Tucson: Growth Is as Easy as Moving Mountains

To understand Tuscon is to take into account topography and the proximity to Mexico. With the Mexican state of Sonora only 63 miles away, the city’s television and print industries can take advantage of the market across the border. However, the mountains surrounding the city thwart consistent and clear radio reception beyond the metro area, says Lotus Communications’ general manager Steve Groesbeck. The border town of Nogales, for example, does not receive Tucson radio signals, hindering expanded market coverage into Mexico, unlike the cross-border markets of San Diego and El Paso. That also could be a determining factor in fewer national radio conglomerates in Tucson.

A hefty 34.8 percent, or 380,000 people, of the DMA’s 1.1 million residents are of Hispanic origin, according to BIA Financial Network figures, but Tucson has only six Spanish-language radio stations. By comparison Denver, with a population that is 21 percent Hispanic, has 10 Spanish radio outlets, including Bustos Media and Entravision holdings. Ubiquitous Univision Radio is not present, though it is in San Diego, which has a 29.6 percent Hispanic population and 17 Spanish outlets.

Despite such a heavy concentration of Spanish speakers in the nation’s 25th-largest U.S. Hispanic market, per Nielsen Media Research, Clear Channel is the only heavy hitter. The radio giant has KTZR-FM, which broadcasts its La Preciosa network, and Tejano-format KXEW-AM. In Arbitron’s fall 2006 survey, KTZR was second among Spanish-language stations and ninth in the general market; KXEW placed 18th.

Otherwise, much of “big media” has yet to catch sight of the market’s radio opportunities. Entravision left Tucson in September, selling KZLZ-FM La Tricolor to independent investor Todd Robinson; the station now plays Mexican regional. The top-ranked Hispanic station is Lotus’ KCMT-FM, which offers Mexican regional and ranked seventh in the general market with a 3.6 rating. Lotus’ second Spanish-language outlet is KTKT-AM, which has offered ESPN Deportes for about a year. Smaller local company One Mart Corp. has made its way onto the airwaves with KEVT-AM Mexican regional, placing 13th in the most recent Arbitron survey.

Mileage and topography have not hindered Tucson’s print media, but much of it is produced in Phoenix or Sonora. There is no standalone community paper in Tucson, but El Imparcial, a broadsheet based in Hermosillo, about 240 miles away in the state of Sonora, covers the usual range of news for readers. Out of its 38,000 total circ, 15,000 copies are distributed to southeast Arizona, with the remainder staying put in Sonora.

Luxury brands have started to pursue the Tucson Hispanic market, and by extension, surrounding Mexican environs. Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. opened stores last fall, with the jewelry and silverware company advertising in El Imparcial to lure southeast Arizona and cross-border shoppers. Tiffany’s will be on the 2007 schedule, says Leyla Cattan, account executive and advising editor for El Imparcial.

Phoenix-based La Voz Publishing produces two Tucson weeklies, which provide little Tucson-related news. La Voz de Tucson, a tabloid with a 15,000 circ, and the 20,000-circ TV y Más Tucson entertainment title are distributed to area restaurants, hotels and businesses for free. Meanwhile, the company’s La Voz de Phoenix prints twice weekly and has a 120,000 circulation.

Joe Matusak, La Voz’s national account manager, says, “If national companies want to pursue Hispanics in the state, they’ll choose Phoenix over Tucson, [which] is considered kind of an add-on to reach [Arizona].”

Thomas Oliver, executive director and CEO of the National Hispanic Press Foundation, who recently resigned as executive director of the National Assn. of Hispanic Publications, conceded as much. “Weeklies and magazines are launched on a regular basis but can’t seem to stand up to the competition in terms of readership or advertising ROI. This is a tough market for a new newspaper to enter.”

The closest thing to homegrown is La Estrella, the free tabloid published Wednesdays by Lee Enterprises’ Arizona Daily Star. The paper was launched in October 2004, with the majority of its 46,000 copies sold at newsstand. The remainder are inserted into some newsstand copies of the Star and home-delivered copies of Star in designated ZIP codes.

José Merino, editor and founder, says 15 percent of La Estrella’s circ also is delivered to Nogales, Douglas and Green Valley, with plans to expand into Mexico. The paper provides original Tucson news, unlike La Voz and Imparcial, with few translated stories from the Star.

Tucson television bucks the mom-and-pop trend, having instead all the standard national players — not to mention station signals that stretch across the border — for its 426,600 total TV households, reports BIA. Univision O&Os KUVE-TV Univision and KFTU-TV TeleFutura are both full-power stations whose signals reach Sonora over the air, says KUVE account executive Kathia Sanchez, and have Cox and Comcast cable carriage. KUVE airs Phoenix’s Univision local newscast and has a KUVE reporter who contributes daily to the broadcast. KFTU also has an hour-long local weekly program on Sundays.

KHRR-LP Telemundo is also an O&O, with a staff overseeing all Telemundo stations in Arizona. (The station did not return calls.) About two years ago, Una Vez Más’ Azteca America affiliate joined the market. It covers most of the DMA with its low-power license and Cox and Comcast cable channels.