“There’s just been an explosion in the Spanish language,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of corporate communications for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC “The growth in the Spanish language has been remarkable.”
The mammoth expansion of Spanish-language radio largely reflects the growing US Hispanic population, currently estimated at around 54 million, but is also fueled by an audience of avid radio fans and a culture that loves radio. music.
According to 2014 figures from Nielsen Audio, 93.1% of Hispanics listen to the radio every week, compared to 91% of Americans overall (including Hispanics). Latinos also tune in more than most other demographic groups, listening an average of 12 and 43 minutes per week; only African-Americans outperform Latinos in listening time, by 16 minutes, and it tends to be a larger audience compared to younger Hispanic listeners.
The peak time for Hispanics to tune in is 10 am to 3 pm, as opposed to the morning and afternoon general market peak hours. “With a lot of Latinos in the service industries, they’re listening at work,” said Federico Subervi, a journalism professor at Kent State University in Ohio who has studied Spanish-language radio.
Latinos’ love for music is also evident. They spend more on music: $135 per month, compared to the average of $105, according to Nielsen.
That combination of factors has helped nearly double the number of Spanish-language stations since the turn of the century. In 2001, the first year of Nielsen Audio statistics, there were 600 Hispanic AM/FM outlets; in 2014 there were 1,001. The trend in digital radio has been as follows: in 2010, Nielsen Audio reported 661 online and HD Hispanic broadcast channels; in 2014, 820.
The growth trend shows no signs of slowing down. As Latino immigrants move to new areas across the country in search of work, radio stations are being launched or reformatted to serve them. Regional Mexican (the most popular Hispanic format), for example, can now be heard in Southwest Florida, traditionally a stronghold of tropical music, on 105.3 FM, (WZSP) La Zeta, while Latin pop tunes debuted on the Cleveland Waves last year at 87.7. FM (WLFM) La Mega.
“Many entrepreneurs see a market opportunity,” said Tomás Martínez, CEO of Solmart Media of Miami, which owns WZSP-FM and WZSS-FM, a regional Mexican dance music station, also in southwest Florida.
A larger audience base is resulting in better quality AM and FM frequencies switching to the Spanish language than in the past, when it was typically small AM stations that carried Hispanic formats, said Frank Saxe, managing editor of InsideRadio, a Industry trade magazine. “As the economy improves, more broadcasters are willing to take the risk,” Saxe said.
Spanish-speaking stations are also at the forefront of the digital radio trend. With smartphone use above the average for Latinos, Hispanic radio has embraced digital from simply requiring on-air talent to be active on popular social media platforms to investing heavily in online strategies.
Entravision Communications, one of the largest Hispanic radio owners with 49 stations, last year acquired Pulpo Media, an online advertising service for Hispanic consumers, to augment its mobile and digital advertising efforts, in a deal worth $18 million. .
New York-based Sun Broadcast Group, which operates Sun Latino, the largest independent Hispanic network in the US with 283 affiliates, signed earlier this year on Shazam, an app that allows listeners to log in on their phones. to obtain more information about a song that is playing on the radio, to offer the service to the stations as part of their programming.
Digital efforts are particularly imperative for Spanish-language radio to remain relevant to the growing population of English-dominant Hispanics, industry watchers say. Santa Monica, California-based Entravision will launch coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign in English on select of its streaming websites later this year.
Other stations are changing formats to bilingual or all English to appeal to the 18-34 demographic with varying degrees of success. Univision Radio, the largest Hispanic radio company with 69 stations, switched Dallas station 107.9 KESS-FM from a regional Mexican format to mostly English-language rhythmic hits in 2012, but returned to the Mexican regional in 2013.
“Since the Hispanic population is a younger population, there is a greater urgency among Spanish-speaking operators to tailor programming to the younger listener,” Saxe said. “But bilingual formats haven’t really caught on.”
Listeners who prefer English simply tune to general market stations when they want that programming and Spanish-language stations for Hispanic-oriented programming that general market stations don’t carry, he said.
That’s the key reason why broadcasters predict continued strong demand for Spanish-language radio. “We offer music that we grew up with, information that affects our lives in the Hispanic community,” Martinez said. “Take the example of immigration. You won’t find a general market station that spends five minutes on how to get your papers.”
An ongoing challenge for Spanish-language stations is accurate ratings. Rating services have long struggled to enroll enough Hispanics to use portable people meters that record their TV and radio consumption throughout the day. Immigrant families, in particular, are suspicious of the device and reluctant to participate. When Nielsen is unable to enroll a representative sample of a demographic group, it weights the sample using statistical calculations. Radio executives complain that the practice can lead to a family’s listening habits being disproportionately counted and distorting audience measurement.
“The PPM rating changed things significantly,” said Sean Ross, editor of the Ross on Radio newsletter. “It coincided with the decline in urban and Spanish scores.”
Many broadcasters, including Martinez, advocate that the industry move to a “return on investment” model for selling advertising, which requires attributing an action taken by the consumer to the advertising campaign, which can be done through social media or websites.
For Spanish-language radio, the issue is particularly important. Adding to the danger of skewed ratings, advertising rates have traditionally been lower than general market stations. NAB’s Wharton said he’s hopeful that changes as advertisers see the importance of reaching Hispanic consumers. “Over time, that will take care of itself because of the economic pie that Latinos represent. They deserve fair market value for the listeners they deliver,” he said.
Looking ahead, Spanish-language radio is forecast to continue to grow with a wider variety of formats and more online and mobile delivery and advertising. The bottom line: “Hispanic stations offer a product that the general market doesn’t,” Martinez said.