Consortium outlines vision for Latino public radio service

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A newly formed consortium of Latino public broadcasters is calling for public radio to expand its service to the nation’s growing Hispanic population by creating multiple program services and strengthening Latino-controlled public radio stations.

On a different track, CPB is seeking an organization to launch a new English-language pubradio service for Latinos in Los Angeles. Proposals are due Jan. 17 [2008].

The new Latino Public Radio Consortium, founded by a group convened with CPB aid by the National Federation of Community Broadcasters this summer, prepared what it calls a “brown paper” to start a system-wide conversation about service to the country’s 44 million Latinos.

“Many public broadcasters — and the system as a whole — cannot succeed in their public service mission if they fail to include Latino voices and perspectives,” the consortium members wrote. “Locally, many stations cannot accurately reflect their communities if Latino voices do not populate their air.”

The paper, now being shared with Latino pubcasters before wider release, calls for pubcasters to address cultural differences among distinct segments of the Latino population, build the capacities of existing services for Latinos and include Latino public broadcasters in service expansion decisions.

“Latino participation is essential to the legitimacy and success of the conversations about issues and policy that public broadcasters aim to foster at the local, regional and national levels,” the consortium wrote.

The paper is “a major attempt to reach out to the mainstream public radio community about the opportunity to serve Latinos in the United States in a meaningful way through authentic Latino public radio programming,” said Hugo Morales, executive director of Fresno-based Radio Bilingüe, who helped draft the paper.

With the Latino population growing and pubcasters’ failure over the last 15 years to respond while commercial stations went after the new market, Morales said, it’s more urgent than ever to address the longtime under-representation of Latinos in public broadcasting.

“We worked extremely hard to come up with something that is constructive and realistic and at the same time a vision of a public broadcasting system” that addresses the needs and interests of Latinos, Morales said.

To reach Latino subgroups

The movement to launch a new Latino station for Los Angeles surfaced last month when CPB’s Radio Program Fund issued a request for proposals to plan and launch a new pubradio service for first-generation Latinos in Los Angeles. The RFP draws on conclusions of a 2006 CPB-commissioned research project that identified distinct segments of the Latino audience in L.A. and recommended what it saw as the best opportunity to serve them.

“Our conclusion was that we didn’t feel that a one-size-fits-all strategy was appropriate for trying to reach Latino listeners in Los Angeles,” said Bill Davis, president of KPCC in Pasadena, which managed the 2006 research project. “Within Southern California you have 7 million Latinos, ranging from folks who speak no Spanish to those who exclusively speak Spanish to in between.”

Bilingual, partially assimilated first-generation Latinos would be the best target audience for pubradio, according to the study. These listeners have higher education and income levels than recent immigrants and are underserved by Spanish-language commercial media and pubradio.

Where would a new station find a radio frequency in the competitive L.A. market? The RFP requires applicants to propose a “viable distribution plan to reach a significant number of listeners through radio broadcasts.”

Expanding service to Latinos is “not just a one-fix issue,” said Bruce Theriault, CPB senior v.p. of radio. “We are going to have to open multiple efforts. This is going to be about new services and doing better with our current workforce.”

Things to do

The consortium came together under the auspices of NFCB, which has organized meetings for Latino and other minority pubcasters for several years, according to Ginny Berson, v.p. and director of federation services.

To build on the momentum and sense of urgency from an April gathering during the NFCB’s Community Radio Conference in New Orleans, the federation arranged CPB funding to assemble a smaller representative group of Latino pubcasters. The goal was to “try to come up with a real clear statement, a vision for public radio really serving Latino communities,” Berson said.

Participants included Silvia Rivera of Radio Arte in Chicago; Raúl Ramírez of San Francisco’s KQED; Victor Montilla of Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting Corp. (WIPR-AM/FM, San Juan); and Florence Hernández-Ramos, an independent consultant and former manager of KUVO in Denver, as well as Morales and Berson.

The consortium puts forth five precepts for full Latino involvement at every level of public radio:

  • In designing services for Latino audiences, recognize that their interests in news and cultural information vary widely depending on their primary language, country of birth, education level and household income. The paper cites the youth-training programs of Radio Arte and Puerto Rican Public Radio, as well as Radio Bilingüe’s national news service, as blueprints for a culturally diverse service.
  • Offer diverse programming in both Spanish and English. No single format or single-language service will universally address Latinos, and public media in either language must directly address their needs and interests.
  • Support distribution of multiple program streams. Both Radio Bilingüe and Native Voice One are distributed free over the public-radio interconnection system, and the paper calls for “additional alternatives for production and sustainability” if pubradio is to address the many different needs and tastes of Latino audiences.
  • Assist existing Latino-controlled stations, which need resources to build their capacity, and help them develop new financial models. These stations primarily serve low-income communities and cannot sustain themselves with listener-based revenues.
  • Engage Latinos as participants and contributors, not just as listeners. The paper asks public radio to assess how stations identify and respond to issues relevant to Latinos.

The paper calls on CPB, foundations, corporations and individual philanthropists to make “strategic investments that enable the public broadcasting system to respond meaningfully to these realities,” including investing in training for Latino managers, producers and youth.

The consortium has asked CPB for funding to hire a staff person to carry its work forward. “The public radio system needs to do a lot if it’s going to provide the kind of service to Latino audiences that’s needed,” Berson said. “We’re asking for some help to move this forward.”