The Pew Research Center released its annual State of the News Media report for 2015. One fact struck me that I haven’t seen otherwise commented on elsewhere: only 30 Spanish-language radio stations in the US air news and talk programming, out of more than 500 Spanish-language format stations total. That’s seems really low to me.
What isn’t clear from Pew’s Hispanic Media Fact Sheet is whether those 30 stations are exclusively news/talk formatted or if they are counting music stations that also air a little bit of news, even if only during drive-time (the former is most likely, as I’ll explain). Still, at just 6% of all Spanish stations, the percentage that are news/talk still seems low.
I guessed that across the board news/talk stations account for more than 6% of all radio in the US. To make that comparison let’s just assume those 30 Spanish-language stations are news/talk formatted, not music stations that feature some music. Separately, Pew counts a total of 1,990 news/talk formatted stations in the US, out of 15,442 full power radio stations. That means 13% of all stations in the US are news/talk formatted.
If we assume that the 1,990 news/talk station count also includes the 30 Spanish-language stations, then let’s say 1,960 of news/talk stations are all or majority English-language (or at the very least not Spanish-language). Subtracting the number of Spanish-language stations from the total station count gives us a count of 14,942 that are likely English-language (or possibly multi-lingual). That adjustment still leaves the percentage of news/talk stations at 13%. Not particularly high, but still double that for Spanish-language radio.
While the quality of commercial radio news/talk programming often leaves much to be desired, I still argue there’s real value in having access to dedicated news/talk broadcasts where listeners can expect to get regular updates, even if just at the top and bottom of the hour. The value grows when there’s a major news event or crisis or during election season. That’s why I’m taken aback at how few Spanish-language news/talk stations there are, which creates a meaningful service gap for Spanish speaking listeners.
To the best of my knowledge there are two Spanish-language commercial radio news services in the US. CNN in Español claims 125 affiliate stations, most of which are music stations that presumably air headline news reports. Univision America news and sports programming is heard on three affiliates in New York City, Miami and Puerto Rico.
Radio Bilingüe is the all-Spanish National Latino Public Radio Network. It operates twelve full-power stations that broadcast a 24/7 mix of news and music programs, including a live daily call-in and a weekly news magazine. Another 92 affiliates broadcast some Radio Bilingüe programs, nine of which air major daytime blocks.
Scanning through the affiliate list I see that many of the stations that don’t air major blocks of shows are community or public stations with the majority of programming in English. This, I’d conjecture, makes these broadcasts less attractive to listeners who prefer Spanish programming, especially if there are all-Spanish stations in the same market.
Spanish-language radio has been a growing sector, so it’s disappointing to see that news/talk service lags behind radio overall. At the same time I’m glad to see that about a quarter of all Spanish stations are affiliates of a news service. The ability to quickly bring in a national news feed in Spanish allows a station to provide better public service when needed. Nevertheless, it seems important for reasons of both civic engagement and public safety that Spanish-speaking listeners should have better access to full-time news/talk programming, that is more equal in proportion to what is available to English-speaking listeners.
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