second case is an FM in a Medium size Southwestern market which
includes a large percentage of Hispanic surnamed persons who are
second and third generation residents in the community. The
station programs the latest ballad and modern material, and is
closely guided by playlists received from Mexico City. The news
director was previously a journalist on the staff of a major
Mexican daily, and is very attuned to the latest happenings in
Mexico and Latin America.
Without commenting on the music, and the basis for its selection,
as well we could, there is a fundamental dichotomy between and
betwixt the news orientation and the market as a whole. Add the
young adult appeal of the music, and you have a station that can
not relate to its audience because it does not understand it. The
multi-generation residence status of much of the population and
the influence that this group undoubtedly exerts on the whole
Hispanic population makes the ‘news of Mexico superfluous and
irrelevant. By its content, the news may create an image of "the
Mexican station" in the minds of many who consider themselves
Mexican-Americans. And they will not listen to a station with
which they can not identify.
Radio stations can not usually transcend national boarders. Living
conditions, life-styles and social conditions differ. The moment
that the potential listener crosses any border and establishes
residence in another country, his interests change in accordance
with his changed self-perception and new living conditions. All
along the Mexican-American border, the remarkable lack of audience
penetration on the United States side of the many Mexican radio
stations is due in no small part to this factor.
Just as there are musical tastes, there are preferences in news
content. They vary geographically, demographically, and by length
lies in a market with a variety of national origins. In this
environment, a station attempts to assemble a program format which
will appeal to an audience made ‘up of persons of Mexican,
Caribbean, as well as Central and South American origins in which
no one group is dominant. Due to the variety of heritages, there
is only a limited sense of community among Hispanics, with
national rivalries surfacing at many levels.
imaginary station has recognized the multiplicity of tastes and
interests of the audience and caters to this diversity. A typical
hour may include several ranchera or Norteña songs, a dose of
salsa, some boleros, a Colombian Cumbia, a ballad or two, and
perhaps a folkloric song from one of the South American nations.
News is similarly diverse. Stories range from the meeting of the
Peruvian and Chilean defense ministers on the problem of Bolivian
access to the sea, to items about Fidel Castro and the latest
announcement by a candidate for governor of Puerto Rico.
first review, this appears to be a delightful amalgamation of
cultures and nationalities. In truth, it appeals to no one. The
average listener is likely to be offended or repulsed by at least
one song out of every three, and bored to end by the news, in
which more than 75% is irrelevant.
station has decided to appeal to everyone by appealing to the
diversity of interests in the community. And in doing so, it
accentuates those, differences in a market lacking in unity. The
alternative in music is to seek those musical elements, and they
do exist, in which a commonality prevails. In news, a stronger
local orientation would be of universal appeal and of positive
benefit. True, the emotional impact felt by a Colombian upon
hearing a cumbia would be lost. But the strong sense of rejection
by the same listener towards the Norteña melody that follows would
of the most shocking facts about the U.S. Hispanic market is its
Almost every market able to support a Spanish-language radio
station presents a new and different situation, and requires
different and unique solutions. Unlike general market radio
stations, a format concept can not be transported in interstate
commerce. Spanish-language formats are not portable. Adaptable,
perhaps. But not portable.
This fact is not in itself a Catch-22 situation. Nor does it
require in all instances the expenditure of tens of thousands of
dollars in marketing research. Like the example of the imported
Mexican news professional, it often seems that a little outside
help may be more dangerous than helpful. The solutions are, like
the problems, local in nature.
What can be offered is an outline for the evaluation of your
market’s characteristics and some comments on the application of
the facts to the intangibles of radio programming and format
Starting from the simple numerical size of the so called Hispanic
population, further statistical evaluation must be applied.
Some simple graphs or pie charts may help you here. Is the
population equally distributed by demographic cells? Or do you
find a large group of older residents and, separated by a seeming
void, another large youth and young adult group?
a certain demographic spread made up of longer time residents,
while another group principally consists of recent immigrants? Is
there a national, or in the case of Mexico, regional, difference
in the geographical origins of different segments of the
Perhaps the most important point to quantify is language usage.
