On Local Radio, an Accent on Spanglish
ROCIO TRUJILLO, a disc jockey known as Cio Babee, presses a button on the studio switchboard and begins a two-minute gossip report. In high-energy delivery that is two parts Spanish and one part English, she informs her radio audience this January day about the Spanish actor Javier Bardem’s recently announced Oscar nomination. What is noticeably missing from her Hollywood update, though, is the death of the actor Heath Ledger two days before. It seems every media outlet in the nation is covering it except this one: WBON 98.5 FM, La Nueva Fiesta. “My listeners probably wouldn’t even know who he is,” Ms. Trujillo, 24, says of Mr. Ledger.
Ms. Trujillo is host of the weekday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. program on La Fiesta, which is the only Latin music radio station among the nearly 20 stations based on Long Island and which began broadcasting in September. A second-generation Salvadoran-American, she says she is encouraged by her boss, the operations manager Vic Latino, to speak in “Spanglish” to attract young people like herself who speak English on the street and Spanish at home. La Fiesta broadcasts on two frequencies, 98.5 FM and 96.9 FM, reaching the whole of Suffolk County from Route 110, on the far western edge, to Montauk. That includes Southampton and East Hampton, where there are high concentrations of Hispanic residents, and city signals — and the next-closest Latin stations — are fuzz.
Even the strongest signals in the New York City market fizzle out at the Nassau-Suffolk border, said Frank Flores, a vice president and market manager for the Florida-based Spanish Broadcasting System, which owns the top-rated Spanish radio stations in New York, WSKQ Mega 97.9 and WPAT Amor 93.1. Long Island appeared ripe for a Spanish language station, said Sean Ross, a radio analyst from New Jersey-based Edison Media Research. When a target listening group, like Hispanic residents, reaches 8 percent of the population in a market — they are roughly 12 percent on Long Island, 2006 census data show — the radio industry typically deems that market ready to be served, he said.
A year ago, WBON 98.5 FM was the Bone, a three-year-old classic rock station that was faltering from lack of advertising and a “cookie-cutter format,” said John Caracciolo, president of the Morey Organization, which owned the Bone. Morey also publishes The Long Island Press and owns La Fiesta; the dance music station Party 105.3 FM (also broadcasting on 101.5 FM); and WLIR 107.1 FM, which simulcasts 1050 ESPN sports talk radio.
“We made some mistakes,” Mr. Caracciolo said about the Bone. In December 2005, his company fired the disc jockeys and converted to an automated system. “It was the trend of the industry: we thought we had to compete with satellite — play more music, less commercials,” he said. Morey was negotiating to sell the station last year, but the deal fell through and Morey officials rethought their strategy. “We needed to super-serve the community,” Mr. Caracciolo said. “People want radio to be local.” Local, in this case, means contemporary salsa, merengue, bachata, reggaetón and Spanish pop — the five styles of music that, La Fiesta says, compose the flavor of Long Island, or, as the station’s tagline says, “El sabor de Long Island.”
The Island’s Hispanic population has tripled to about 350,000 since 1980, according to 2006 census data. Nationally, the number of Spanish-language radio stations is at a record high, according to a 2007 Arbitron study, which said Hispanic listeners had remained loyal to radio “despite numerous media alternatives.”