Beer, auto, retail energizing radio airwaves

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Hispanic radio is growing up. After 18 months of consolidations and mergers, the market is starting to gain traction. Although it is still a fragmented market dominated by local media buys, Hispanic media experts say national advertisers are increasing budgets in Spanish-language radio by double digits, largely as a result of recent moves by three major Hispanic radio operations.

"National advertisers are still not spending as much on Hispanic marketing as they should based on population figures," says Rosa Serrano, senior VP-group account director of multicultural media for Los Angeles-based Initiative. "But several of the recent mergers and consolidations have had a positive impact on the medium, and more major brand advertisers are taking Hispanic radio seriously."

Recently, Miller Brewing Co. inked a three-year, $100 million integrated media deal with Univision (including radio, TV and online) that translates into double-digit increases for Univision Radio, says Gary Stone, the radio unit's chief operating officer. Univision is working on more such deals with advertisers, he says.

"We're seeing the most growth in automotive and retail, and other categories are starting to pick up," says Ms. Serrano.

In addition to the statistics about the growing numbers of Hispanics in the U.S., research shows that Hispanic consumers spend more time listening to radio than general-market consumers. Hispanic consumers spend about 22 hours a week listening to radio while the general population listens for less than 20 hours a week, the Radio Advertising Bureau says.

Univision is taking TV and radio cross-promotion in new directions, says Mr. Stone, by mixing talent between the two media.

Other major Hispanic radio players are stepping up.One of the most significant is Clear Channel Communications, which last fall said it would convert at least two dozen of its general-market radio stations to Hispanic formats in 2005, more than doubling its number of Hispanic stations. So far the company is on track with its plans, says Alfredo Alonso, senior VP-Hispanic radio for Clear Channel Radio; stations in three markets will have been converted by the end of the first quarter with more to follow.

In Atlanta, Clear Channel Radio successfully flipped a general market to a Spanish-language format last year, taking WWVA from a 1.6 to an 11.3 share among 18-to-34-year-old listeners, according to Arbitron.

Spanish Broadcasting System is another major player, and recently allied itself with media powerhouse Viacom, as the two companies took stakes in one another's operations.

As part of the deal, SBS says it will be working together with Viacom divisions CBS Television and Viacom Outdoor to cross-promote the various companies' media properties. For instance, in January, SBC enlisted Viacom to do a massive launch campaign for a Bay-area radio station with ads on buses, bus shelters, trains and billboards.

SBS bills itself as the nation's largest Hispanic-controlled radio operator, although it comes second to Univision when it comes to number of Hispanic stations it owns.