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Hurbanity

When it comes to Denver radio, English remains the tongue of choice, but Spanish is getting in its licks.

The latest Arbitrons placed two Spanish-language stations -- KXPK-FM/96.5 and KBNO-AM/1280 -- among the ten most popular outlets as judged by Denverites twelve and older. KFMD, previously known as KISS-FM, landed in fourteenth place, and while its twelve-plus numbers improved over those it garnered last fall, the increase wasn't enough to save its format, which was built upon the odd juxtaposition of verbal leering from yakkers Jamie White and Danny Bonaduce and contemporary hits beloved by metro tweens. The day before the ratings went public, Clear Channel, which owns KFMD and seven other area stations, installed Mega 95.7, a Hispanic-urban approach that's been slapped with one of the dumbest tags in broadcasting history: "hurban."

Fortunately, this term is easily the least striking aspect of Mega. More interesting is the strategy behind the new station, including a renewed focus on localism, which Clear Channel portrayed as an outdated concept a few short years ago. According to vice president/market manager Mark Remington, only about a quarter of KISS's airtime on an average weekday emanated from Denver; the remainder was piped in from elsewhere. In the case of White and Bonaduce, whose broadcast from their Los Angeles headquarters can still be heard online at www.star987.com, the importation was obvious, but many other shows employed voicetracking, a technology that lets personalities drop enough regional references to seem as if they're in the vicinity even when their studio is many states away. When it comes to 95.7, though, "we won't be voicetracking," says Alfredo Alonso, Clear Channel's New York-based senior vice president of Hispanic radio. "We will be running Mega as a locally produced station," with only overnight shows apt to be syndicated.

In an amusing switch, Alonso brags that Mega will be more local than competing Spanish signals that rely almost entirely on syndicated material, such as KXPK and sister station KJMN, whose new pop-oriented sound, known as Super Estrella, has plenty in common with Mega. Even locally owned KBNO turns to an outsider in morning drive time; racy hostess Piolin hails from L.A. But Mega is hiring staffers while introducing the public to a commercial-free music stream, and once the new talent debuts about a month from now, Alonso claims, "we will have the only Spanish station in Denver whose morning show is locally originated a hundred percent of the time."

Nevertheless, the DJs are slated to speak a blend of languages -- approximately 70 percent English and 30 percent Spanish, with some Spanglish overlap -- that will contrast with its all-Spanish competition. Clear Channel didn't arrive at these figures by chance, as director of FM programming Mike O'Connor makes plain. According to Arbitron, half the members of the eighteen-to-34 Latino demographic that Mega is targeting "speak English as a primary language, and half speak Spanish. The common conjecture is that second- and third-generation Hispanic households will speak both languages, but even people whose language choice is primarily English will still speak some Spanish, because some of their relatives may speak mainly Spanish. That means 82 percent speak some of both languages, and that's our niche right there."

As a bonus, Arbitron surveys suggest that Latinos tune to radio for longer stretches, on average, than other ethnic groups do. Moreover, Alonso divulges that "there's a higher level of income from Latinos who speak English versus non-English-speaking Latinos. They index higher for white-collar jobs, home ownership, education and expendable income." Mega salespeople are probably sharing such stats with advertisers at this very moment.

Execs hope the language mix will help them hang on to English-speaking Latinos who regularly dialed KISS or were drawn to the station in its last days, when jocks began playing more Spanish ditties in the evenings to ease the transition. Mega's sound is the Hispanic equivalent of KISS's beat-heavy fare, spotlighting some artists Anglos may recognize -- such as Florida MC Pitbull, who worked with crunk kingpin Lil Jon on last year's gold-selling disc M.I.A.M.I. -- as well as remixes that mate familiar tunes by the likes of 50 Cent with trendy reggaeton grooves. Also in the hopper are Spanish smashes such as Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina," whose nagging hook will strike listeners as either wonderfully memorable or incredibly torturous, depending upon their point of view.

Because just over a third of Denver residents under 35 are Latino, the city was a natural place to try Mega, and the style has done well in other markets -- especially Houston, where Mega replaced a long-running hard-rock station and more than doubled its key demos in mere months. No wonder O'Connor, who admits to knowing virtually nothing about the music on Mega, is so optimistic. "The growth will happen rapidly," he says. "My guess is that the format change will set off a chain reaction in the market. It's probably the first of many changes to come."

There's never been a better time to be bi -- lingual, that is.

Expletives deleted: A few weeks back, staffers at the Boulder Daily Camera received an e-mail with a grabby subject: "A Policy on Dirty Words." In the memo, editor Sue Deans began in a general way, declaring that "using profanity, scatology or racial and ethnic slurs in the Daily Camera is not a good thing. Those words stop readers in their tracks and detract from the quality of our news coverage and writing." Then she got specific about the lingo she preferred to avoid, beginning with "the 'seven words' made famous by George Carlin, which as you may know are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits." More surprising, however, was her opposition to what she described as "other less-graphic references that you might yell at your kids for using, including but not limited to crap, screw, blow, and in some instances, ass or suck, depending on the context, and other double-entendres."

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