Thursday, October 16, 2008

“Narrowcasting” and the growth of FM

Although KGST has not changed its programming or style very much, the mediascape of which it is a part has changed considerably. When KGST first went on the air, it had no Spanish-language competitors. KLIP and KXEX popped up in 1962, but targeted more specific niches. The addition of even more Spanish-language media outlets, both radio and television, over the eighties and nineties caused a change in KGST which had taken place with English-language stations in the mid-seventies: increasing specialization. A New York Times article from 1976 profiled the trend, saying the radio industry realized it could compete only by targeting select demographics through “narrowcasting.” As opposed to broadcasting with programs and music for everyone, the stations tailored to the tastes of a particular population, whether black rap and hip-hop fans or white teenage girls who followed the pop charts. The author profiled a black urban station, a Spanish-language station, and an all-news station as examples of “fractionalization of the market.” In an area like Fresno, that fractionalization had progressed to the extent that a “Spanish” format was broken into stations with primarily talk, romantic music, or regional Mexican music formats, all competing against each other.

KGST was also affected by the growth of FM radio. Although FM cannot broadcast as far as AM, it came to be preferred in the 1980s for its higher-fidelity sound. As a result, most music stations are on the FM dial and talk radio largely rules the AM sphere.

In 1995, Lotus bought KLBN, which became KGST-FM. At that time, the station had a regional Mexican format and had twelve full-time and nine part-time staff. A Vida en el Valle article said that although the station had lost its top rating that year to KOQO, it continued to be a strong force in local radio, mentioning that the Fresno area actually had one more Spanish-language station than Los Angeles. The article listed eleven well-known TV or radio personalities who had gotten their start at KGST. In 2000, Lotus bought KMMN out of Madera for $3 million. KGST returned to the AM signal and the two FM signals became KLBN, “La Buena,” which plays popular Mexican music and “Radio Amor,” which plays romantic music. Both are targeted toward younger audiences, while KGST mainly attracts listeners age 35 and older. Once so vibrant, KGST now is a single studio with a computer, a programming director and a news director. It does not have a CD or record library as songs are played off the computer as mp3s. KGST is housed in the same building as “Radio Amor” and “La Buena”; the three stations share some production studios and the sales department, which works with Lotus’ national sales office in New York City. KGST broadcasts live for six hours in the morning with music programming. Stella Romo presents news on the hour. There is an hour of paid programming between 10 and 11 A.M. and the “Comentarios and Entrevistas Program” from 11 to 11:30 A.M. The rest of the time, the station runs a satellite feed from Mexico City called Radio Formula, which carries news, sports and talk shows. Radio Formula is carried on 101 stations across Mexico plus two dozen stations in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Satellite radio has made true transnational media possible, with listeners in the U.S. and Mexico hearing the exact same programs each day. As a result, KGST no longer is the focus for local Mexican/Mexican-American culture. Its function as a site for news and information has been largely taken over by other organizations in the community now that the community is more established, including the local television station, English-language media for immigrants who have learned English, and a Spanish-language paper that has been published by the Fresno Bee since 1990. Television is now the primary provider of in-home entertainment and other radio stations in the area sponsor concerts and events.

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