In a move that reflects the changing flavor of Bay Area radio, Clear Channel Communications shut down San Jose’s oldest rock station on Thursday night and began programming in Spanish.
The final English song to be heard on KSJO 92.3 FM was, fittingly, Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio.”
The call numbers now belong to “La Preciosa,” or the precious one, a state-wide oldies format station featuring a local Spanish-language morning show and a wide catalog of Mexican hits from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Featured artists include Vicente Fernandez and Juan Gabriel.
“It’s an emotional format that brings back memories from the listener’s homeland,” says Kim Bryant, the station’s general manager. “People will hear a song they haven’t heard since they were in Mexico watching their mothers make tamales.”
The switch, a response to the Bay Area’s growing Latino population, is part of a national trend in radio programming. Currently, there are 645 Spanish-format radio stations in the country, up from 538 in 1998, according to Arbitron Inc., a research firm which measures radio audiences nationwide.
KSJO, which has competed in a market with several classic rock stations, has seen its numbers drop dramatically, from 8th in 2002 to 22nd this past summer.
Meanwhile, the Bay Area’s Latino population—currently 19.4 percent—represents a growing market.
“As the composition of a market changes, the radio formats change,” says Thom Mocarsky, Arbitron’s vice president of corporate communications. “Like good business people, radio stations are going where the young and emerging audience is.”
While the Spanish-language format only accounts for 9 percent of all radio programming, Latinos in general listen to more radio per week than English speakers, Mocarsky says.
The format has become so popular, Mocarsky says, there is now room to specialize. Where once the Spanish-format served the whole market, there is now Spanish news talk, Spanish contemporary, and Tropical, a format specific to the immigration patterns of Florida.
“You’re starting to see that same kind of differentiation that we used to see in general market radio about 30 years ago,” Mocarsky says. “And because the (Latino) population tends to be young, it’s great for advertising. Young people look for what’s hot and cool.”
In September 2003, Clear Channel launched the original “La Preciosa” in the Monterey-Salinas area. Within six weeks, it was the No. 1 station in the market. Four more California markets, including Santa Maria and Fresno, followed, and experienced similar results.
The deejays, led by Salinas-based Alex Lucas of the “El Genio Lucas” morning show, are live all day and will cover subjects ranging from education and health care to real estate and immigration.
A weekday segment at 6 p.m. will tackle topical yet controversial issues for immigrants—how American schools deal with their youths and the increasing dangers of crossing the border.
“The (Bay Area Latino) community is very large and underserved,” says Lucas, referring to the area’s four full-coverage Spanish-language stations, compared to 14 in Salinas, a significantly smaller market.