By Edward L. Carter
Deseret News staff writer
OREM - Following the lead of an increasing number of Latino-operated Utah businesses, a new radio station in Orem is banking on widening its reach beyond Latinos.
"We are an advertising company," said David Kifuri, who launched the Spanish news and talk programming in December. "We can deliver the Hispanic market but not just to Hispanic businesses."
Kifuri, who worked at a McAllen, Texas, radio station before moving to Utah last year, hopes to convince non-Hispanic businesses that advertising on "Radio Unica" (1480 AM) makes sense. That's a good approach because Hispanics in Utah wield increasing economic and social influence, said Joseph Madrigal, who last year founded the five-county South-Central Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
"The purchasing power of Hispanics in Utah is now $1.69 billion per year," Madrigal said.
Kifuri believes that while the Latino population in states like Utah has grown rapidly in recent years, services have not kept pace. While the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures put Utah's Latino population at about 140,000, Madrigal - a statistician - estimates the number could be twice that.
"This is a very neglected market," Kifuri said.
But as far as radio stations go, Utah Latinos are getting plenty of attention. In addition to "Radio Unica," which began broadcasting a half-day's worth of programming in December, Utah County is home to "Radio Latina." The two operations share air time on 1480 AM.
"Radio Latina" was started in November by a group of Utah County residents who felt other Spanish-language radio stations in Utah catered only to natives of Mexico.
"We wanted to provide programming for people from all over Central and South America as well as returned (LDS Church) missionaries," said Amanda Montecinos, who hosts a "Radio Latina" program on Saturdays.
Both "Radio Latina" and "Radio Unica" lease air time from KHQN, a Spanish Fork broadcasting company owned by devotees of Krishna. Construction of their temple, New Kusum Sarovara, made the Krishna followers too busy to continue producing 24 hours per day of radio programming, said Vai Bhavi Das.
Vai still oversees operation of the station's transmitters during the day. Eastern religious music and other programming is now broadcast only during the early morning hours on 1480 AM.
"We've had a lot of disappointed callers," said Vai, referring to the new programming schedule. But, "it takes the weight off us and gives us money for the temple."
Programs broadcast by "Radio Unica" and "Radio Latina" join offerings from "La Fiera" (960 AM), which also focuses on Utah County's Spanish-speaking radio audience. "La Fiera" started in April 1999 and already has grown to 17 hours per day of live, local programming.
About 80 percent of advertisers on "La Fiera" are Latino-owned businesses, said general manager Oralia Lopez. But like Kifuri, Lopez understands the importance of delivering the growing Latino market to non-Latino businesses.
"It just continues growing," she said of her station's clout with advertisers. "Now we have businesses that want to advertise calling us."
The dean of Spanish-language radio programming in Utah could be "La Mexicana" (730 AM), which is based in Hooper, Weber County, and serves mostly northern Utah and southern Idaho. "Radio Fiesta" (1600 AM) seems to have established itself as the leading Spanish-language broadcaster in Salt Lake County, Madrigal said.
Utah's Latino radio stations, like other Latino media, are discovering their power in reaching a fast-growing and vibrant market. Businesses hoping to reach that market cut across racial and ethnic boundaries.
"Hispanic media have traditionally approached Hispanic businesses for advertising," Kifuri said. "That's a mistake."