Tucked between the churches and auto repair shops of Valley Boulevard near the 710 entrance, Alhambra's Radio Futura has been an unusual center for Los Angeles' underground hip hop scene for more than a decade.
“What we offer is unique, it’s a conduit for the scene,” says the store's owner Leo Molina, an El Monte native who first started selling clothing out of his garage in south San Gabriel in 1992. “It’s about living the music.”
From the garage Molina expanded to two shops, one in Pomona and another Alhambra. But in recent years the music industry crisis hit hard, and Radio Futura — with its tag line "music – clothing – life" — is being forced to reinvent itself as the industry moves into the digital age.
“It’s the end of an era, but you have to deal with it,” says Molina from his regular perch behind the register, graphic tees hanging on every side of him. Holding up a 12-inch vinyl, Molina explains, “I get 16-year-old kids in here thinking that this is a giant CD. And I might think they’re completely out of touch, but I might be the one who is.”
Radio Futura began as a music store, with an extensive collection of CD’s, tapes, and 12-inch vinyl records, but since then has gone on to carry streetwear and urban artists’ supplies. At one point, the Alhambra spot had an outdoor patio area where live shows were held and a program on the LATV network called “The Hip Hop Show,” featuring underground artists such as 2mex.
On an early Thursday afternoon, a 20-year-old who goes by the name Classy Stories strolled in. He says that he lives in San Diego, but used to come by Radio Futura all the time for “mix tapes and art supplies.” “What happened to that room in the back?” he asks Molina, as the two catch up about developments in the scene. I had forgotten about the back space (now used for storage) until he brought it up, but remembered that I went there once in high school to buy tickets for a local Peanut Butter Wolf show.
As customer shopping habits were starting to shift, the store had to readjust its focus. Molina still sells tickets, but sales are for more large-scale events, such as Deadmau5 and Tiesto. Radio Futura continues to carry a limited amount of new music, but nowadays it’s primarily a clothing store with band tees and an assortment of music merchandise, such as posters and decals.
He says they may even need to change their name from “Radio Futura” as young people now have a totally different perspective of technology. “In the future, kids will need to have it explained to them what they are. It’s like a museum,” he says. “People will come in with their kids, point and say ‘Look, a record!’ But will they go and buy one? No. Do people go out and buy washboards? No. Museums do exist, but not to make a living on.”
As for Radio Futura’s role in the underground scene, which he still finds is going strong in spots like Lincoln Heights, he believes that the shop will always have a place. “We grew up here and all around the SGV,". "Demographics here have changed, but the youth market is still the same. Blacks, Asians, Caucasians, Latinos, they all wanna be hip. So why not save them a trip to Melrose and have something for them right here?”