La Fiesta is Suffolk’s largest radio station for the Hispanic community

Prior to Ronkonkoma-based WBON / 98.5, “La Fiesta” was “La Fiesta”, it was “The Bone” – a vaguely scandalous twist on those call letters. The Bone had a lot of fans and made a lot of noise. The signal from this hardest rock station carried to Connecticut, but dissolved into a crackle by the time it hit 110.

Then, one day in 2009, that particular brand of music stopped when WBON switched to Latin (or “tropical”) hits, interspersed with discussions in Spanish. The Bone-heads, who drifted to the Shark and the WBAB, were not there to witness what happened next: The Fiesta slowly, inexorably, became the most influential medium in Suffolk County and its only Spanish-speaking FM radio station.

The change has indeed been gradual, largely unnoticed beyond the community it serves – 305,000 Hispanics, or just over 20% of Suffolk’s population according to the latest census. The station has forged close ties with various nonprofits that cater to this rapidly growing “cohort” – groups like Jibaritos with Troops, SEPA Mujer, Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja, who run the Puerto Rican / Hispanic day parade. – and, when the pandemic struck, so did hospitals, health clinics and pantries.

Most recently, La Fiesta has actively supported the Suffolk County Police’s outreach efforts to vaccinate thousands of members of the Hispanic community in Suffolk.

Simply put, nothing important to the community – food, health, domestic violence, veteran assistance, and housing – is ignored by LaFiesta.

Luis Valenzuela, executive director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, calls the station an “important bulletin board. [that] informs the community how to navigate different systems, how to access help. “

Acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron said LaFiesta is’ of critical importance and without them it would have been much more difficult to get the [vaccine drive] message. We are truly grateful for the partnership. “

This partnership, he added, has recently resulted in the administration of vaccines to some 23,000 Latino-islanders.

AN INCREASE IN AUDITORS

La Fiesta is part of a wave that is currently unfolding with many Spanish-speaking FM radio stations nationwide, and radio isn’t exactly a business accustomed to surges. A 2020 Nielsen study on the impact of COVID on broadcast media use found Hispanics nationwide were spending more than 12 hours per week on the radio, a 10% increase over models from listeners and “33 more minutes” on average than the total market. By way of explanation, Nielsen said that “Latinos have stepped up their use of digital platforms to a greater degree than the total market, including the use of social media and trusted content channels such as TV and radio to inform, communicate, share experiences and seek support. “

But radio, Nielsen discovered, was by far the most important source of information.

Indeed, radio’s unique ties to the vast and complex Latin American population of the United States date back almost a century to the time when so-called “ethnic radio” programs took hold for idle hours, at night, especially on the KMPC in Los Angeles whose signal traveled all the way. in Texas after sunset. It was there, in 1929, that the legendary broadcaster Pedro González launched his show “Los Madrugadores” – “The Early Risers” – a combination of music, information, advocacy and, in particular, his own campaign against mass deportation from the Hoover administration. Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

To some extent, that model – music, advocacy – has endured.

Like so many small radio stations that cast long shadows, LaFiesta’s head office in Ronkonkoma is modest. In a recent Zoom interview, Ana Maria Caraballo, the station manager and DJ, offered a helping hand to demonstrate the extent of these headquarters. “This is it,” she said, pointing to a small studio adjacent to La Fiesta’s English-speaking sister station, Party 105.3. (Owner JVC Broadcasting includes other stations here including LI News Radio, My Country / 96.1, Oldies 98.1, and 11 more in Florida.)

For a profile right after the pandemic outbreak, Caraballo told Newsday that “95% of my calls are from people in need. I’m just a little bit exhausted but if I don’t, who will?”

Hardly anyone, according to county leaders like Cameron who says there is no other Spanish language media with the reach and impact of La Fiesta. He and others give credit to Caraballo, a mother of two and architect of the resort’s outreach efforts. Since this profile was created, her schedule has both become lighter and more complicated. She is no longer the regular host of the morning show with her closest associate at the station – Jose Alvarado, the WBON news gathering force who continued in that role even while he was on leave. of a few months last year. She is now Program Director for the entire “Long Island Cluster” and has been promoted to Resort Manager for La Fiesta. And yes, she still does a lot of on-air animation, including for The Party.

