Amid media slump, Spanish-language radio swells

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — In a saucy pencil skirt, permed hair ratted up high, Geovanna Martinez does a little jig down the length of the soundproof recording studio of Salt Lake City’s newest Spanish-language radio and grabs the microphone. She pumps her hips from side to side as the traditional Mexican music fades out and, with animated expression, exclaims, “La Favorita 104.7 FM: La que se escucha ahorita!” “I dance because my mood is happy,” said Martinez, 46, a Spanish language radio DJ of 15 years, pursing painted pink lips and tapping blue-glitter nails against the counter. “I love what I do.” La Favorita started out on a low-strength AM frequency in 2006, a small-time dream of a local Hispanic businessman with little reach beyond its Bountiful base. The radio station stepped onto the scene at just the right time, though: Utah’s Hispanic population grew by 78 percent over the last decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and La Favorita’s listenership swelled right along with it. On July 7, the company moved to Salt Lake City, switched to an FM frequency and started broadcasting from Payson to Brigham City. The little station’s experience is indicative of a nation-wide trend. English language media is having a rough go of it. Newsrooms across platforms saw audiences either stall or decline in 2010, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Newspaper newsrooms, now 30 percent smaller than in 2000, have shed some 1,500 jobs. But while Spanish-language daily newspapers have taken some similar hits, radio stations have grown by more than one-third since 2002 and revenues are rising among weekly papers, according to market research analysts. In television, Spanish-language networks are seeing double-digit ratings boosts year-over-year. Top network researchers have predicted the media giant Univision – now fifth in ratings – could soon surpass traditional networks. The trend is driven in part by population growth. More than fifty million strong, Hispanics now represent 16 percent of Americans. If current growth trends continue, Hispanics will account for nearly one-third of the nation’s population by 2050, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The steady growth of Spanish language media is also, though, an illustration of changing attitudes toward cultural assimilation and what it means to be a Hispanic American. Who’s tuning in? Martinez, who came to Utah in 1987 as a 15-year-old from Chile with no English skills, remembers the day she first tuned in to a Spanish-language newscast. That was the day she figured out why Utahns have parades on July 24. “I didn’t even know what a pioneer was or why people were celebrating,” she said. “We were really cut off because of the language barrier. I think Spanish language media helped pull us in.” Martinez sometimes felt isolated in her strange, new country. Having Latin music in her home and watching television in Spanish was comforting. Back then, though, there were few choices. “For a long time, Latino media was a media of chance,” said Felix Guitterez, a professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. “If you happened to speak Spanish there’d be one station in town for you. That was the one you watched. If you weren’t a fan of sports and soap operas you were out of luck.” Growth over the past decade has brought diversity, he said. Content that was once produced in immigration centers like Los Angeles and broadcast across the country is now being written and filmed in places like Oklahoma City and Little Rock Arkansas. “More and more, it’s becoming a media of choice,” he said. “You can get sports scores from your hometown team in Mexico. You can read the local news. You choose a radio station that plays the type of Hispanic music you like.” As a result, first generation immigrants homesick to hear a little Spanish aren’t the only ones tuning in anymore. Roughly forty percent of Latinos whose primary language is English tune into Spanish TV or radio for news, entertainment or sports, according to a 2010 poll by Stanford University. Thirty percent of third-generation, English-dominant Latino youths report that at least half of the music they listen to is in Spanish. A different kind of coverage Bilingual Hispanics choose Spanish-language media because it helps them stay connected with their roots, Veronica Villafa����e, a former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. “The news is relevant to them, the advertising is relevant to them,” she said. “They can see themselves reflected in the stories.” Aside from major political issues like immigration, the mainstream media largely ignores the Hispanic population, said Villafa����e, who is also the publisher of Media Moves, a website dedicated to monitoring Latinos in the media. English-language news outlets tend to talk about Hispanics like outsiders, rather than writing stories that show them as part of the community. A six month analysis of major media outlets in 2009 revealed only 649 out of the 34,352 news stories contained substantial references to Hispanics. Only 57 stories focused directly on the lives of Hispanics in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Hispanic Center. The community-oriented stories that did run addressed, for the most part, the immigrant experience, population growth and discrimination, according to the study. “If you look at the cover of an English-language newspaper and the cover of a Spanish-language newspaper, you are going to see different stories,” said Monica Lozano, CEO of Impremedia, the nation’s largest Hispanic newspaper publisher. “Our audience comes to us because our content is relevant to the audience and it’s not available anywhere else.” La Favorita uses Utah talent because “local people know best what the community needs,” Martinez said. Martinez takes phone calls from community members to decide what issues to discuss on her shows. They ask her questions: Where can I find a good immigration attorney? Are there Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in my area? What should I do if my child is struggling in school? And she responds with characteristic cheer. “They get to know me and I get to know them,” she said, chuckling a bit as she queued the music. “They just probably think I’m younger and better looking.”

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