By Grecia Gonzales
Portrait by Edward Linsmier
An upbeat song comes on the radio, you quickly pick up your phone to Shazam it before it is over, you find it, and with a simple click you purchase it. Within seconds you have the song in your music library. This is the digital age. Your phone is now your record player, and there are more than 100 music outlets to digitally retrieve your favorite songs. So what drives Michael Ramirez, 34, to run the old-school vinyl record and CD wonderland that is Radio-Active Records?
“It is my passion; I don’t think about digital records,” Ramirez says. “That’s another medium; we are in our own world.” Located in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Radio-Active Records was founded by record collector Sean Kayes in 1995, then operating under the name CD Collector. Before jumping on board with the record store, Ramirez worked at a Barnes and Noble, but he felt like a small piece in a huge corporate puzzle.
“I would constantly ask myself, ‘What am I doing here?’” he says, “I had six to eight bosses who probably wouldn’t have known my name when the time came.” He later started working at Radio-Active Records,
juggling both jobs, until Ramirez went through some financial hardships that left him with nothing. Reassessing some of his life decisions, he realized he wanted to be part of something in which he could grow and prosper. That is when the opportunity came, and Kayes made Ramirez partner in 2006. He quit Barnes and Noble to make Radio-Active Records his only priority.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this,” he says. “I owed it to myself to come out on top. I put my blood, sweat and tears into this.”
Along with graphic designer Richard Vergez, Ramirez rebranded the store and to this day, he handles the majority of the day-to-day operations. Nine years later, the store is nirvana to music lovers. Ramirez greets everyone who comes in and recognizes all of his regular customers along with their music taste. For him, Radio-Active Records is more than a store; it provides a service to his community.
Music has always been embedded in him. Ramirez grew up in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where his mom owned a nightclub. “I would make tapes for the dancers on my cheap J.C. Penney stereo,” Ramirez says, smiling. “The dancers would like it, and they would tell my mom ‘Have your son make us more tapes,’ and I was only 5 at the time.”
“I want us to keep pushing forward because we are here for the community and for the people.”
To bring music lovers together, Radio-Active Records hosts live signings and performances. Every year it holds Record Store Day, an internationally celebrated day to promote independently owned record stores, held this year on April 18.
“I always tell my team, after every event that we host, ‘Now it is going to get harder’ because we have to keep moving and pushing ourselves,” Ramirez says. Managing this store and finding the right record titles make this job a 24/7 gig for Ramirez. Since the popularity of vinyl records has risen, even thrift stores have had a low inventory, which has made Ramirez’s vinyl record hunt into an everyday adventure. When sellers reach out to Ramirez, he personally purchases the records himself. Even if it means ending up in a run-down area, which Ramirez jokes he’s been in a few times to find records.
After 20 years, Ramirez admits Radio-Active Records is still a work in progress. When asked about the future, Ramirez’s eyes glisten. “I hope we are able to stay relevant by reinventing ourselves,” he says. “There’s always room for new and better things. I want us to keep pushing forward because we are here for the community and for the people.”
Originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue.