Armando Pérez Roura, a powerful and controversial voice on Miami’s Cuban radio stations for decades, died early Monday at Mercy Hospital from a heart attack. He was 92.
Thousands of Cuban exiles followed his long career at radio stations such as Radio Mambí and La Poderosa.
“Armando was working from home until three weeks ago with his usual enthusiasm. He was the perfect professional, committed to radio. He loved Cuba above all things. He was a true patriot,” said Jorge Rodriguez, a friend and owner of La Poderosa 670 AM.
After he fled Cuba in the 1960s, Pérez Roura became one of the top media personalities in Miami and a bastion of the hard line against Fidel Castro. Pérez Roura often said that he would not retire until Cuba was free.
“You can’t talk about the history of Cuban exile without talking about Armando,” said Roberto Rodríguez Tejera, an Actualidad Radio journalist who worked with him on several occasions.
For Rodriguez Tejera, Pérez Roura was an innovator because he changed the way newscasts were produced and delivered, making the reports shorter and introducing sound bites and musical shifts.
“He was the one who invented modern radio in Spanish,” said Rodriguez Tejera, adding that his style of dynamic radio was not then known even in places like Argentina.
“That was the time when radio was in black and white,” Rodriguez Tejera added, recalling that Pérez Roura started his career in exile at WOCN Ocean Radio, owned by Ramon Lopez.
Pérez Roura also started to politicize Miami radio, because up until then the Spanish-language stations focused only on entertainment, Rodriguez Tejera added.
His editorials labeled Tome Nota — Take Note — almost always focused on Cuba and became famous. He published some of them as a book.
For many listeners, his voice remains alive through his iconic introduction of the station, “Aquí Radio Mambí. La grande.” Radio Mambi here. The big one.”
Like any public figure, Peréz Roura had his ups and downs, at times making controversial decisions to use his radio program to attack other exiles who differed with his position on Cuba.
But he always maintained his “conviction on Cuba and his vision for the country,” Rodriguez Tejera added.
A family man and a colleague
Away from the microphone, Pérez Roura was a family man, cordial and reserved in his private life. His grandson, Pedro Armando Pérez Roura, said Cuba and his family were the most important things for his grandfather.
“He always talked to us about Cuba. He showed us that we could not forget what happened there and what is still happening,” said the 38-year-old lawyer, who remembers his grandfather always surrounded by books.
“Because he talked a lot on the radio, at home he kept quiet,” he said.
Journalist and former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, a former radio broadcaster himself, recalled the “power to bring people out” that Pérez Roura wielded, proven on many occasions when he called for mass demonstrations.
“His speech resonated with people. He had the ability to show that the issue of Cuba always mattered,” said Regalado, who worked with him on Radio Mambí for 10 years.
“During the time of the dialogue” between exiles and the Cuban government “he always held his hard line,” said Regalado, who was a young reporter covering the Freedom Flights for La Fabulosa radio station when he met Pérez Roura on the day he arrived in Miami.
Regalado also knew Pérez Roura as a person. “As a colleague, even though he was the boss, he was cordial and got along well with everyone,” he said, adding that Pérez Roura as well as Radio Mambi owner Amancio Suárez cooperated closely when he decided to run for Miami city commissioner in 1996.
Regalado also noted that Pérez Roura founded the Association of Announcers in Exile. That group in Cuba was part of one of the most controversial episodes of Pérez Roura’s work on the island. As a leader of radio journalists on the island, he took part in the Castro government’s seizure of the the island’s powerful CMQ stations in 1960.
His critics at times reminded him of that event. A photo in which Pérez Roura appears with Cuban Labor Minister Augusto Martínez Sánchez gave rise to some of the criticism.
“He was president of the Association of Announcers, but I don’t believe that it’s historically correct that he seized CMQ in the name of the government,” said Regalado, adding that “the journalists and announcers took control of the stations, but Pérez Roura did not have an official post in the Castro government.”
Rodriguez Tejera noted that CMQ owner Goar Mestre denied that Pérez Roura had supervised the seizure of the station.
Pérez Roura had also worked as a broadcaster in the presidential palace during the Fulgencio Batista regime.
Miami personalities remember Pérez Roura
Former Republican Rep. Lincoln Díaz Balart, who appeared often in Pérez Roura’s programs, said he “contributed decisively to keeping alive the Cuban nation in exile. He was fundamental to my political career. Through him, I was able to keep our community informed about my work” in Washington.
“”Miami is in mourning for the death of Armando”, Miami Mayor Francis Suárez wrote on Twitter.
Radio Mambi journalist Ninoska Pérez Castellón, who worked with Pérez Roura for about 10 years, recalled that he started his program every day with the list of the people executed on that day years earlier by the Castro regime.
“There was no crime by the Castro dictatorship that he did not denounce,” said Perez Castellón, noting that he died on the anniversary of the death of exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa.
Saying that he had “serious differences with his strategic views of the struggle,” Democracy Movement leader Ramón Saúl Sánchez said the two men always respected each other because they shared the same principles.
“He was one of the pillars who helped to keep alive the flame of hope for the freedom of Cuba,” he said. “Today is a day of mourning for all Cubans in exile.”
José Alfonso Almora, a journalist with WQBA 1140 AM, said he had Pérez Roura to thank for his first job in Miami radio.
“The first thing he told me was to use my two surnames … so people would remember me. And he was right,” Alfonso Almora said.
During the 1990s, Pérez Roura established a powerful radio duo with Agustín Tamargo, another giant of Cuba and Miami radio. He died in 2007. Martha Flores, known as the Queen of Night for her dominance of the nighttime radio waves, died in July.
“The three leading figures of Miami radio are Emilio Milián, Pérez Roura and Tomás García Fusté”, Rodriguez Tejera said. García Fuste is the only one still living. He is in his 90s.
Pérez Roura is survived by four children and 15 grandchildren.
Services will be Friday at Caballero Funeral Home, 3344 SW 8 St. It will be open to the public starting at 6 pm.