In a career that began in 1960, the Puerto Rico-born Mr. Vega became, one admirer said, “the architect of Hispanic radio at a global level.”
Polito Vega, an exuberant announcer with a booming bass voice and a finely attuned ear whose Spanish-language shows popularized salsa music in New York in the mid-1960s, died on March 9 in North Bergen, N.J. He was 84.
His death was announced by his family. No cause was given.
After abandoning his dreams of becoming a singer, Mr. Vega began his broadcasting career in 1960, shortly after transplanting himself from Puerto Rico to New York. He quickly distinguished himself on air with his signature voice, his perky epigrams like “Andando, andando, andando” (“Keep going”) and his adventurous playlists. He also distinguished himself in person, at concerts and dances, with his ubiquitous Yankees cap, starched white guayabera shirt, white goatee and fuzzy sideburns.
The disc jockey and recording artist Alex Sensation described Mr. Vega on Instagram as “the architect of Hispanic radio at a global level.”
In an obituary in Billboard magazine, Leila Cobo, the author of “Decoding ‘Despacito’: An Oral History of Latin Music” (2020), wrote: “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.”
He was heard on two New York AM stations, first WEVD and then WBNX, and finally on WSKQ (Mega 97.9 FM) — which began broadcasting as a full-time Spanish-language format in 1989 and has often been rated No. 1 in that market. He also became the station’s program director.
When Mr. Vega began broadcasting, he recalled, he was struck by the disconnect between the comparatively temperate bolero music that dominated Latin broadcasting and the feverish salsa he was encountering in nightclubs. He was among the first radio personalities to recognize the market for salsa, identifying promising talent and mentoring gifted musicians.
“It was two different worlds in those early days,” Mr. Vega said told The New York Times in 2009. “At the dance halls and up in the Catskills you would hear the Tito Puente and Machito orchestras tearing things up, but on the radio the kind of thing you heard was romantic trios, unless you were tuning in to Symphony Sid” — the prominent jazz D.J. who began playing Afro-Cuban music in the 1960s — “late at night.”
The trombonist Willie Colón, who became one of salsa’s biggest stars, recalled that the first time he heard Yomo Toro, the maestro of the 10-string guitar known as the cuatro, with whom he would later collaborate on several recordings, “was on Polito’s show, playing along with listeners who would call in and sing over the telephone.”
In the late 1960s, Mr. Colón got a break when he was invited to appear on “Club de la Juventud,” an “American Bandstand”-inspired TV show that Mr. Vega hosted on the Telemundo network from 1967 to 1970.