Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What is the matter with Univision radio in Miami? ... by gimleteye

Scarcely a year ago, Univision radio announced the reorganization of its network, including the Miami goliaths of Spanish language radio; Radio Mambi WAQI 710 AM and the former La Cubanisima WQBA 1140 AM. Univision America, in its late May 2012 press release, (reported by the Miami Herald) stated that the media giant, "... will be available in Miami, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, McAllen, El Paso, San Antonio, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, featuring a combination of news segments, local programming and insightful commentary delivered by some of Univision Radio’s most revered personalities and new talent. Univision Radio’s portfolio currently includes 69 owned and operated stations in 16 markets, including all top 10 markets reaching more than 16 million listeners a week."

Today WAQI 710 is the only truly local station, maintaining its historic, conservative and Cuba-centric format. WQBA 1140 was gutted. The station is part of a national network featuring low rated syndicated content.

Both stations owe their past influence to consolidation of political and economic power by Cuban American elites, who organized voting blocs around the large anti-Castro hard line population in Miami.

Although the interests of Miami's Hispanic populations have shifted, every politician in south Florida still pays homage to the established order by appearing on radio, swearing their hatred of Castro is more pure than their opponent's, while radio personalities dutifully spout in assent, who may or may not have been paid under the table by special interests. For at least two generations, Castro served as the organizing principle of Spanish language radio in Miami, the same way as US foreign policy served the Castro regime with its own domestic agendas. In both cases -- power centers in Havana and Miami -- ideological battles were deeply resonant with people who had suffered greatly, but the bottom line is money.

In Miami, those forces aligned along the quest of builder associations and lobbyists to control county spending. Over time, as the wealth grew exponentially with the expansion of platted subdivisions in farmland and condos with water views, what happened in Cuba was only a fig leaf for political control of zoning and land use in Miami and Miami-Dade County.

Univision radio has not caught up to the changes in south Florida.

The new generation of Cuban Americans coming of age in Miami -- and political influence -- is tuning out the implicit drivers of content; conservative, pro-Republican and Cuba-centric in nature.

Non-Cuban Hispanics don't need a continuing education course to understand how totemic forms of conservative expression stand for barely legal forms of economic control.

As the demographic shift in the last presidential election proved, Hispanics are more progressive, more moderate, and trending "blue".

The third factor that changed in Miami connects to the worst downturn in the economy since the Great Depression. The editorial content of Spanish language radio served to consolidate voting blocs, but the housing crash dismantled key operators like the organizers of US Century Bank. The parade hasn't stopped. The bank may be refloated and big mortgage holders saved while little homeowners are still being thrown into foreclosures. There are just far fewer people on the sidewalks waving flags.

The audiences and advertisers have run away. According to an informed source, both stations are experiencing dramatic ratings drops - WQBA 1140 with an over 70% drop in ratings and WAQI 710 with a nearly 50% drop - its morning show the only ratings driver. Interestingly, the only show that has seen a spike in ratings is the lone progressive show on the national network, demonstrating an appetite for this type of programming. Old habits die even harder in Miami than they do in Havana.

The relationship between Miami's “establishment” and the stations is still in-grown and incestuous as a medieval court. While Miami’s demographics have changed dramatically, yielding to a younger generation, the Univision stations have maintained historical ideological slants and purposefully prevented alternative voices from being heard. Commercially successful shows that questioned the accepted orthodoxy were systematically removed from the programming line-up.

On local, “non-Cuba issues” like casino-gambling, growth management and land-use, stadium construction, and the recall of the Mayor or county commissioners, the “establishment position” has been the ‘quasi-official’ position of the stations and their hosts, whether or not these positions were in the community interests. In the process the establishment and stations perpetuate the myth that the Miami Hispanic community is significantly more Cuban and more conservative than it actually is.

The negative effects of this scenario are two-fold: 1) the community is robbed of the balanced information required for an informed citizenry to have an impact on their local governance and 2) Univision's virtual conspiracy with the “powers that be” has sacrificed market share as their hard-core audience shrinks and more moderate and progressive listeners migrate away from local radio for lack of programming options.

For a very large media business, it is paradoxical that Univision is leaving money on the table by failing to take into account changes in Miami.


Grillo said...

Amen! And I am Cuban born and in my late 70's.

Anonymous said...

While having some work done in my house, three of the workers, young men recently arrived from Cuba (less than 5 years ago) told me that they listen to WAQI 710 Radio Mambi, throughout the day. They said they had never been taught the history of Cuba, or any other history, save what began with Castro. They listen to Radio Mambi and now feel proud to call themselves Cuban, whereas before they detested it since they believed it associated them with slavery and communism.