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Are You Ready To Rumba? It's By The Numbers
By Myriam Marquez
9 February 2005
Those of us who are "oldies but goodies" -- and bicultural and bilingual to boot -- feel like we're caught in a web of Clear Channel's making. Thanks for the salsa, CC, now pass the manners.
Because the way Clear Channel Communications switched without notice last week from an oldies station to one that plays tropical rhythms in Spanish -- under the new name of Rumba (roll the R, chicos) -- was rude and insensitive. Unfortunately, some of those oldies fans are projecting their ire at the wrong folks. Hispanics didn't clamor for a change -- that was Clear Channel's call, a business decision that's by the numbers.
El dólar, baby. It's understood in any language, which explains why there's radio programming in Polish, Italian, Russian and other languages in U.S. cities with large ethnic enclaves such as Chicago and New York.
In Central Florida, where Puerto Ricans dominate the Hispanic population, followed by Mexicans, Colombians, Cubans and so on, Clear Channel hopes to capture a market that's almost half a million strong. That's not chump change.
It won't be easy. Latinos aren't monolithic. We may speak Spanish (even that can be debated in vernacular), but we don't all party to the same tunes. Then there's age diversity. Younger Puerto Ricans may love a form of Spanish rap, reggaeton -- but older listeners like me may prefer Cuban salsera Celia Cruz and Puerto Rico's Mambo King, Tito Puente.
Orlando has a handful of AM radio stations in Spanish, but let's face it: Music sounds best on FM. Oldies listeners who are lamenting the loss of 100.3 FM need to put the change into perspective. On my car's FM dial, I can reach 19 to 20 stations, depending on signal strength. All but two are in English, yet Hispanics make up almost one in five area residents. We're hardly taking over the airwaves.
If I had my way, I would have kept the oldies and added one more salsa station. Or I would have mixed it up on the same station, with American oldies and Latin salsa taking turns -- programming that became popular when I was growing up in Miami. It was a great cross-cultural experience.
There's something much deeper to this brouhaha about a change of format. Some Americans feel insecure, as if English is under attack.
The irony is that Hispanics are assimilating no differently than other ethnic groups that arrived in this country a century ago. In the 1990s, I wrote about a study, conducted in the Miami area, that found young Hispanics prefer to speak English. Now comes a study by the State University of New York at Albany, with findings extracted from the 2000 U.S. census, that indicates a national trend. Almost three-quarters of young people born into Latino families speak only English by the third generation, the study found. Hispanic kids are following the same model that descendants of European immigrants embraced. (Of course, Puerto Ricans, U.S. citizens at birth because of their island's commonwealth status, also keep strong ties to their roots. But for those youngsters whose families stay on the mainland, English dominates, too.)
So let's leave out the name-calling and the laments and accusations and embrace a little change without thinking it's the end of the world as we know it. It's really nothing more than history repeating itself. And in a global economy, it's smart business.