Every few years, a certain media trend resurfaces. This is usually the high-profile acquisition of Spanish-language outlets or the launch of Spanish-language products by traditional English-language outlets. Such efforts are often purely commercial in nature—they seek to monetize America’s ever-growing Latinx population—and investments tend not to be sustained over time. Now, a new set of investors have entered the field, with what they say is a long-term plan, and it’s creating some excitement in progressive Latinx circles.
Stephanie Valencia, an entrepreneur who was a special assistant to President Barack Obama, and Jess Morales Rocketto, an activist who worked with the presidential campaigns of Obama and Hillary Clinton, recently raised eighty million dollars to launch the Latino Media Network, a distribution and content network. creative hub meant to help Latinx listeners “make sense of the avalanche of information” that hits them, Morales Rocketto told me. Initially, the new company acquired eighteen Spanish-language radio stations serving ten of the largest Latin-populated cities in the country. The announcement comes more than two years after the start of a national debate over the role of right-wing disinformation campaigns targeting Latinx voters. Chuck Rocha, a Democratic Party strategist and former campaign adviser to Bernie Sanders, called the purchase a “bold move” and told me it was refreshing to see an effort “to ward off the misinformation that plagues the Spanish radio”.
Radio remains a powerful medium among Latinx communities. “Radio listening is higher among Hispanic consumers than any other ethnic group. Ninety-five percent of Hispanic consumers listen to radio in an average week,” wrote Jessica Retis, who was recently named director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and an expert on Latinx media, in a 2019 report. (The national average for all listeners was ninety-two percent.) According to Nielsen, last year more than a third of Latinx listened to the radio more often at course of the covid-19 pandemic than they have before. A Latinx media report I did for the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in CUNY noted that, of the hundreds of stations serving Spanish speakers in the country, only thirty-seven produce original news content; most focus on music, sports, religious content and talk shows. Nevertheless, their political importance should not be minimized. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Spanish-language radio has played a vital role in defending the rights of immigrants. In particular, Spanish-language radio DJs in California were instrumental in mobilizing people during the huge immigrant rights protests of 2006.
More recently, a few radio stations, particularly in Florida, have been accused of running disinformation campaigns among Spanish-speaking voters during presidential elections and have been accused of encouraging Republican gains in Latino communities. Latinx voters were crucial to Joe Biden’s 2020 triumph, but 38 percent of them voted for Donald Trump, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center analysis, a ten-point increase from 2016. In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, Trump’s rise was over twenty points and he managed to win a county in the overwhelmingly Latinx Rio Grande Valley, Texas. (On June 14, a Republican candidate, Mayra Flores, won a special election in Texas’ 34th congressional district, toppling what had been a secure Democratic seat.)
Valencia, who is also the founder of Equis, a company focused on increasing Latinx civic participation, and which has studied how misinformation circulates among Spanish-speaking communities, was one of the most important voices to ring the bell. alarm about this change. In a post-mortem analysis of the 2020 election, Equis concluded that the false narrative that the Democratic Party embraced socialism was “a national phenomenon” among Latinx voters: About forty percent expressed concern about it. “This modern ‘Red Panic’ is a story of unchallenged propaganda in isolated media ecosystems, which is sometimes reduced to ‘disinformation,'” the study reads. Among those most likely to worry about the specter of socialism were Latinx voters who consumed information from WhatsApp and right-wing media. How to combat this type of “misinformation” has become a central question for Democratic strategists.
Republicans were also aware of the phenomenon. Last March, a group of businessmen, some of whom had ties to Trump and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, launched Americano Media, the first national Spanish-language conservative network in the United States, based in Miami, and broadcasting on satellite radio and live online, Americano Media claims a “counter-revolution” as the “only non-progressive national media outlet” for Spanish speakers, championing Christian and anti-revival values. A month after its launch, Americano Media secured an interview with Trump.
In fact, days before the launch of Americano Media, Valencia said it had approached TelevisaUnivision (the new company born from the merger of Univision and Mexico’s Grupo Televisa earlier this year), to express interest in ten – eight AM and FM radio stations that the company was selling. These stations reach some of the largest Latinx markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Las Vegas, McAllen, and Fresno, cities that are home to a large portion of the Latinx population in the United States. United Most of them mainly broadcast music and sports commentary, but some, like Radio Mambí, in Miami, also offer political and current affairs commentary. Radio Mambí is aimed at conservative Cubans in Miami: its hosts have spread false information about, among other things, fraud in the 2020 elections and the involvement of Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists in the January 6 assault against the Capitol. The content of the station was often “indefensiblea former TelevisaUnivision executive told me, in Spanish. (When contacted, the company had no comment on this.) According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, Spanish-language news channels have suffered a 31% drop in revenue since 2013 (stations audio and podcast related to current events). in general had been on a downward trend); average station revenues were less than $1 million per year in 2020. (TelevisaUnivision said the company, which reported total radio revenue of nearly two hundred and thirty-five million dollars in 2021, had no revenue breakdown for terrestrial stations. It also said in a statement that it would continue to operate thirty-nine other stations and a nationwide network of two hundred and twenty-eight affiliate stations.)
Still, Valencia and Morales Rocketto said they saw a big opportunity – the potential market, they say, is huge – and they seized it. In less than five months, they raised eighty million dollars from a group of investors, including Lakestar Finance LLC, and paid sixty million dollars in cash for the stations. (Lakestar, which is associated with Soros Fund Management, is the biggest investor, but other investors, board members and advisers include actor and activist Eva Longoria; Al Cárdenas, former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida ; Luis Ubiñas, a former chairman of the Ford Foundation; and Tom Castro, a former executive of Time Warner Cable.)