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Padilla with his influencer client LeJuan James (center) at an Orlando City soccer game
Ricky Padilla decided a long time ago that he would give himself to the city of Orlando, but he would do it strategically.
By sharing music, creating events and entertaining audiences, he has built an entertainment kingdom. There’s nothing random about his grind: Every step comes with intent.
Take, for example, his 2014 decision to manage social media influencer LeJuan James.
At that time, the term "influencer" was barely in use, but Padilla envisioned paid brand partnerships tied to James’s creative content and has brokered those transactions ever since. Nine years later, influencers are leading the way in entertainment and marketing. In 2023, U.S. companies will spend $5 billion on influencer marketing.
“I saw it early. He had something. My intuition told me he could be a Latin Tyler Perry, so I paid for him to go to acting school,” said Padilla.
That’s the kind of quiet, behind-the-scenes business move you can expect from the Puerto Rican businessman.
Out front, he’s best known for his work in radio. When Orlando’s new radio station WFYY "FLY" 103.1-FM announced its on-air talent in August, it made perfect sense that Ricky Padilla and DJ Nasty would have a time slot. The two have been delighting listeners as a dynamic duo for years, first on 102 Jamz, then Power 95.3 and Star 94.5. Now on 103.1 from 4-8 p.m. on weekdays, they deliver pop and hip-hop hits plus lots of personality.
At various times, their shows together have held the top spot in the Orlando market, which both attribute to their chemistry.
“I was at 102 Jamz when Ricky came to the station. I've always stuck to the people that I know and never really let people inside my circle unless I feel they are somebody I can trust. He became one of those people. We just meshed and became good friends. We ended up having on-air shifts together,” said DJ Nasty.
As Nasty rose to fame as a producer, and ultimately won a Grammy for the DJ Khaled banger "All I Do Is Win," he toured the world, and Padilla joined him for many of those global adventures. They always returned to Orlando, remaining devoted to their local audiences.
That's not all. During soccer season, you can find Padilla emceeing Orlando City Soccer games with Sabrina Ambra of Real Radio 104.1-FM.
“We're mid-season and we're doing very well. You can catch us hosting before the games start and during halftime. We get the crowd hyped, start chants, and when a family wins the Disney Family Match, we have them come up and join us on the big screen. Basically, we’re there to get the fans excited and keep their attention,” said Padilla.
On weeknights and weekend nights, Padilla produces parties throughout the city. The biggest is Sabado Gigante,
every Saturday at downtown nightclub Celine, which easily attracts 1,000 people.
“We have a mixture of high-energy hip-hop and Spanish music, and there’s a lot of dancing,” he said. “It’s 21 and up, and really diverse. It's probably 33% of everything. 33% Black, 33% white and 33% Spanish. If you don’t want to wait in line, I recommend getting there at 11 p.m. By 11:45, you’re gonna be waiting to get in.”
Bringing together people from diverse backgrounds isn’t easy for most event producers. Different cultures celebrate life differently, and you will find that downtown Orlando’s nightlife is fairly segregated. But Padilla intuitively strikes a note that appeals to almost everyone. At the same time, he is exceptionally proud of his Latin heritage and makes it a point to integrate Latin music and vibes at his events.
Talent management, radio, hosting and event production don’t cover Padilla’s full range of influence. He is also one of the owners of Novelty on South Eola Drive, a cocktail and hookah lounge with a laid-back feel. Patrons can bring in food from outside with them, or order delivery from Eola Lounge’s full menu.
Novelty is also where Padilla met last summer with JVC Florida director of programming Stevie DeMann, who offered Padilla his current spot at FLY 103.1.
“We were on the phone talking about a skincare business I was promoting, and I happened to mention that I had a meeting the next day with a radio station that was going to offer me a job. Stevie was like, ‘Hey, can I call you back?’ I had no idea he was about to put together his own offer,” said Padilla. “He called me back and asked, ‘Can we meet right now?’ I was at the pool with the kids, so I asked if we could meet up a little later. I sat down with him at Novelty a few hours later.”
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Photo by Steven Miller
Ricky Padilla and Sabrina Ambra of Real Radio are pre-game and half-time emcees at Orlando City Soccer games
It turned out that DeMann had been planning to formalize a job offer the following week. He was in the middle of flipping a country station into a pop station with a bit of hip-hop, and Padilla was a perfect fit. Timing is everything, so when DeMann learned Padilla might be scooped up elsewhere, he got his plans in order.
DeMann recalls the story this way: “When we had the opportunity to build this new, exciting FLY brand in Orlando, my vision was to put together a team of movers and shakers within the city. Local influencers who have equity within the market, reflect the ethnic makeup of Orlando, have a love and passion for music, and an ability to connect with the people of our community. There was obviously some planning and preparation behind the scenes to build and launch FLY 103.1 but when it came time to recruit talent, Ricky was the first call I made. I literally met with him in person that night. I think he cut me off after my first sentence about the opportunity and said, ‘Say no more, I’m in!’”
Padilla’s recollection matches up: “I was ready to accept it on the spot. The other station had left me waiting for a year. They had been slow with their offer, even though they knew what I've done in this city for so long,” explained Padilla. “Going to FLY was the right move. It’s me and Nasty, doing what we do.”
On March 11, a dressed-to-the-nines crowd of entertainment industry types showed up at F.I.R.S.T. Institute, where Padilla, Nasty and their team reimagined an inner courtyard as a fantasy land for this year’s Cirque du Soleil-themed birthday party. Padilla and Nasty have been celebrating their birthday together for 10 years. They’re going strong, and the coast is clear for more celebrations yet to come.
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