Often we are wont to ignore this subject, because it would seem to
negate one of a Spanish-language station’s main selling points.
But we are aware of the loss, of language of preference usage of
Spanish at differing rates in different markets. If you find a
significant number of Hispanic-surnamed persons in your market who
do not use the language, the demographic areas impacted by this
phenomenon of assimilation must be contemplated.
is far better to accept lack of language usage in a particular
audience segment, and through this knowledge, appeal to those
listeners who will listen.
occasional sampler of Spanish-language radio will often not
reflect this listening in a diary, and in any case represents
short listening spans. The next step in program evaluation is one
of looking at the available audience characteristics and
determining where the broadest segment with demonstrable
commonality of tastes and interests exists. In this process, all
the available music forms are matched to the audience segments to
which they individually appeal in the local market. Similarly,
interests as to news content and quantity are examined. The
attitudes of different listening groups to announcing styles is
also reviewed. Finally, the needs of potential listeners as to
community services and special features is studied.
illustrate this process, let us invent a radio market. Our
hypothetical city is located in the Southwestern United States,
within a few hundred miles of the Mexican border. The total metro
population is 500,000. The census shows 150,000 "Hispanic-surname"
persons living in the area, for a total of 30%
As the city was,
from Spanish colonial times under the influence of Mexico, there
is a substantial number of persons within the 30% which does not
use the Spanish language. We find that this segment is well
distributed demographically, representing both older adults and
their offspring. Estimated at 50,000 persons, this group is
removed from further evaluation, leaving 100,000 in our potential
audience. The Spanish-speaking element of the city is found to
have been the product of a two stage migratory process, covering
the last 4 decades. Upon leaving Mexico, most moved first to
agricultural centers outside of urban areas, and later came to our
city from other parts of the state. Almost all trace their
heritage to the Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua and Coahuila
where droughts forced the original emigration.
Further, we find
that a most of the young adults in the 18-34 range were born or
raised in the United States. However, because they achieved
adulthood in a rural agricultural environment, their knowledge and
usage of English is more limited than usually found among the same
demographic of urban dwelling Hispanic youth. The desire to
assimilate is strongest at the bottom end of this demographic, as
many in this group see the success and integration into the
community’s mainstream of the non-Spanish-speaking as being keyed
to linguistic adaptation.
The conclusion is
that there is a cohesive group of Spanish-speaking persons in the
30-plus age category that should respond to a radio station in
Spanish. We find that the average mean age of the total
Spanish-speaking community is in the vicinity of 23. Thus, a rough
estimate of the 30-plus core audience is
40,000 persons. This seems satisfactory as a program base as the
cuming of this group plus occasional younger listeners will yield
a cume share of about 8%, sufficient to rank in the top 10 in our
market-The advantage of a well programmed Spanish-language station
is the customary long listening span of its listeners. The smaller
cume coupled with long listening should yield an average quarter
hour share of about 5, placing the station at about 7th in the
market, and yielding a strong 4th in 25 plus listening.
this point, we see that we have found a viable audience base with
the ability to produce a good sales argument if its full potential
Starting with music, we must establish the points of commonality
in taste. Traditionally, the music of the Mexican states of origin
is an ingrained preference among these listeners. We are thus
talking about ranchera and, to a lesser degree, norteña music.
migratory process has exposed the desired audience to the border
musical hybrids, although not to the extent of that found in the
lower Rio Grande Valley. Nonetheless, exponents of this trend play
at local shows and night spots, and a strong influence is felt.
Through the influence of local Spanish television, the
contemporary ballad style is familiar and growing to acceptance.
Tropical music is seldom exposed, and is not part of the residents
heritage. Afro-Antillean forms, under the blanket term of salsa,
are not found to show any interest except among 18-24 year olds,
who consider it a form of progressive- Latin music. The
traditional romantic forms, such as trios, are found to be of
secondary acceptance only among the 45 plus residents.
programming would seem to contain elements of three types of
music, Ranchera and Norteña, Border hybrids, and the ballad form.
