“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 Hispanic language has been remarkable.”
The gigantic expansion of Spanish-language radio largely reflects America’s growing Hispanic population, currently estimated at about 54 million, but it is also driven by an audience of avid radio fans and a music-loving culture.
According to 2014 figures from Nielsen Audio, 93.1 percent of Hispanics listen to the radio each week, compared to 91 percent of Americans overall (including Hispanics). Latinos also tune in more than most other demographics, listening an average of 12 and 43 minutes per week; only African Americans outperform Latinos in listening time, by 16 minutes, and that tends to be a larger audience compared to Hispanic radio listeners, who tend to be younger.
The peak time for Hispanics to tune in is from 10 am to 3 pm rather than the general market peak hours of the morning and afternoon. “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.
The love of Latinos for music is also evident. They spend more on music: $ 135 a 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’s statistics, there were 600 Hispanic AM / FM channels; in 2014 they were 1,001. The trend in digital radio has followed suit: in 2010, Nielsen Audio reported 661 Hispanic HD and online broadcast channels; in 2014, 820.
The growth trend shows no signs of slowing down. As Latino immigrants move to new areas across the country after having worked, 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 bastion 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 market opportunities,” said Tomás Martínez, CEO of Miami’s Solmart Media, owner of 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 that switch to the Spanish language than in the past, when small AM stations were typically broadcasting Hispanic formats, said Frank Saxe, editor-in-chief of InsideRadio, a magazine. industry trade. “As the economy improves, more broadcasters are willing to take the risk,” Saxe said.
Spanish-language stations are also at the forefront of the digital radio trend. With Latino smartphone usage higher than average, Hispanic radio has embraced digital from simply requiring on-air talent to be active on popular social media platforms to making large investments in online strategies. .
Entravision Communications, one of the largest Hispanic radio owners with 49 stations, acquired Pulpo Media, an online advertising service for Hispanic consumers, last year to increase its digital and mobile advertising efforts, in a deal worth $ 18. millions.
New York-based Sun Broadcast Group, which operates Sun Latino, the largest independent Hispanic network in the US with 283 affiliates, earlier this year signed with Shazam, an app that lets listeners access their phones. Smartphones to get more information about a song that is playing on the radio, to offer as part of their programming service to stations.
Digital efforts are particularly imperative for Spanish-language radio to remain relevant to the growing population of Hispanics who are fluent in English, industry observers say. Entravision, which is based in Santa Monica, California, will launch coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign in English on some of its streaming websites later this year.
Other broadcasters are changing formats to bilingual or fully English to appeal to the 18- to 34-year-old demographic with varying degrees of success. Univision Radio, the largest Hispanic radio company with 69 stations, changed Dallas station 107.9 KESS-FM from a regional Mexican format to primarily 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-language operators to tailor programming to the younger listener,” Saxe said. “But bilingual formats haven’t really caught on.”
Listeners who prefer English simply tune into general market stations when they want that programming and Spanish-language stations for Hispanic-oriented programming that general market stations do not offer, he said.
That’s the key reason broadcasters predict strong demand for Spanish-language radio will continue. “We offer music that we grew up with, information that affects our lives in the Hispanic community,” Martinez said. “Take the immigration case. You won’t find a general market station that spends five minutes getting your papers.”
An ongoing challenge for Spanish-language stations is accurate ratings. Rating services have long struggled to enroll enough Hispanics to use portable meters that track their radio and television consumption throughout the day. Immigrant families, in particular, are suspicious of the device and are reluctant to participate. When Nielsen cannot enroll a representative sample of a demographic, 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 skewing audience measurement.
“The PPM rating changed things significantly,” said Sean Ross, editor of the Ross on Radio newsletter. “It coincided with the decline in Spanish and urban audience ratings.”
Many stations, including Martínez, advocate for the industry to move towards a “return on investment” model to sell advertising, which requires attributing an action carried out by the consumer to the advertising campaign, which can be carried out through networks. social networks or websites.
For Spanish radio, the issue is particularly important. In addition to the danger of biased ratings, ad rates have traditionally been lower than general market stations. NAB’s Wharton said he’s hopeful that will change as advertisers see the importance of reaching Hispanic consumers. “Over time, that will work just because of the cheap pie that Latinos represent. They deserve fair market value to the listeners they deliver,” he said.
Going forward, Spanish-language radio is expected to continue to grow with a wider variety of formats and more mobile and online advertising and distribution. Bottom line: “Hispanic stations offer a product that the general market doesn’t offer,” Martinez said.