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    Station to cut Hispanic program

    WMNF says that Oye Latino's audience is too small and that the radio station wants to focus on drawing black listeners.

    By KATHRYN WEXLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 13, 2002


    TAMPA -- WMNF calls itself the area's community radio station and says its mission is to celebrate "local cultural diversity."

    But while the station will continue to broadcast polkas and Jewish music, WMNF has proposed eliminating much of its programming aimed at Hispanics, the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the Tampa Bay area.

    Instead, the station will aim to woo back the African-American listeners it lost over the past decade.

    Program director Randy Wynne says the station (FM 88.5) has never been able to draw a significant Hispanic audience and needs to make changes.

    "Maybe if we had a whole day of Latino stuff, maybe we could, but we don't have a history of that," he said.

    As a result, the station is poised to ax Oye Latino, a blend of traditional Latin music, Hispanic news, public announcements and guest DJs. Wynne says the show isn't drawing enough donations or listeners to justify its 90-minute block on Sunday nights.

    That reasoning has drawn the ire of fans and the program's DJ, Franco Silva, a volunteer who has anchored Oye Latino (Listen up, Latino) for most of its eight years.

    "How can you tell a whole community they don't matter?" said Silva, 38, who works at Pinellas County Animal Services.

    If Oye Latino goes, that will leave just one program on WMNF geared to Hispanics -- a party mix of contemporary Latin jazz and salsa. There are several other Spanish-language stations in the Tampa Bay area, but fans of WMNF say they don't offer the same range of culture and tastes.

    Wynne says Oye Latino has never had the following of the station's Caribbean show, which features music of that genre, or the Jewish music program that netted $10,000 during an October fundraising drive.

    Silva said his show raised $1,400 during its recent on-air fundraising drive -- $200 more than the station's target. He said WMNF has handicapped Oye Latino by not promoting the show the way it has others, a contention Wynne disputes.

    If there aren't enough Hispanic listeners, WMNF should be working harder to get them, said Juan C. Vila, a cardiologist who lives in Tarpon Springs. Vila says he is a devoted listener of Oye Latino and a frequent contributor to the station.

    "The fact that they have not gotten the community involved speaks against the station, not against the community," he said.

    That community is growing. Hispanics are the largest minority in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, and the second largest behind African-Americans in Pinellas. Statewide, the number of Hispanics grew by 70 percent over the last decade, to 2.7-million.

    WMNF first hit the airwaves in 1979, after volunteers went door-to-door to raise enough money to support its broadcast. The 70,000-watt station is commercial free and largely supported by listener donations.

    Wynne says that he likes Oye Latino and that his proposal to kill it was never based on its quality. Sunday nights are traditionally unpopular slots in radio. Wynne said he may move the other Latin music show to Saturday.

    That won't placate Maura Barrios, one of the original activists who got Oye Latino on the air. She said she never felt WMNF was committed to its Hispanic audience.

    "It was always a struggle, like we were the uninvited guests," Barrios said. "Why give up a Latino show? Why not give up one of the thousands of white southern shows?"

    Wynne said that as the station has matured, it has realized it can't be all things to all people.

    "We can't serve everybody and be an effective radio station," Wynne said. "And if we're going to make a major commitment to the black community, we don't have enough hours to make that commitment to the Hispanic community and still have our regular core of listeners."

    Black listeners make up about 10 percent of the audience, down from 40 percent less than a decade ago, Wynne said. The station wants them back.

    "We don't want to write them off," Wynne said.

    -Staff writer Bill Coats contributed to this report. Kathryn Wexler can be reached at (813) 226-3383.

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