In January 2007, I received a call from Eric Rhoads, chairman and CEO of Radio Ink. Over my years in the industry, I had met Eric and greatly admired and respected his passion for radio. But a call from him was not routine. I knew it must be important.
He shared how he had been inspired by the 2006 demonstrations protesting a proposed federal crackdown on illegal immigration, including one in which 500,000 people took to the streets of Los Angeles. And he could not get it out of his mind. If Hispanic radio, which played such a significant role in mobilizing listeners to participate, could unleash such a powerful influence, perhaps the time was right for its leadership to unify and harness that power to more fully grow the potential of this dynamic segment of the radio industry.
There had to be a way to get them to come together. How about a conference? It would be risky, financially, but Eric saw a mission. He was ready to take the chance and needed someone to bring it to life. Would I sign on? The rest is history.
The first Hispanic Radio Conference was held in San Antonio in May of 2007. The theme was unity. The panels covered a wide range of topics, including programming, sales, and management. Discussions centered on raising the profile, revenue, and ratings of Hispanic radio against general-market and on ways to counter advertising misperceptions.
Immigration and its impact on economic and demographics also shared the spotlight, with a kickoff keynote by Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton administration and onetime mayor of San Antonio.
The Hispanic Radio Conference broke important new ground, too, bringing together for the first time ever on stage the leadership of Hispanic radio. Virtually every major group participated (including one unofficially from the floor, due to corporate policy at that time). The group heads’ panel was history-making and continues to be the highly anticipated closing session of the conference every year.
And the coveted Medallas de Cortez awards were established, the only awards dedicated solely to Hispanic radio, named in honor of Raoul Cortez, founder of KCOR-AM, the first Spanish-language radio station in the United States. Since 2007, 58 dedicated Hispanic radio professionals have been recognized with this prestigious honor, and special service awards have been presented to Hispanic leaders and influencers such as Jose Feliciano; Geraldo Rivera; Mac Tichenor; Raul Alarcon, Sr.; Juanes; Eduardo Caballero; Elias, Jose, and Julio Liberman; and Harold Kalmenson.
This year marks the seventh Hispanic Radio Conference. The conference continues to be an umbrella for Hispanic broadcasters — an annual opportunity to share ideas, discuss and debate challenges in a multi-platform world, and network in a unified setting.
Mirroring the industry, the Hispanic Radio Conference has also evolved. This year’s conference features many more “outside the radio box” contributors. There is more advertiser content than ever before, as well as key players influencing political spending, and strategic sales experts. Keynotes including the legendary Dan Mason, former head of CBS Radio; FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai; and Jose Parra, 2012 Obama reelection Latino communications adviser, will share their insights and provoke endless conversation and thought starters that will continue long after the conference closes.
That’s because there is so much at stake — and so many opportunities — exploding in the worlds of Hispanic radio and its prime target, Hispanic consumers. Here are just a few of the facts:
This year, the Latino population in the U.S. will reach an estimated 58.1 million people.
Their purchasing power is in the neighborhood of $1.3 trillion annually, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth’s 2014 data.
Hispanics own and use smartphones and tablets more than other Americans, and they consume more digital video on those smartphones. Studies show they spend 6.4 hours per month shopping online, compared to 1.1 hours per month for non-Hispanics. The question to marketers is not if they should be targeting digital Hispanics, but how.
And the Latino share of eligible voters is growing by leaps and bounds. They’re 13 percent of all eligible voters this year, a 2 percent increase from 2012, and the numbers are much higher in some states. In Florida, for example, the share of Latino eligible voters will increase from 17.1 percent in 2012 to 20.2 percent this year. In Nevada, the increase expected increase will be 15.9 percent, up from 18.8 percent.
They are also young: Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half (44 percent) of the record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016 — a share greater than any other racial or ethnic group of voters, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
If you work for a Hispanic radio station, or if you compete with or are thinking about flipping to a Hispanic/Latino format, you’ll want to join us March 22-23 in Fort Lauderdale at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty Six. I promise you will leave with ideas and inspiration you didn’t have on March 21. And you will probably meet some new faces that will enhance your business with Hispanic consumers for years to come.
I look forward to welcoming you to the Hispanic Radio Conference. See you there!