In a recent interview, she said the pandemic has spawned a whole host of crises, from domestic violence to housing and – mole-style – the station continues to tackle every one of them.

Before COVID, she says, “we used to promote all community events, and we continue to do all of that now, including and especially on Facebook Live. But we have also become a source of information on elected officials and hospitals and opened it up a little more to the dissemination of information for groups like SEPA Mojer, the non-profit association that helps victims. domestic violence. [upcoming] event for indigenous peoples.

As always, she says, there is a balance and it’s complicated too. Over the course of a typical hour, there are commercials, music, and chat / news, but Caraballo says she necessarily increased the speech-to-news ratio.

“We are not limited by time because there is a constant need for information,” she says. “I make sure there is a mix every hour so that there is 22 minutes of uninterrupted music, but it’s okay if we spend 10 minutes on an important subject, like the new bill on the lodging [Albany’s moratorium on COVID-related commercial and residential evictions, extended to Jan. 15, 2022]. For people who cannot afford rent, this has become a very important topic. And if you don’t have the money to pay your rent, there are other nonprofits and government grants that will help. And for people who have lost their jobs, there are the various job fairs. Now that this school has started and a lot of people have lost their jobs, we are discussing how you are going to buy your school supplies. “

GIVE AIR TIME TO VACCINATION ISSUES

The biggest problem that consumes the most airtime after music is vaccination. To boost vaccinations in the community, La Fiesta sportsmen, including DJ Fino of Morningside and midday host Celina Bonilla, cut public service announcements explaining their decision to get the shot. Nonetheless, Caraballo and others claim that there remains widespread resistance to vaccines in the Latin American community for a variety of reasons, ranging from health (an unfounded concern that they affect fertility) to a person’s residency status. . Valenzuela of the LI Immigrant Alliance said there were between 95,000 and 100,000 undocumented immigrants in Nassau and Suffolk, and that they were concerned about disclosing personal information.

Longtime afternoon host John “G” Guttierez said that “the main concern of people who work in factories is the fear of ‘Oh my god they’re going to get my information’. they don’t have legal status. But maybe they just don’t have time to schedule it or know where to go. When we started helping these people get vaccinated, they would call we say they don’t even know where to call. We would go to a website and literally book it for them, then say “look for a text or email that confirms the appointment”, and they’d say they don’t have an email address. So we opened an account for them. “

Meanwhile, La Fiesta is still in the realm of music and commerce. The playlist is what is called “freestyle” and takes inspiration from the wide range of genres of Latin music – there are around 34, in case you were wondering, with some two dozen Brazilian genres. only.

Many of these genres seem to be getting at least some attention in La Fiesta, Baladas y Boleros, Cumbia, and contemporary Latin / pop. One of the most popular regular shows is Guttierez’s “salsa-y-tropical”, which airs on weeknights at 5 pm.

Caraballo says there is logic to the crazy quilt format because different types of listeners call for different types of music, while many of them listen throughout the day. It’s an important ploy that has tied La Fiesta so closely to listeners.

BONE OF CONTENTION

John Caracciolo, President and CEO of JVC who bought WBON in 2009, recalled in a recent telephone interview that he debated the decision to drop “the Bone” all those years ago. , until he realized he was on the losing side of a long and entrenched radio battle on Long Island.

“I was fighting with everyone from [imported Connecticut rock stations] at RCN, at BAB and so on, and I would go into announcer meetings where you had to present your station and I’m behind 100 guys in front. But when you got into the announcer meetings for the Spanish speaking stations, we were the only ones. “

“The Bone,” he said, “had no impact.”

The Fiesta was another story. Caracciolo says audiences have grown 5-7% per year in the years since the format change, and La Fiesta alone has fueled the growth of the company. He is now looking to launch a fully spoken Spanish speaking station in Suffolk.

“It was just a matter of doing something a little different.”


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