Orlando Sentinel
February 10, 2005

New format isn't music to all Hispanics' ears

By Víctor Manuel Ramos
Sentinel Staff Writer

Manuel Rodríguez may fit the profile of what Orlando's Hispanic radio programmers would call their target audience, but he is not too happy with the music the stations' DJs have on cue for him.

Rodríguez is one of the more than 140,000 Puerto Ricans who live in Central Florida. He speaks Spanish fluently. He drives a bus transporting tourists to and from Disney parks all day, so he has ample opportunity to hear radio.

But when it comes to musical preferences, Rodríguez likes the rock 'n' roll icon Elvis Presley more than Elvis Crespo, the Puerto Rican merengue star.

That's why Rodríguez was a fan of the classic-rock radio station Big 100, which was replaced last week by the steady stream of tropical Latin rhythms like salsa, merengue, bachata and reggaetón of the new Rumba 100.3. The move by Clear Channel Communications, the station's owner, is aimed at attracting Hispanic listeners with Caribbean roots, such as Rodríguez.

"I miss the oldies," said Rodríguez, 63, a Windermere resident. "I'm sorry, but that's just me. You can't be listening all day to merengue. I prefer soft music."

There are others who feel that way and were unhappy with the change. They are Hispanics who do not fit the musical stereotype and lie somewhere in the middle of the debate sparked by the sudden change of format. Those battle lines appeared to be drawn cleanly between many non-Hispanics who resent being pushed aside by what they complain is a foreign culture and Hispanics who welcomed the change that added a second Spanish-language station to the FM dial.

But some of the oldies format's loyal fans are Hispanics, who have called and written the station to complain about the loss of hit music from the '50s, '60s and '70s.

Milton Quiñones is among those who say radio stations define Latin music too narrowly, even though it could be anything from salsa to Mexican country, Spanish-language rock, tango or ballads.

In Orlando, the new Rumba 100.3 and the other Spanish-language FM station, La Nueva Mega 98.1, mostly play the same four dance genres to the exclusion of all others.

"I'm a Latino, I speak Spanish and not much English, but American culture is part of my identity, too," said Quiñones, 55, a southeast Orlando resident who plays bass for an oldies band.

Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés, a Latino literature professor at the University of Central Florida, said local Spanish-language radio is too formatted.

"Certainly we need more, we absolutely need more, because Latinos don't just do reggaetón and salsa," Rodríguez Milanés said. "They play the same five songs all day."

In selecting its programming, though, the Clear Channel station is going with the tried-and-true format that has been used for Latinos in other cities. The same songs, for example, are heard on New York's Hispanic radio. The sudden change mimicked a similar move in the Washington, D.C., area, where a rock station owned by Clear Channel competitor Infinity Broadcasting Corp. adopted the same format last month, riling fans of the old station.

While it's good there are more outlets, there is little effort to understand the diversity of music found in the Hispanic community, said Rafael Mieses, a New York-based reviewer of Latin music for Spanish-language publications.

"These stations follow a very limited commercial format that does not showcase the diversity of Latin American music," Mieses said. "The station owners have decided that Latinos listen to three or four rhythms and nothing more."

Realistically speaking, however, it would be very difficult to please all segments of a Hispanic community composed of different nationalities and customs, said Alfredo Alonso, Clear Channel's senior vice president of Hispanic radio.

"I have heard very positive feedback, but you are never going to do a format that is going to reach every single person," Alonso said. "We have a very specific target, and when you spread yourself too thin, you wind up not doing a very good job."

Betty Maldonado, a Winter Springs resident who works in marketing and sales, says she is as likely to dance salsa as much as she loves to reminisce with some of the classic-rock songs that the oldies station used to play, but now she can only find one of the two choices on the dial.

"I'm upset, because being bilingual allows an individual to sample both of the cultures, not necessarily taking away from one to give way to the other," said Maldonado, 48. "Therefore, one of the advantages of being a Cuban-American or a Latino in the United States is that we welcome the American ways, music and traditions, in addition to what we already have."

Víctor Manuel Ramos can be reached

at vramos@orlandosentinel.com

or 407-420-6186.

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