July 22, 2008

    Some Spanish language radio stations seem to think that English is the new Spanish. I am not sure what makes radio programmers add English language songs into their playlist.

I guess their logic fell in with those who insist that Spanish is dying out and the only way to attract young Hispanics is to add increasingly larger doses of English. You know, you hear it from the SiTV crowd all the time. They keep hoping that if they say it loud enough, over and over, it will be true. It isn't.

Latinos are different. Repeated studies show Hispanics cling to their language and to their cultural roots in unprecedented ways. I've mentioned several of those studies in these columns. I even commissioned one, to test the others, when I was writing my book, The Power of Business en Español. Lo and behold, it found the same thing.

In fact, that study by the Roslow Research Group found that the number of Spanish-dominant and bilingual Latinos will go up by 45 percent over the next two decades. By 2025, there will be more than 40 million Spanish speakers living in the U.S.A. That's up 12.5 million from 2000, which is like adding another Pennsylvania full of Spanish speakers to the population.

Some other nuggets from the study:

  • Fully two-thirds of Hispanics age 5 and older will speak Spanish as a first language as comfortably as they do English twenty years from now.
  • That includes 7.5 million in the key 18- to 49-year-old demographic and 1.5 million in the youngest demo, the 5- to 17-year-olds.
  • And, on average, 35 percent of third-generation Latinos in the United States, the grandkids of the immigrants, speak Spanish.

Bottom line: Spanish is not dying out among Hispanic youths, it's growing. How about the fact that more 18-34 year olds watched the Mexico / Argentina match during Copa America last year than watched the MLB All-star game. Or how about  Premios Juventud that aired last week on the Univision network . The show dominated the night with the 18-34 year old crowd across the board. And by the way, all in good old Español.  If these are not a wake up calls, then I do not know what is.
So, why do programmers think that adding English to their formats will help their ratings? I can only guess.

MTV probably added to the confusion unintentionally. When the music video mega power launched its newest brand last year, the bilingual MTV Tr3s for Latinos, a lot of people keyed in on the “bilingual” part. They said adding English was necessary to attract young Hispanics because they didn't speak Spanish. Wrong!

MTV already had an English-language network: MTV. They didn't need English to attract Hispanics. If young Latinos wanted to listen to English music they could watch MTV. The network added Spanish to attract young Hispanics in the United States, who want Spanish music.

Reality is that adding English is not a new idea, I can still remember Super Q in Miami during the 80's. Super Q was to be the future, bilingual and proud. Today it is Amor 107.5 one of the consistently highest rated Spanish Language radio stations in the country.

Jose Cancela is Principal of Hispanic USA Inc, a full service Hispanic Market Communications firm. He has also the author of “The Power of Business en Español, Seven Fundamental Keys to Unlocking the Potential of the Spanish Language Hispanic Market”   Rayo / HarperCollins.



I agree that Spanglish and the addition of English is Absolutley NOT the solution, The ClearChannel (CC) MEGA - (slogan) Latino and Proud ! case study proves this. It was a monumental failure, in english, spanish and spanglish. All CC Mega Spanglish launched stations startiing 2003-2004 have now flipped. But you have merely presented the problem - what is the solution? The vast disconnect between the younger latino's music of choice and the older latinos music of choice is the main culprit. For example, Tropical formats are in BIG trouble becuase the younger latinos 12-27 dont like salsa or merengue. Or at least like it very little . . .Passion levels for this music have been consistently dropping since the late 90;s. . . Couple this with several factors - - - - "A" list tropical artists are virtually non existant, they have either passed away, arent producing anymore or are too old to be relevant. There is basically only 3 A list tropical artists, Gilberto, Marc and Victor. Outside of that there are "B" listers or "C" listers who do ocassionaly land a hit. Celia has passed away, El Gran Combo still tries but are far from their glory days, Ruben is a politician as well as Willy Colon, etc etc etc. so if the "A" listers produce a new song and its not a hit, the genera is already behind the 8ball, thus depending on the "B" and "C" listers to prodice a hit which the odds are not in favor of this happening. This disconnect is what forced Reggaeton out of the "underground" (as it was reffered to before the boom, in the Playero days.) Reggaeton had a boom only to fall also for 2 main reasons. Dont misunderstand, reggaeton isnt dead, nor will it ever be due to its freestyle nature (by freestyle I mean its not a rigid defined rythem like a cha cha cha or a mambo, but mathematically can take on an infinite number of variations) Reggaeton also suffers from lack of "A" artists, maybe 7 or so in the genera, but another problem is that the music is disposable. The lyrics arent deep or meaningful enuff to justify a power recurrent or secondary recurrent category. The music doesnt generate goosebumps or passion, just fun. So songs go from "new" to "current" and from there either to "power" if they are good enuff or to a "primary recurrent category", and then off the air. Mega hits like Pobre Diabla and Gasolina, are expcetions and do not get disposed of (at least not so quickly), but the vast majority are fun songs - relevant in the moment - and are a flash in the pan. There is no, nor will there ever be a "Stairway to Heaven" or "Hotel California" of Reggaeton, just hundreds, or thousands of "ho's in area codes" - "back that ass up" and "baby got back" Radio also, in its desperation to find a magic bullet format, overkilled the genera. Its the equivelant of you really liking mcdonalds nuggets and then putting out nation wide francishes that specialize in nuggets, only nuggets. Imagine if mcdonalds had done that? Found a taste that appealed, and then tried to place it alone and overkilled it . . .not smart. Hip hop took decades to build up, sunk into lifestyles, its a culture. Reggaeton was treated by radio as a novelty. The same problem with disconnect is present on the mexican side. The younger latinos do not like the same artists and formats as their older cunterparts. So to recap - we have an age/generational driven disconnect between listener preferences, and desperate radio stations who see their current formats declining - what do they DO ? What fills the void ? What do radio stations play to FULLY satisfy younger listeners? There are some "bandaid" solutions, pop en espanol, bachata - etc but none mass appeal enuff to fill the void. Amor 107.5 in miami - is a 25-54 station, NOT a younger station, its not horrible or hated amongst younger listeners, but def. an adult station and not the solution the younger latino listening dilema. Radio mirrors life and the market, and as young latinos in this country become more privy to "leisure" time and not have to worry 24-7 about food, clothing and shelter, they will be able to dedicate time to developing a sound that represents them. Until then, hispanic radio stations will continue targeting female, and older demos to fill their 24 hours a day worth of programming, and deliver sales until something else emerges.

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