Thursday, October 16, 2008

Homegenization: Radio loses its local touch

Over the 1980s and 1990s, the field of Spanish-language radio came to look more and more like English-language radio, with commercial stations serving one function and public stations another. Nearly unheard of were stations like KGST in its early days, targeted to a general demographic with a broad mix of programs. Most radio stations of any language began running and continue to run a tight top-40 rotation in a set genre: alternative, light rock, classic rock, regional Mexican or música romántica, which they feed to their stations across the country. These stations provide some local talent to give traffic and weather and local commercials are inserted during tight breaks in the satellite feed. National commercials are solicited for all the corporation’s stations through a central office, usually in New York or Los Angeles. Deejays no longer control the music they play and often only speak on air for perhaps a few minutes out of every hour.

All of these changes have made radio stations increasingly less local. People in New York or Miami or Arizona may hear the exact same programs as someone in Fresno, raising the question of how well stations respond to local needs. If the only news a station carries is off the wire, people may not hear the specific, practical information they need to make improvements in their own lives.

In the 1980s, with more and more Spanish-language television stations across the country carrying national network programming, there was no longer just Mexican-American or Cuban-American programming, but “Latino” programming aimed at all U.S. Spanish-speakers. This push for an American pan-Latin identity was also evident in the music industry. In 1989, Univisión television network hosted the first “Premio Lo Nuestro” (Our Own Prize), a sort of Latino equivalent to the Grammy awards. An article in the Fresno Bee’s Spanish-language supplement, Vida en el Valle, ran saying that Central Valley radio stations and music stores were disgruntled that they were not consulted for the awarding of the prizes. The article was titled “Locutores dicen que ‘lo nuestro’ no ‘es nuestro” (“Broadcasters say ‘Our Own’ isn’t ‘our own’”). One deejay pointed out that the San Joaquin Valley is in the top 15 Latino markets and said that the residents’ tastes should be better reflected. Vida en el Valle regularly ran the Top-10 charts for Billboard as well as for several of the local stations, which were revealing. There was some correspondence between the national charts, which were divided into Top Mexican, Pop and Salsa, but the local stations still showed a strong preference for Mexican or Mexican-American ranchera, tejano or norteño artists that were not necessarily U.S. stars. KGST embodied a local, Mexican identity first and foremost before a generalized “Latino” identity.

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