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Rock Station Now Targets Hispanics…Radio Tunes In Cultural Uproar

Rock Station Now Targets Hispanics

WEBG dropped its oldies format in favor of salsa, reggaeton and merengue.

By Christopher Boyd | Sentinel Staff Writer

February 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Orlando radio station 100.3 FM (WEBG) abruptly began broadcasting Spanish-language songs Wednesday, dropping its oldies rock format in a move aimed at capturing listeners in the region's fast-growing Hispanic community.

Clear Channel Communications Inc., the nation's biggest radio group, plans to broadcast 5,000 songs nonstop before introducing a new lineup of shows. The revamped station will compete with La Nueva Mega 98.1 FM (WNUE), the only other full-powered Spanish-language FM station in the Central Florida market.

"There has been an 800 percent increase in the Hispanic population here since 1980, and the growth shows no sign of slowing," said Chris Kampmeier, Clear Channel's regional vice president for programming in Orlando. "There is a huge opportunity on the table."

The station will hire DJs who will air Spanish-language music targeting a young audience. Programming will mix salsa, reggaeton and merengue.

Kampmeier said the decision to abandon the station's menu of popular songs from the 1960s and '70s was made quickly. The hasty makeover hit a glitch on the first day: Shortly after making the switch, the station's nickname changed from Caliente to Rumba.

Kampmeier said legal research found that another broadcaster had control over the Caliente moniker.

"I don't know who it is; it might even be a TV station," he said.

Kampmeier said that WEBG's six staff members would remain on the payroll at Clear Channel for now, but would no longer be a part of the WEBG operation.

"We're hoping that some, if not all of them, will find other places at Clear Channel," he said.

The station hasn't hired Spanish-speaking announcers yet.

Tom Taylor, publisher of the trade magazine Inside Radio, said Spanish-language music stations are quickly entering the mainstream in large U.S. markets.

"What is happening in Orlando is definitely part of a trend," Taylor said. "Madison Avenue has decided this is a market that can't be ignored. What's really different now is that the major radio operators in the major markets are getting into this."

Last year, Clear Channel announced it would convert 20 to 25 of its stations to Hispanic formats within 18 months. Infinity Radio, the nation's second-largest radio company, is also reformatting stations.

"Last month, Infinity flipped rock station WHFS in Washington, D.C., renaming the station El Zol," Taylor said. "We're seeing a recognition of two things: Radio is changing with changing demographics and changing tastes."

The allure of the growing Hispanic market was a key reason for WEBG's quick format change. Arbitron's most recent radio report showed that WNUE had a bigger market share than WEBG with its rock format.

Jeff Stein, vice president for sales for Mega Communications, WNUE's owner, said he welcomes WEBG's conversion, even though the two stations will compete for listeners.

"There is plenty of room for both of us," Stein said. "This addition will expand the market and bring more credibility and more attention to the Hispanic marketplace."

Jim Abbott of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Radio Tunes In Cultural Uproar

Some Orlando fans are crying foul after an `oldies' station switches formats to woo Hispanics.

By Víctor Manuel Ramos | Sentinel Staff Writer

February 4, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Orlando fans of "oldies" radio didn't know what to make of the sounds being broadcast from their favorite station this week.

It was out with The Beatles and in with El Gran Combo, a legendary salsa band.

Gone were Simon and Garfunkel to make way for the likes of Latin pop singers Marc Anthony and Olga Tañón as well as the rap-like beats of Puerto Rican reggaetón -- all in Spanish.

The oldies station 100.3 FM (WEBG) may have been ready to go ethnic Wednesday afternoon, but its loyal listeners weren't.

While many just missed their rock classics, others felt pushed aside. The move reflects a national trend and underscores the difficult transitions in many regions as diverse communities have more of a presence -- often in other languages.

The resulting uproar is not just about radio -- it's about culture and community.

In Central Florida, the Hispanic population has boomed to more than 465,000 in the past two decades to become the largest ethnic minority. That means that many businesses have to learn to market to the newcomers to keep growing, which has led to the growth of Spanish-language media, products and services.

That emphasis leaves some feeling resentful, even if station management says it was only responding to market forces.

"People are kind of mad," said Linda Conner, 58, a hairdresser in east Orlando. "I don't dislike the salsa music, but it seems like we are a minority now and this is being shoved in our faces everywhere we turn."

Conner, a 33-year area resident, wondered what was the "commotion" coming from the radio at the Hair Works salon where she works in east Orlando -- where besides the clipping of scissors customers could always hear oldies playing.

The new station had gone from being the Big 100 to Caliente 100.3 and then to Rumba 100.3 in a few hours as it sought to reach the largest segment of the Hispanic community in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. But listeners such as Conner realized it only when tropical rhythms took over the frequency.

The sudden switch, which took place at noon with no announcement, was the talk of the day among hair-salon customers and other listeners. The station acknowledged it had received thousands of calls -- with a good share from angry or dumbfounded fans.

"I almost drove off the road when I heard it," said Sandy Waters, 57, who wrote to the station to complain. "I was very upset . . . I think we could have diversity here, but not by taking away what we have. They could have added a Spanish-language format elsewhere."

The raw feelings from some angry oldies fans came through more clearly in anonymous complaints, like a voice-mail message one caller left for the Orlando Sentinel. "I'm really upset what they've done with my radio station," she said. "I'm French. I don't expect to hear French songs on the radio. I mean everything Hispanic, Hispanic, you know. What happens to the people that are born in this country?"

Although the changes may seem sudden, they are only the manifestation of years of growth in the Hispanic community, said Marytza Sanz, president of the advocacy group Latino Leadership.

"I don't think this is about replacing any other group," Sanz said. "If most of our minority residents had been from Asia we would be listening to Asian music, and that would be fine. But this is reality, and many people are learning to eat black beans and yellow rice with us or to listen to salsa."

The Big 100's frequency continues to be owned by Clear Channel Communications, the nation's largest radio group.

The company has defended its switch here as purely a business decision. According to the station's research, the Hispanic radio market has grown to 20 percent, and the competing FM station as well as several other AM stations are collectively capturing about half of those listeners, said Linda Byrd, regional vice president for Clear Channel Communications in Central and North Florida.

"We own seven radio stations here in Orlando, and six of them are targeted at the white consumer, so it's not like we have reverse discrimination going on," Byrd said.

Luis Martínez-Fernández, who heads the Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies Program at the University of Central Florida, said this change is just the beginning of many others because the region's growing diversity is unstoppable.

Just like CNN and English-language radio stations are found throughout the world, Spanish-language media will pop up wherever changing demographics create diverse, new markets, Martínez-Fernández said.

"The Hispanic population has the buying power that corporations are looking for," he said.

The switch is consistent with changes throughout the country, where Clear Channel is competing for a stake as it faces competition from other chains and locally owned stations.

In Orlando, the new station joins another commercial venture in the same market. La Nueva Mega 98.1 has been on the region's airwaves for more than four years and has La Buya, a highly rated morning talk show.

But some Hispanics welcomed the attention with open arms as they seek more entertainment that speak to their experiences.

Daisy Galarza, an Altamonte Springs resident, said she skipped listening to La Buya Thursday morning to find out what the new station was about. The new Rumba is still in the midst of playing 5,000 consecutive songs with just short interruptions for station promos.

Galarza, 42, said she loved it.

"It blew me away when I heard Rumba," said Galarza, an English teacher. "It's so nice to have a breath of fresh air, so that you are not stuck on the same reggaes, bachatas, merengues or salsas, but you hear a little bit of everything. I don't think we lose anything by getting more culture here."

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