TAMPA — Their roots might lie in financial advice or religious evangelization, but a number of streaming radio shows serving Spanish speakers in Hillsborough County are expanding to answer an urgent demand for broader information about their community.
A growing Hispanic population is one reason, but so is the spread of COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed to slow its spread.
People are spending more time at home, spurring greater reflection on their role in their community and society, said Juan Carlos Pinto, who has lived 20 years in Tampa and gave up his career as a Citibank vice president last year to launch a streaming radio operation.
“We want to hear voices that have a motivating message and relevant information to share with the Hispanic community,” said Pinto, a 59-year-old Venezuelan. “I do not do this to draw attention to myself but because I believe that information is power.”
A typical program runs an hour or two and is streamed live once a week then available for listening anytime on the host website, an app that can be downloaded for free on mobile devices and social media pages. Programming includes debates and analysis on immigration and national politics, testimonies from entrepreneurs, and advice for good health and saving money.
Pinto hosts Conversando con JuanK, streamed at 5 p.m. Mondays at JuanKfeRadio.com. He had a guest list of 100 in mind when he debuted in February, two weeks before pandemic restrictions were imposed. All his guests have a message for a Spanish-speaking community in Hillsborough that the Census puts at 237,000 people, 94,000 of whom said they speak English less than “very well.”
His list includes local elected leaders, candidates for office, independent journalists, musicians, exiles, human rights activists and military veterans. He has about 1,300 listeners each week, he said, small by comparison with Spanish-language radio stations that broadcast over the air as well stream.
Pinto has a partner in financial advisor Gustavo Bustamante, whose office in Brandon is where the programs are recorded. Bustamante said the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, has added urgency to their work.
“The pandemic has given us time to develop online radio and take advantage of the talent and resources we have in our community,” said Bustamante, a 52-year-old Venezuelan. “We want to bring knowledge and hope to strengthen our people.”
José Ochoa brought more than 30 years of experience in traditional Hispanic radio to his streaming radio ventures Radiofe.net and SalsaOneRadio.com. The medium allows for a closer relationship with its audience, said Ochoa, a 67-year-old Puerto Rican.
His first station, launched 14 years ago, has a spiritual theme and his second, now four years old, revolves around salsa music.
“Although the audience varies, these online radio shows are a voice of help, a lifesaver,” Ochoa said. “What is happening today is quite interesting — the public is hearing something that directly involves them.”
In two weeks, radio veteran Luis López plans to launch the streaming radio program Conversando y Comentando (Chatting and Commenting) to discuss current events and their effect on the Hispanic community.
Lopez, a 68-year-old Puerto Rican, said streaming radio can tackle issues vital to the community it serves better than other forms of media.
“The radio market has taken a turn,” he said.
“We are going to touch on topics that others avoid. But the most important thing is that we are going to give our people a chance to speak and express themselves.”
Norma Camero, a Venezuelan-born human rights activist, said streaming radio makes vital information on education, business and activism more accessible.
Camero and journalist Hernán Lugo host Código Latino (Latin Code) from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, analyzing local politics and the economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela as well as encouraging civic involvement.
“Internet radio is becoming more popular every day, and networks like Facebook, Instagram and Youtube bring us closer to the world,” Camero said.
Regular listener Alejandra Pacheco agrees.
”We came from another culture and many of the people who speak on these programs provide examples about living here that serve as an example for us,” said Pacheco, 46, of New Tampa, a mother of three who came from Venezuela.
”These programs give us a kind of guideline about issues like the coronavirus or how we can save money. It has a little of everything.”.
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