Look Who’s Talking: Putting a Face on Hispanic Radio

NEW YORK Putting a face on radio isn’t easy. But a quick scan down the dial reveals an emerging trend: Radio broadcasters are talking and radio listeners are tuning in—and in many cases talking back and sounding off—via a growing lineup of talk-inspired programs aimed at Latinos and hosted by big-name personalities and rising stars.

On ESPN Deportes Radio, soccer is king with journalist Jorge Ramos and fellow soccer aficionado Hernán Pereyra helming the network’s national afternoon programming. And rising star Maria Marin, a

syndicated radio talk-show host who some are calling the Latina Anthony Robbins, is carving out a national audience via 12 of Entravision Communications Corp.’s Super Estrella stations with her program, Tu Vida Es Mi Vida Con Maria Marin (My Life Is Your Life With Maria Marin).

Marin’s show, along with ESPN Deportes’ Jorge Ramos y Su Banda (Jorge Ramos and His Gang), are helping to create a burgeoning market for Hispanic talk radio.

“Spanish talk radio is a natural extension of the cultural connection that music radio brings Latinos,” said Stacie de Armas, director of Hispanic marketing services for Arbitron.

She describes the emerging market for Hispanic talk as a segment of the larger Spanish-language radio market as being in a “growth stage” on the verge of a shift. “I imagine that when we get the 2007 numbers, we’ll see a jump in this format in terms of AQH [average quarter-hour per persons] share because we’re entering an election year and issues impacting the Hispanic vote will be particularly relevant.”

According to Arbitron’s 2007 report Hispanic Radio Today, the number of Hispanics listening to the 61 Spanish news/talk radio stations in the United States rose 9 percent to 1.76 million in spring 2006, from 1.61 million in spring 2005. However, the report does not track how many or what percentage of the nation’s 730 Spanish-language stations, up 4 percent from 701 in 2005, incorporate talk programming into their daily lineups.

But strong anecdotal evidence points to Hispanic talk radio closing in on the territory held by longstanding music formats as listeners’ appetites for news, topical and issue-oriented programs grow. In U.S. Hispanic radio markets large and small, talk often takes center stage as a programming option that Latino listeners are embracing and ad executives and buyers are eyeing. This comes amid an environment in which eight of the top 10 advertisers in Spanish-language spot radio showed robust double-digit increases in 2006 ad spending, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, CEO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Enlace Communications, said her agency has initiated media buys over the years to place advertising during ESPN Deportes programs and other lifestyle talk shows on behalf of Jack in the Box, a medical center in Southern California and former client GMAC Mortgage. “The vendors and the media world are trying to broaden the offering beyond the belief that Hispanics are all about music, that TV is the world of women and talk radio is the world of men,” she said.

Arbitron’s 2007 report shows the demo for Latino listeners is changing as audiences gain affluence and education. Spanish news/talk emerged as one of the highest of all 14 Spanish formats, averaging 11 hours per week for listeners 35 to 64, up a quarter-hour since 2002. And Latinos 12 to 24 spend twice the time on Spanish talk radio as English.

Yet while a few radio networks aimed solely at Hispanic talk have come and gone, such as Radio Unica and Radio Centro, the market remains primed for growth.

“There’s not only a market for Hispanic talk, there’s a need,” said Darryl Brown, evp, multicultural, ABC Radio Networks, a developer and syndicator of Hispanic-targeted programs. He said the radio industry has taken notice and wants to deliver more on-air content aimed at Latinos, especially women.

With some 90 days remaining until the book is closed on the upfronts, Brown also has been courting bigger, would-be advertisers: “I want JC Penney, Sears, AutoZone, hotel chains, Ford, GM, and I want P&G because they’re talking to that Latina who is 25 to 40.”

The Latino market is one of the few areas of growth in what’s been a relatively flat ad sales market, with media spending up $5.13 billion in 2006, up 36 percent from 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research.



SPORTS TALK

With new technologies and media platforms, Traug Keller, svp of ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio, said the network “wants to be everywhere there is audio for our sports fans,” describing the strategy as “über audio.”

It’s why on a recent afternoon, callers in 22 markets tuned in to Jorge Ramos y Su Banda to wax on The Galaxy’s David Beckham’s lack of game time due to injuries. “He filled a 75,000-seat stadium,” said a guest panelist, “but he’s hardly made a goal or played.”

For the network, the tactics are paying off, said Oscar Ramos, senior director and gm of ESPN Deportes Radio, based in Miami. He noted a sizable surge in growth from a half-dozen stations two years ago through a partnership with Lotus Communications Corp. to some 22 stations and a presence in 12 of the top 25 U.S. Hispanic markets, or 45 percent of the nation’s Latino population.

ESPN Deportes’ flagship station in Los Angeles, KWKW 1330 AM, is the No. 1 AM station when it comes to ad sales, generating in excess of $10 million, up 11 percent since signing on with ESPN Deportes, industry sources said.

“This being our second full year with ESPN, and in an environment where you read a lot about radio not doing as well, our growth rate is excellent,” said Jim Kalmenson, svp, Lotus Communications Corp. and KWKW president.



MONEY TALK

Among the Spanish talk audience, listeners were nearly evenly split between men and women, with Latinas accounting for 50.2 percent of the 18-plus audience from Monday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to midnight, compared with 49.8 percent for Latinos for the same time period, according to Arbitron.

