Spanish Radio Growing In Western Washington

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Postby radiofan » Wed May 31, 2006 8:20 pm

Spanish radio: a growing force
By John B. Saul

Special to The Seattle Times

When El Puntacho says hello to Seattle, it goes something like this:

"Ehhh-LO, Seattle!"

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Which sounds a lot better on radio, especially the three shotgun blasts that Homero Campos uses to punctuate every greeting he sends out when a caller answers some version of the question, "?De donde vienes?" ("Where do you come from?")

Campos arrives in the Seattle area at 3 in the afternoon on KDDS, "?La Gran D ?Noventa-y-nueve punto tres FM! ?La mas Mexicana!"

Which in English would go something like this: "The Big One! 99.3 FM! The most Mexican!"

Straight out of Mexico

In June 2005, KDDS became the first all-Spanish spot on the FM dial here. Since then, it has taken the lead in ratings over other Spanish-language stations and is 25th overall this month in Arbitron rankings for the Seattle-Tacoma radio market.

Spanish radio stations have been getting credit for filling the ranks of recent rallies over immigration. And the stations may have the ears of between 150,000 and more than 400,000 listeners, depending on whose estimate you use.

But Jose Diaz, general manager for the Bustos Media stations in the Seattle area, said their main mission is entertainment.

"The immigration issue is all the talk, but our stations here are musical stations," he said while taking a break at the Puyallup Spring Fair, where La Gran D sponsored a "charreada," or Mexican-style rodeo.

KDDS was born when Bustos Media bought KAYO, then a country station, for $20 million. The Sacramento, Calif., company already owned a station broadcasting at 1210 AM, one of several in Spanish on AM.

The La Gran D model is straight out of Mexico, Diaz said.

"We're following the immigrants north."

The "Magia" format on 1210 AM is more international, attempting to appeal to a wider variety of Hispanic listeners.

"The Spanish town crier"

All of the programming for both stations is syndicated out of the Bustos headquarters in Sacramento.

Diaz said they had not found local talent to match the syndicated work or attract the audience of someone such as Campos, who has been in Spanish radio for years and has made a name for himself as master of "puntacho," which Diaz translates as the conversational knack of making a point or saying just the right thing at just the right time.

In contrast, other Spanish radio stations in the Seattle area emphasize their local connections and announcers.

"We live where we do our business," said Joe Gonzalez, general manager for Radio Sol at 1360 AM. "We have local talent living in the community."

Owned by Salem Communications, KKMO (Radio Sol) has been broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in Spanish for two and a half years. While primarily a musical format broadcasting regional Mexican, Gonzalez said the station lays claim to being "the Spanish town crier for all Hispanics."

He said the station has not been an organizer of immigration rallies but a disseminator of information about them.

"We think when the Hispanic community needs news and information, they turn to us," Gonzalez said.

Salem Communications also owns KTFH at 1680 AM, which carries the Mariners baseball games in Spanish.

Do-it-yourself programming

Pedro Bartes, 36, thinks the best job of addressing local issues for Hispanics is being done by programmers such as himself, who buy their own air time on KXPA, 1540 AM. On-air hosts on KXPA bring their own advertisers and dictate what each show will be.

For Bartes and his wife, Luciana Bosio, that means getting on the air every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and talking to listeners about everything from relationships to politics.

"You can't avoid politics lately," said Bartes, who has promoted the immigration rallies on the Web site of the radio show. He said his "idea of dealing with politics is to use humor to reach everyone," and he thinks that so far it's been successful.

Dennis Hartley, 50, operations manager for KXPA, said that with the various buyers of radio time, there is no overall format for the station.

"Some programs are culturally driven," he said, "but most would be similar in format to what you would find on an English-language station: music to sports, news, public-affairs commentary."

KXPA became a multilingual station when it was purchased by Multicultural Radio in 1998, Hartley said, not long after he started working there. While the station is Spanish 95 percent of the time, Hartley said there are also programs in Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Ethiopian and English.

"We try not to mix up the languages too much so that you don't get an hour of Spanish, an hour of Chinese, etc.," he said.

Big audience, big money

Whether they are broadcasting local or syndicated programs, all of the Spanish-radio personnel agree on one thing: The Hispanic audience is undercounted.

Diaz says Arbitron, which tracks the listening habits of broadcast audiences, estimates the Hispanic portion of the Seattle-Tacoma market as 4.7 percent, or about 150,000 listeners.

But he figures that with a broadcasting signal that covers Western Washington from Chehalis to Mount Vernon, La Gran D can be heard by 400,000 Spanish-speaking listeners ? even more when undocumented immigrants are included.

Bartes thinks the Hispanic portion of the market is between 7 and 8 percent, a figure he's confident will be confirmed once Arbitron starts sending listeners Spanish diaries for them to keep track of where their radio dial is set.

Both Diaz and Bartes say the Hispanic audience is going to grow as jobs attract more people to the area.

Gonzalez says Radio Sol relies on an estimate of about 300,000 Spanish listeners in the Seattle-Tacoma area with $3.7 billion in buying power.

That's enough to attract advertising to the stations from local businesses touting "Se Habla Espa?ol" ? attorneys and sellers of real estate, automobiles and telephone cards with special rates to Mexico, Central and South America ? as well as larger companies such as Albertsons, McDonald's, U.S. Bank and Macy's.

Bartes joins other Spanish radio personnel in predicting bigger things to come.

"Radio in Spanish is just getting started," he said.

Amador Bustos, president and CEO of Bustos Media, added some certainty to that prediction at a business leaders' meeting last week with visiting Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Bustos said his company, which has invested $32 million in Washington state radio stations since January 2005, planned to spend another $25 million in the next 12 to 18 months.

"Obviously, I can't say exactly what we are planning," he said, "but it means other acquisitions."

John B. Saul is a former Seattle Times deputy metro editor.

He can be reached at

Copyright ? 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Seattle Times Story May 31 2006
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.
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