'Mega' Mania

New York's new number 1 radio station leads frenzied market drive

But although La Mega's ratings have grown steadily, parent company Spanish Broadcasting System's vice president Carey Davis is still facing an uphill battle with advertisers. "We're first in ratings, but we're just cracking the top 10 in revenue, and that's too big a gap," said Davis. "If we were a white radio station, we would be billing $10 million more a year than we are now." Last May, Amcast, a division of the broadcast ad reps Katz Radio Group, warned companies in an internal memo against buying too many ads on black and Latino radio stations because "advertisers should want prospects, not suspects." Davis also claims that many businesses have what he calls a "no-Hispanic dictate."

"We go to companies and say, You're looking for ways to increase your marketing share, you've never talked to the 4 million Hispanics who live here," said Davis. "It's a marketer's dream come true, because it's an emerging middle class that needs everything: cars, washers, dryers, real estate, homes, all that American-dream stuff. We had only one bank advertising with us a year and a half ago, Banco Popular, and now we have seven, and last week we signed a first-time deal with Macy's."

La Mega may have hit a nerve among contemporary urban Latinos, but it uses some of the cheesy '50s style of American media that can grate on the '90s listener. The horny hetero Latino imperative equates vive la différence with sexual inequality. Women are usually cheerfully vacant sex objects, and men whose girlfriends are either fat or cheating on them are constant targets. As the official Spanish-language spokesman for Potamkin Motors, even groovy Paco is transformed into a used-car huckster. And seemingly every group who gets its music played on the station incorporates a La Mega jingle into the intro of its songs.

But La Mega has become a significant source of pride and comfort to the Latino community, giving it what it desperately wants: that old-time "family" feeling. Witness the crowds that turn out for Polito Vega's eight-hour oldies show, broadcast every Sunday from Orchard Beach. State-of-the-art marketing concepts aside, La Mega is one long-winded, in-your-face, end-of-the-millennium call to a community to dance dance dance. "We spend more money on dancing than going to the movies," said Paco. "We love to dance, because it's our culture, because it's sensual, sexual, and because it makes us feel like we are enjoying a moment of connection to our ancestors."

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