At Univision Radio Network, which dominates the national Hispanic radio landscape, listeners can tune in daily to catch personal finance guru Julie Stav. Her Tu Dinero (Your Money) program is part of an all-star lineup of expert on-air talent that also includes Latina radio psychologist and author Dr. Isabel Gomez-Bassols, host of the weekday afternoon talk program La Doctora Isabel, el Angel de la Radio (Dra. Isabel, Radio Angel).

Stav is using multiple media platforms to promote financial literacy to Hispanics, said husband and spokesman, Dan Stav. The one-hour show, which airs live daily in 28 markets nationwide and streams live on the Internet, is also being pursued by advertisers who want to sign on as exclusive show sponsors.

Said Ed Gold, advertising media director of State Farm, a longtime advertiser that has supported Stav’s radio program and other projects, “We get a great response from listeners coming into the offices of State Farm agents saying they heard Julie Stav talking about the need for life insurance or that they need to look at these things in their auto policies.”

Enlace’s Newman-Carrasco said Stav’s franchise on financial literacy appeals to marketers because “there’s still a belief system that where you advertise is reflective of who you are as a brand. Anything that hits authentically with listeners, not just salesmanship, is programming advertisers want to align with.”

The time is right for women to tune in and advertisers to get on board, industry watchers said. “The market for Hispanic talk can definitely grow because more women, and a younger demographic of women, are listening to Spanish AM radio,” said Jorge A. Plasencia, a former corporate vp and operating manager of the Univision Radio Network, which counts 11 Spanish talk radio stations.

Plasencia, now chairman and CEO of República, a Miami-based branding, advertising and entertainment firm, says the Univision strategy has been to book-end morning and afternoon drive times with local programs sandwiched with good quality national talk shows, such as Dr. Isabel and Julie Stav.



WOMAN TALK (not what you think)

Known to the Spanish-langage TV viewing audience from appearances on Univision’s Despierta América, Marin is drawing listeners in markets where previously no one tuned in.

“What Maria does, and what others with strong voices do, is put a face on the person who is talking to the listener,” said Brown. “We’re trying to brand that face.”

Marin’s weekly radio show airs in 21 markets with a live broadcast on Sunday nights from Los Angeles, where the radio program is expected to move to Entravision’s Super Estrella KSSE 107.1 FM, said Brown. The show initially launched on Entravision’s KLYY 97.5 FM, in Riverside and San Bernardino, Calif.

So far Marin is delivering growing audiences, showing gains in Los Angeles for her first spring ratings book, up 380 percent for women, 18 to 34, and up 81 percent among men and women, 18 to 34, and up 86 percent among men and women, 18 to 49, according to Arbitron’s 2007 Metro Station Trend report.

“Sunday nights is a tough time period but in most cases we’ve doubled our listeners,” said Jeffery A. Liberman, president of Entravision’s radio division. “We expect her audience will grow as they become more aware of her.”



STRAIGHT TALK

When Latinos have something to say about the politics and issues facing the ever-growing Hispanic community, they turn to the trusted voices they know on radio, including DJs turned advocates such as Eddie Sotelo, host of Univision Radio’s Piolín por la Mañana on La Nueva KSCA 101.9 FM in Los Angeles and veteran broadcaster Hugo de la Cruz, host of Y Ahora Usted Opina (And Now Give Your Opinion). De la Cruz’s live one-hour call-in show on KGBT 98.5 FM is simulcast on KGBT 1530 AM, where the program originated 30 years ago in the South Texas cities of Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen.

Latino DJs have harnessed their power and influence, such as when Sotelo galvanized 1 million listeners nationwide to sign and send letters to Congress in support of fair immigration reform legislation. Sotelo’s show airs in 27 major syndicated markets, including eight Entravision stations and the one where Sotelo got his start.

“Piolín” and other morning talk headliners such as Spanish Broadcasting System’s El Vacilón, simulcast in New York City, Miami and Puerto Rico and syndicated in six markets, are credited for mobilizing and unifying Latinos on the issue.

Still, the tone can be extreme in larger markets, where DJs turned talk jocks often ignite buzz of their own, said Frank Flores, who heads up the two SBS New York stations, which are mostly talk and play some music.

“When you turn on the Vacilón, you’re ready for anything—prank calls, parodies of recurring hits—anything can happen,” Flores said, noting that advertisers are buying into the talk-music format because audiences are tuning in for shows such as the talk-music Viva Mexico, which often wins the No. 1 spot among listeners 25 to 54 and 18 to 49.

“SBS’ La Mega is ratings intensive,” said Yesenia Gonzalez, a senior media buyer at Bromley Communications in San Antonio. “The formats captivate listeners and target niche groups who listen to radio in Spanish.”

In South Texas, KGBT’s de la Cruz makes his voice heard just like his colleagues at big-city stations, taking on issues such as immigration, poverty and politics. After 30-plus years on the air, he connects with listeners who turn to him for everything from hurricane warning news to high-school football scores. And when a caller says that he can’t get a straight answer to a Social Security or Medicare question, de la Cruz calls in live and puts pressure on bureaucrats who should know better.

“Nothing is impossible to him when it comes to the audience,” station gm Joe Morales said of de la Cruz. “He gives them a voice when no one will listen or take them seriously.”