24 hours and they gave me a shift that went from midnight to 6 a.m. I felt I was in heaven,” he said. “The show was so successful and I felt that liberty to express myself that I’ve maintained to this day.”

Vega eventually landed at WBNX, where he met the senior program director Raúl Alarcón. It was the beginning of what would be a life-changing relationship. Alarcón, who’d had radio stations in Cuba before fleeing after the revolution and had big ambitions of his own, would soon acquire his first station in the U.S., launching what would become SBS. Forty years ago, he hired Vega, who never left.


As for Vega, he developed his signature voice and a reputation for defending the music he was passionate about. Vega was the first to play a record by a Fania artist on the radio, the first to play bachata, the first to play reggaetón.

“I grew up listening to Polito,” Prince Royce told Billboard a decade ago. “He was one of the first to support my music, and the first time I heard one of my songs on the air it was on his show.” 

“He has that rare and unique combination of personal assets and experiences that make him a veritable expert where Latin music is concerned,” remarked SBS president and CEO Raúl Alarcón, who took over the business his father founded. “He has seen – and heard – it all, and he retains an uncanny ability to judge what’s good and what’s lacking, despite the constant change in musical trends and the whims of an extremely fickle public. He has a golden ear that can’t be fooled and he is as unfailingly relevant today as he was 50 years ago.”