Will SMART Radio Operators ditch Spanish-Language formats to better serve Hispanics?

  By Adam R Jacobson

Last week I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about the radio station he’d love to have on the air in Miami.

It would be a “rock alternative” of sorts, playing plenty of ’80s songs from acts like Cure and Depeche Mode. It would probably play some ’90s rock and pop once heard on The Planet, the last incarnation of longtime rock and roll station WSHE-FM 103.5.

It would definitely play music from current acts such as Coldplay and Adele, and even get adventurous by playing cool new music enjoyed by young people in the know – MGMT, Florence + The Machine, Awolnation and such.

Most radio programming executives would laugh at this suggestion, and explain that those days are over. Alternative, in particular, is a dead format. Rock and roll is dead and has no future – especially in such a Hispanic market as Miami-Fort Lauderdale.

Here’s the problem with that response: The discussion I had was with a Cuban-American, 39, who was born in the Bronx and has been in Miami for about 20 years.

The Hispanic market is evolving. It’s moving perhaps too fast. Spanish-language radio operators don’t know what to do.

Here’s a suggestion: Dump your Spanish-language format and adopt an English-language format that still fits your company’s purpose of being — serving the Hispanic listening audience in the station’s coverage area.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent facts and figures, enhanced by Geoscape data, show the U.S. Hispanic population being fueled by the under-21 crowd. These individuals are hip, bicultural, bilingual and U.S. born. They speak Spanish in the home and perhaps among friends but live in an English-language world otherwise. They may consume some Spanish-language TV and radio, but not so much print and online media in Spanish, as they may not be able to read in Spanish.

Therefore, if I am the owner of the third-ranked Spanish Contemporary radio station, might it make sense to switch to an English-language format that Latinos will still listen to, while also bringing in non-Latino audiences, resulting in higher cume and greater returns to the sales team?

Adam, are you LOCO?!

No. The operators of “Spanish-language radio stations” are. They need to think of themselves as media operators serving Hispanic radio listeners.

I can say that 98% of my friends in Miami are Hispanic. Some were born in Central America. Some were born in Miami. One is from Mexico City, another two are from the New York metropolitan area. When they hear of my love of Soda Stereo, Caifanes, Heroes del Silencio, Mecano, Juan Luis Guerra, La Oreja de Van Gogh, and other assorted Spanish-language pop rock, they chuckle. When they see me singing along to Mana songs, they scratch their heads.

They may be Latino, but they seem to go to see Depeche Mode, The Cure, U2 and The Police when it comes to concerts. They consume some Spanish-language media, and also like reggaeton. “Danza Kuduro” is perhaps the No. 1 song of this generation at the moment, at least in Miami.

Yet Lazaro’s favorite act is Bon Jovi. Daughtry and Nickelback are up there as well as Marc Anthony, anything with Pitbull and Wisin y Yandel. He’s Cuban and thirtysomething and only speaks Spanish to his mom and older family members.

Michelle loves reggaeton but also digs “music I can hear on KROQ when I’m in L.A.” – she’s 23, Cuban, and bilingual and bicultural.

I could offer up many more examples of the New Generation Latino in South Florida who spends most of their time with satellite radio when driving around or with Pandora when on the computer, simply because “all there is on the radio here is Spanish music or Top 40.”

Therefore, wouldn’t it be prudent for the No. 3 Spanish adult contemporary station to do something different?
Do we really need three stations serving only a specific segment of the Hispanic market?

Ad agencies have been saying for several years now that “Hispanic” does not equal “Spanish.” Yet operators of Hispanic-targeted radio stations seem afraid to get higher ratings by switching to an English-language format that best fits their market — a Latin-friendly rock format, in the case of Miami — instead of struggling through yet another ratings period as the also-ran in a race that can’t be won.

Adam R Jacobson is a Hispanic media marketing strategist based in Miami Beach. He is a former editor of industry trade publication Radio & Records and recently enjoyed a stint as a guest host on WLYF-FM “Lite FM” in Miami as “Jake Adams.”

Adam R Jacobson Editorial Services & Research Consultancy
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