Latino Listeners? Loss, Super Estrella?s Gain

With Viva 107.1 gone, there's little adventurous Latin rock on the airwaves

By Jorge Leal
Published on LatinoLA: January 27, 2003

Latino Listeners? Loss, Super Estrella?s Gain

As Spanish-language FM stations go, Los Angeles? local radio dial has experienced its first loss in years: On January 15, Viva 107.1 FM stopped transmitting its dose of Latin pop, spiced with heavy helpings of Latin rock and even reggae.

Viva was recently purchased by Entravision, which not coincidentally owns Super Estrella (97.5 and 103.1 FM), Viva?s bitter rival in the never-ending race to grab the largest ratings share among the pivotal youth demographic. Super Estrella is now transmitting on what it used to be Viva?s frequency.

Big City Radio, Viva?s parent company struggled for years to stay afloat in an industry dominated by vast corporations like HBC, SBC and Entravision. But it finally threw the towel last December, with a decision to sell most of its stations in New York, Chicago and Texas. Although it didn?t initially plan to sell the Viva stations, considered flagships in L.A. and Chicago, Entravision?s offer of $139 million for the L.A. station was simply too high to refuse.

The ramifications of this takeover, however, extends beyond financial figures and a switch of logos. Although now nearly half of L.A.?s FM stations have turned into Spanish language format, the tastes of Latino youth has been largely shut out of these formats.

Most Spanish-language media has not been able (or willing?) to address this very important demographic. Spanish-language radio simply does not take into account Latino youth, unless they are willing to settle for overwhelming doses of regional Mexican music; which is great to remind them of the ?old country,? but has not experienced a substantial artistic evolution in decades.

While singers like Lupillo Rivera have connected with the younger generation, he has stuck to songs about love and the countryside. Also, he makes heavy use of old tunes known by the post-revolution (almost a 100 years ago) generation. This does not portray the reality of life in a vibrant, diverse and complex city like Los Angeles.

On the other hand there are stations like K-LOVE and Recuerdos which seem to broadcast cheesy-ballads for a never-ending syrupy fixation with the 1970s.

K-LOVE is notorious for playing the same love songs over and over, while its more ?mature? sister station Recuerdos is the equivalent of an oldies station ? its format drawing heavily from favorites of the 50s, 60?s and 70?s.

While some songs are still gems, like Agustin Lara?s ?Reloj,? others cause shameful blushes and wincing among younger listeners, like tunes from the now-forgotten era of rock?n?roll en espa?ol, which was little more than Spanish-language covers of the most popular American songs of the time.

Spanish-language radio is simply not made for Latinos under 25, and while Viva has a mostly pop format, it consistently flirted the promise that it could address the needs of a listenership with more adventurous tastes and with a very different reality than their previous generation.

In its nearly three-year life, Viva tried to continue with The Red Zone a Latin-alternative radio show that began on Y-107, the alternative rock station that preceded Viva in its frequency.

The Red Zone was the only radio show that focused on these rising genre. When that show was shelved, Viva tried injecting more rock songs into its rotation. It even developed a couple of electronica after-hours shows. In contrast to other stations, it also made some inroads in bridging the language divide, with their DJs sometimes chattering in ?Spanglish.? Viva also dared to play reggaeton, an immensely popular dancehall-like style out of Puerto Rico.

Of course, Viva was not without its flaws. The aforementioned efforts often deviated from its stated mission, often succumbing to the playing of the most popular songs (think Thalia, Enrique Iglesias, Chayane, Las Ketchup, over and over and over).

Not the most daring.

For example, the electronica show ditched Nortec when it was not matching the popularity of the Latin-House tunes. In early 2002, after a period of airing new rock songs from bands like Jumbo and Zurdok, Viva had to retract and play more of the same pop romantic fare. ?We cowered somewhat,? said one of the programmers at the time. ?We pushed too fast?.

But in the twilight of its existence, Viva showed that novel and entertaining radio concepts can be indeed be successful in Spanish-language radio. A Sunday show hosted by local NBC sportscaster Mario Solis had the audacity to combine soccer news and commentary with rock en espa?ol songs ? even having local bands play on the show.

Maybe because of its impending doom, in the last days Viva hurried in playing such material from such emerging "meska" bands as Inspector, Pante?n Rococ? and even indie pop darlings like Volov?n and Panda.

On the other hand, Super Estrella, now the only ?youth Latino radio station,? has always had a more stale format. Since its inception in 1997, it has sounded like a frequency warped in time. The L.A. based station has a playlist full of ?flashbacks? to ?80s sounds (which were bad then and are just worse now), as well as bubble-gum, faux-sexy pop that would make even the creators of teen idols like Britney Spears and ?NSYNC cringe.

Yes, Super Estrella does play an occasional song made after, let?s say, 1995 ? witness new hits from Man?, La Ley and Jaguares. But these bands have long ceased to explore new musical grounds, and now rely on their trite pop-rock formulas to keep churning out what is essentially the same CD over and over again.

Jaguares, for example, recently put out an ?unplugged? album ? unplugged albums being the novelty in 1993 ? in which they re-hash their early ?90s work. This was back when they seemed poised to join the American alternative genre, which in turn they had already reworked for their 1999 ?live album.? Live albums being the new thing...In the seventies!).

These are the songs ? along with the cheesy club dance tunes ? that Super Estrella plays ad nauseum. As if Los Angeles was a small little town in middle America (or Mexico for that matter), so far away from Hollywood.

In a city where record labels are desperately looking to get play for their new products, where is it customary for radio stations to play ?world premieres,? Latino stations are stuck playing the same old songs. Viva?s three-year effort of presenting an alternative to the nostalgia that populate Latino radio will be missed, as will their now out-of-work DJs.

On the other hand, it is the young Latino listeners in Los Angeles who will be the ultimate casualty. Ignored again (unless they desire subjecting themselves to more obnoxious, disposable pop) they will be without a radio station that truly seeks to address their musical wants and needs.

And we are not talking about hipster favorites like KRCW ? which ironically, seems to play more Latin-alternative songs than Super Estrella. But something that even resembles a KIIS, The Beat or KROQ. Something that is their's, not a foreign nostalgia trip.

Something that makes them feel finally at home in L.A. In 2003.

About Jorge Leal:
Jorge Leal is a Staff Writer for The Wave Newspapers in Los Angeles. He can be reached via email: jeal@wavenewspapers.com.

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