English-to-Spanish In the past five years, the number of Spanish-language radio stations in Florida has more than doubled from 22 to 50.

01 September 2005,   By ,   0 Comments

English-to-Spanish In the past five years

For years, WEBG-FM (BIG 100), Orlando’s only “oldies” station, fed the area’s Baby Boomers a steady stream of hits from the 1960s and 1970s. On the morning of Feb. 2, however, executives from the station’s owner, Clear Channel Radio, called the station’s employees to a meeting and gave them the news: The Beatles were out; Marc Anthony was in. As of noon, the station was changing formats and would begin broadcasting Spanish pop music. Rumba 100.3 FM (WRUM) was born.

Florida Trend Magazine Cover

Florida Trend Magazine Cover

The move didn’t come entirely as a surprise to the local radio community. There was already one Spanish-language FM station in the Orlando market, La Nueva Mega 98.1 (WNUE), which had launched in 2000. WNUE has offices in Altamonte Springs, near Orlando, but its broadcast antenna is in Titusville. With the Orlando region’s Hispanic population surpassing 20% of total population, “somebody on FM with a full signal in town was going to go Spanish. It was a matter of who was going to do it first,” says J.J. Duling, the former program director for BIG 100.

Spanish radio is a longtime fixture on the FM dial in Miami, where more than a dozen stations broadcast in Spanish, but until recently, Spanish stations had a minimal presence beyond southeast Florida. Those that existed outside of Miami-Dade County tended to be tiny AMs.

Now, as the Hispanic population grows in other parts of Florida, advertisers and media companies are moving to snare an audience that comprises almost 20% of Florida’s population, with demographics that make it an attractive target. Hispanic families tend to be young, with healthy consumer appetites and growing incomes. In 2004, Hispanics controlled about $686 billion in spending power nationally, with $63.7 billion of that wealth concentrated in Florida. By 2009, their economic clout will grow to $992 billion and account for 9% of all U.S. buying power, the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth estimates.

Adds Stacie de Armas, director of Hispanic Marketing Services for Arbitron, an international media and marketing research firm serving radio broadcasters and networks, “There is a heavy concentration of Hispanics in the top, youngest, trendsetting markets in the U.S. Florida is definitely a part of this group, and marketers want these consumers.”

While a number of Spanish-language or bilingual newspapers, magazines and television stations operate in Florida, the growth in Spanish-language media is reflected most dramatically in radio: From 1999 to 2004, the number of Spanish-language radio stations in Florida more than doubled from 22 to 50.

That boom mirrors Hispanic media habits. Arbitron research shows that Hispanics spend more time with radio than the general market — approximately 3.5 hours more per week — and are bigger consumers of radio than of newspapers and television.

“Radio is the most accessible free source of advertisement that the Hispanic person can get, be it radio and music or other formats,” says Pedro Perez, co-owner and a vice president of Nuevo Advertising Group in Sarasota, which specializes in marketing to Hispanics.

Clear movement
In Florida, the biggest corporate driver in converting stations to Spanish is Clear Channel, which controls nearly 1,300 stations nationwide — or 9% of the market — including 81 stations in Florida. In 2004, the company launched a programming initiative with the goal of introducing Spanish-language stations in up to two dozen markets across the country. (Editor’s note: Florida Trend has an agreement to supply business news briefs to some Clear Channel stations in Florida for use in their news programming.)

In Florida, Clear Channel’s flips included Rumba 100.3 and Fort Lauderdale’s WZTA-FM, which changed its call letters to WMGE and dumped its rock-and-roll lineup. Most recently, Infinity Broadcasting converted a country music station in Tampa, the sixth-fastest-growing Hispanic market among the nation’s top 25, to La Nueva 92.5 FM. Other regions are likely to follow. “There is also great Hispanic market growth in areas like Orlando and even Jacksonville,” says de Armas.

A big factor fueling the Spanish radio boom is changes in advertisers’ attitudes. Just five to 10 years ago, says Tom Taylor, editor of trade publication Inside Radio, some ad agencies quietly issued “No Spanish” dictates because their clients didn’t want to be on Spanish formats. “That’s changing very rapidly,” Taylor says. “The big broadcast groups can read the Census reports, and they see that they need to tap into the burgeoning Hispanic market. Radio always changes to meet changing tastes and demographics.”

Jeff Stein, vice president of sales for Mega Communications, which owns La Nueva Mega 98.1 FM in Orlando, says his station’s success is illustrative. Though it’s geared toward only one-fifth of the Orlando metro audience, Stein’s station has ranked as high as No. 2 in the ratings for morning drive times, thanks to its popular morning talk show, La Buya. “People here in the marketplace, they absolutely see that,” Stein says. “Verizon, Lowe’s, Home Depot, they’re doing business with us.”