Oscar Contreras in his studio at WBTK-AM Radio Poder (Photo by Jay Paul)
Oscar Contreras, host of WBTK-AM Radio, which about 10,000 listeners tune into each week. (Photo by Jay Paul)
Sharing an office complex with a prominent Richmond FM radio station and its sleek vans parked out front, Oscar Contreras’ aesthetic for WBTK-AM Radio Poder is modest, a quiet statement of purpose: an old luggage trunk as a coffee table, and a well-worn Bible.
Contreras is the main host of this Spanish-language Christian station with about 10,000 weekly listeners. Whether a caller seeks help on spiritual questions, passport issues or can’t find a Spanish-speaking clown, Contreras is here to help.
“So many Latinos were looking for a connection to our culture,” he says. “Something that’s like us.”
He’s been a host for eight years at the station, which changed ownership and switched to a Spanish-language format in 2006.
Contreras, who immigrated to Culpeper County from Guatemala at 12, got his start as a community connector as an AmeriCorps volunteer. County officials asked him to create an office to help the growing Latino community. Contreras says he was shocked to find people in need of shoes and clothing.
“As an immigrant, I didn’t understand why people had those needs in the United States, the land of opportunity,” he says.
In 2008, about to graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University, he called Radio Poder and offered to host a call-in show as a volunteer, only to find himself hired without any radio experience. He now hosts the weekly call-in show, in addition to serving as a morning host each day.
Every week, he brings in guests with international and hyper-local focuses, with consulate officials and health department workers sometimes joining him in the booth. As Radio Poder prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary this month, he says the work still energizes him.
“That’s all I know, how to connect people,” Contreras says. “People trust what they hear is going to be useful.”