Maria Martin and the impact of Latin Radio in the U.S. by sdmn
Maria Martin, the pioneering Latina radio journalist, and founder of “Latino USA,” died at age 72 on December 2, 2023. Her passing marks the end of an era, but her impact on Spanish radio in the United States reverberates far beyond the airwaves and is a vital part of its history in the U.S., which is growing, becoming more noticeable and having an impact in the country´s politics.
Martin’s career, which began in 1975 at KBBF 89.1 FM in Santa Rosa, California, paved the way for the inclusion of diverse voices in the media landscape. As one of the first prominent Latina journalists in public radio, she tirelessly advocated for the representation of Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and Central American perspectives, challenging stereotypes along the way. After contributing to NPR’s short-lived national show, “Latin File,” Martin became the “Latino Affairs” editor on NPR’s national desk. Despite facing difficulties and frustrations, she pressed forward, as recounted in her 2020 book, “Crossing Borders, Building Bridges: A Journalist’s Heart in Latin America.”
According to a report by Axios Latino, Martin founded “Latino USA” in 1993 with support from the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Mexican American Studies and a Ford Foundation grant. Housed at Austin’s KUT-FM, the program introduced overlooked Latino artists, such as Los Angeles-based cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, to a broader audience. Martin’s eye for talent extended to hiring Maria Hinojosa, an unknown journalist at the time, as a host. Even then-President Bill Clinton attended the launch, expressing hope that “Latino USA” would mirror the success of programs like ‘All Things Considered’ and ‘Morning Edition.’
It certainly did. Today, “Latino USA” stands as the longest-running public radio program produced from a Latino perspective. However, Martin’s departure from the program she founded underscores the challenges faced by women of color in media, a point she emphasized on the show’s 30th-anniversary episode. However, beyond Martin’s remarkable journey, the influence of Spanish radio in the United States extends deep into the fabric of the country’s diverse communities. According to Nielsen data, 97% of all Hispanics are reached by radio weekly, making it the top media platform for connecting with this demographic. In addition, Spanish-dominant radio listeners spend more time tuning in than those who are more comfortable speaking English.
Moreover, the impact of Spanish radio transcends into the digital medium, as Radio Ambulante, NPR´s award winning Spanish journalism podcast, was the platform’s most shared podcast. In addition, new stations continue emerging. In Washington D.C, for instance, a new Spanish-language radio station, La Pantera, was released last year. According to an article by the DCist, Pedro Biaggi, with a background in Spanish-language radio, spearheads the station, emphasizing its community-based approach. La Pantera aims to serve the region’s Spanish speakers by complementing existing stations like El Zol and Radio América, proving that, in radio, it’s not about competition but representation.
Furthermore, according to the BBC, Spanish radio is becoming one of the battlegrounds of Florida politics. In 2022, Americano Media, a conservative radio network with ties to former President Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, launched, prompting concerns of further polarization within the Latino community and within a radio ecosystem dominated by conservative radio stations in Spanish. In response, Latina political activists and entrepreneurs, connected to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, entered talks to purchase 18 Spanish-language stations, including the conservative stronghold Radio Mambí in Miami. The high-stakes contest for control over Spanish-language radio highlights its crucial role as a conduit for news and opinions within the politically diverse Latino community. With Democrats and Republicans both recognizing the influence of Spanish radio, the battle for representation is more than just a contest of frequencies; it’s a struggle for the narrative. The resonance of Spanish radio in the United States continues to shape conversations, amplify diverse voices, and bridge cultural gaps, just as Maria Martin envisioned in her pioneering journey. You can also take part of that journey listening to Spanish radio programs. Here in Alaska, we have programs like “De Son a Song” (KONR-LP 106.1 FM), every Saturday that are worth checking out.
PROUDLY POWERED BY SOL DE MEDIANOCHE NEWS, LLC. Sol de Medianoche is a monthly publication of the Latino community in Anchorage, Alaska