“Rockin’ Rick,” Popular KDCE Radio DJ, Passes On Unexpectedly

Rockin' Rick Padilla at a Lobos game. Photo courtesy of KDCE Radio.

“Rockin’ Rick,” Popular KDCE Radio DJ, Passes On Unexpectedly

By Robert A. Naranjo

Albuquerque – Rockin’ Rick Padilla, 58, who began his radio career in 1975 when he was in high school in Albuquerque, and was currently at KDCE AM & FM where was a popular and award-winning radio personality (DJ), “paso a mejor vida” (passed on to a better life) in the early morning hours of April 18 at his home in Albuquerque. The news was shock to his co-workers, friends and his radio fans in northern New Mexico.

His long and successful radio personality career began at KANW, a public radio station operated by the Albuquerque Public Schools, when the station was offering a course in radio broadcasting. Rockin’ Rick “saw this as tremendous opportunity because of his love and passion for music” and jumped on the opportunity. His KANW Saturday show with his signature, ‘New Mexico Style,’ delivery soon became one of the most popular shows at that station. The rest, as they say, is history.

From there Padilla moved on to KABQ with its broader metro radio audience, and with his unique signature delivery, became more well known in the state. Later, his radio career took him home to Belen when the general manager at KARS radio station recruited him to help establish an all New Mexico format there. He was promptly promoted to program director. From Belen to Santa Fe was his next upward career track move when he joined KSWV, “Que Suave,” where he was the program director and had a popular Saturday show in the “Capital City” as well.

“In 2001, Rockin’ Rick met with KDCE owner and president, Richard Garcia. Rockin’ Rick knew of KDCE’s large listening audience, influential cutting edge and varied programming. He joined the Española Valley’s flagship radio station and soon became a popular afternoon man at KDCE AM & FM where he was known for his infectious laugh, jokes (some dry), pro and college football and basketball sports talk, love of family (especially mentioning his beloved mother every chance he got), non-stop promotion of New Mexico music, and developed many, many fans who will surely miss him on the air.

Padilla remained with KDCE radio for 12 years and traveled from Albuquerque to the KDCE studios during his long career at that iconic northern New Mexico radio station.  He was a tireless promoter of New Mexico music and never ceased promoting artists and their music with live on-air interviews and playing their new CD releases. “In addition to Rockin’ Rick’s demonstrative flair for New Mexico music, he also exhibited exceptional knowledge of many other music genres, infusing his radio program with a broader range of music genres and blending them together to make unique mixes along with his professional candor, Rockin’ Rick became one of the most popular entertainers and personalities on KDCE Radio airwaves,” according to his bio on KDCE’s website. He always carried his “CD suitcase” to work which he used every day that he was on the air. It “had a little bit of everything” he was fond of saying.

In a interview conducted on April 18, KDCE’s Richard Garcia reminisced about his longtime employee. He immediately pointed out that Rockin’ Rick was the winner of the New Mexico Hispano Music Association’s (NMHMA) “Mark Ipiotis Award” which is presented annually to the radio personality that goes above and beyond to promote and preserve “New Mexico Music.” He was honored with back-to-back awards by the Association’s members in recent years. 

According to Garcia, Rockin’ Rick was a consummate professional and dedicated radio personality who traveled thousands of miles commuting to KDCE through the years as he lived in Albuquerque.”For a man to travel 180 miles round trip almost every day to work at a little radio station and do it for years just goes to show you what type of person he was,” Garcia reflected. “He would help us with remotes, and the people just loved him,” Garcia added. “Oh, so you’re Rockin’ Rick,” listeners would tell him. “I listen to your show all the time, you’re funny sometimes,” they would tell him, Garcia related.

On the air at KDCE, Rockin’ Rick was just plain “having too much fun.” He loved to give his favorite listeners “carrilla,” (a hard time or rubbing) about their favorite pro football teams. He had special nick names for many of them and especially relished rubbing in that his Broncos beat their team. Rockin’ Rick was the most dyed-in-the-wool UNM Lobos and Denver Broncos fan around, no question about that. For example, Rockin’ Rick was a regular attendee for many years to the Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament held in Las Vegas, NV and the Western Athletic Conference before that. He also traveled to Denver to see his Broncos. However, he was also a good sport when his teams didn’t do as well as he wished for, and he’d admit on the air that a certain team had a good day and beat his Broncos or Lobos or give credit to Super Bowl champions when it wasn’t his Broncos. I’m sure his regular listeners will miss his unique bilingual delivery, and his on-air camaraderie, and the friendships that developed over the years.

“La Serna.” For about a year and a half, Rockin’ Rick had a radio show with Española Valley resident, Edna Serna, which became extremely popular at KDCE. They made a great team, and were good with each other bantering back and forth like an old married couple in a way that endeared listeners. He was Edna’s radio business mentor, teaching her how to run the board, other necessary equipment and the most important thing, avoiding “dead air” (silence due to equipment malfunction). Later, La Serna had her very own show on Sundays which became quite popular with KDCE listeners. Rockin’ Rick was very proud of her growth and success on the air. It also came with a new radio name,“La Serna del Valle.” She, too, passed on a couple of years back.

About the loss of Rockin’ Rick, NHMHA’s president, and KDCE general manager, Casey Gallegos, while at his office at the station said, “New Mexico music artists have lost a tireless promoter and good friend. Rockin’ Rick was a complete professional on the air but he had a skillful and entertaining way of having a good time with it. He simply loved his job and it showed, and will be truly missed by all,” Gallegos added.

One social media post by a Rockin’ Rick fan from the Española Valley, said that she hated to tell the sad news “to her elderly mother” who just loved him and looked forward to his show. The social media posts also had many entertainers sharing stories of visiting Rockin’ Rick while he was live on the air at KDCE. A young lady said he played her CD when she was just starting out. “El Gringo,” a popular singer from Las Vegas, NM posted that when he was fairly unknown, he was in Española promoting a new CD release. He stopped at KDCE and Rockin’ Rick played some selections from El Gringo’s new CD.  He liked what he heard and predicted on the air that El Gringo would be successful. Rockin’ Rick was right on that prediction as El Gringo has become a New Mexico favorite. There were many more posts, too many to include here, that were offering condolences, memories, with many saying that they “can’t believe it” because he “looked fine” last week. All posting that he will be missed.

Padilla is survived by his mother, a sister and other family and friends. Services are pending and are being handled out of funeral home in Belen. As soon as funeral arrangements become available, listeners will be alerted on KDCE radio. Rockin’ Rick Padilla will be laid to rest in Albuquerque. 

Vaya con Dios Rockin’ Rick, en el nombre del Padre, el Hijo, y el Espiritu Santo, Amen.