By looking at the lover range of the target demographic, we see
that the Mexican regional music is tolerable, but only if well
selected in both style and interpretation. Similarly, the ballad
decreases in interest as the age of the listener increases. Border
forms, as they appear to have sprung from the migratory process,
are uniformly acceptable.
Programming thus must be a blend of the three forms, avoiding the
extremes. By extremes, we mean regional music that lyrically
refers to non-relevant and exclusively Mexican experiences or that
which is old in style. That which is used must have some bearing
on the urban life-style of our listeners. The ballad also must be
selectively chosen. Artists often seen on television are naturals,
‘ as is the so-called "Onda Chicana" ("grupo") style of ballad
which is, in fact, an amalgamation of regional music and the more
Without attempting to establish precise blends or show you
proposed programming hot clocks, it can be seen that the balance
and selection of music must be subject to very stringent
guidelines and in all cases dictated by local taste. The news
interest of the listener base is going to be a product of the
collective experience. Local news will be fundamental. The
agricultural background of many will mean that listeners have
friends and family elsewhere in the region. State news that allows
the listener to relate to these relatives as well as their own
memories of the past is of value. News of Mexico should be limited
only to things relating to families and experiences left behind in
the states of origin.
An evaluation of
the needs for service and information will dictate the type of
Public Service Announcements to be emphasized. This is perhaps the
most important area of station Operation for it develops a
relationship as both a friend and a guide between the station and
the listener. It has the potential to build a strong and positive
sense of community. Yet only the local operator, tuned into
wavelength of the listener, can make these determinations.
methods of selecting music news and other program elements in
order to produce a program format acceptable by a target audience
are truly only the first step. This process creates a palatable
base on which a station can become a part of the lives of its
listeners. Without this base, all the positive and beneficial
things that a station can do for its listeners will become futile
For listeners to
respond and benefit, they must be listening. Of course, on a less
altruistic level, for advertisers to achieve results, the same
listeners are needed. Finally, the mechanics of the program format
should be compatible with the elements it contains. This covers
everything from announcing style to the placement of commercials
and the frequency of newscasts.
would like to conclude with a real-world example of the importance
of even minor details in the localization of radio program
formats. Although the market is considerably different from
domestic Spanish markets, it nonetheless shows some valuable
points to consider.
early 1979, I was responsible for an FM facility in San Juan,
Puerto Rico. The station was one of five in the area programming
Beautiful Music. Although it was a the market leader in its type,
the economics of the marketplace made a change desirable.
When you think of
Puerto Rico in the musical sense, it is an almost immediate
reaction to think of salsa music. By far the most popular music
form on the
island, it was at that time the prime ingredient in the
programming of nearly half of the 30 stations in the market. Yet a
study of the music, the demographics of its devotees and the
competitive programming showed that salsa programming had
developed in a haphazard manner, without due study.
Generally, the salsa oriented programming was part of a mixture of
rock, disco and ballads. The announcing style was strident and
uncontrolled. Yet we found that the adult listener, from age 18
on, did not appreciate the other musical forms that had become
linked with salsa programming, and they were less than content
with the teen oriented announcing style.
Thus an all-salsa, nothing but the salsa, format was designed.
Announcing was bright but mature and highly structured. With
nothing as a base except what was perceived to be a combination of
minor irritants in other stations’ programming, the new format
rose to a 33.5 share and a cume of over 40% of the 12 plus
population in a period of less than 90 days.
Little details are critical. In this case, the identification of
small defects enabled the competitive environment to be dominated.
But the example is given to show that such seemingly minor factors
can make the difference in successful program design. And they can
be a well programmed station’s armor against less professional
competition in the future.
there is a message in this exercise, it is that Spanish language
radio requires a format tailored and adapted to each individual
market. This hybridization of exiting program theory and practice
in light of the local situation is a delicate process and can only
be achieved with full knowledge of the local environment in mind.
As a local medium,
broadcasting in Spanish can achieve a unique level of service,
loyalty and responsiveness to advertising messages. The key is
introspection and localism.
Las Vegas, 1983.