(By Deborah Parenti) Ask John David, the NAB’s EVP of radio, about Jose Valle, and he’ll tell you, “I love his leadership style … very transparent, with a sense of humor and a direct approach to solving problems by listening and making a decision.”
Over the years, it’s been that easy, open, and transparent communication style that helped garner recognition for Valle by The Hollywood Reporter in the magazine’s Top 25 Latinos in Entertainment, as well as Billboard’s Power 100 and Latin Power Players. He was Radio Ink’s Executive of the Year in 2013, spent four years on the magazine’s 40 Most Powerful People in Radio list, and is a previous NAB Radio Board chair.
Having served as president of Univision Radio from 2010-2015, Jose understands better than most the challenges and opportunities for those who lead the industry, especially those with whom the future of Hispanic radio lies. And it’s why we asked him to moderate this year’s Executive Leadership Roundtable at the Hispanic Radio Conference.
What drew you to radio as a career?
Valle: I was hired by Jerry Symon in my early 20s as a receptionist/sales assistant at Heftel Los Angeles. It was so long ago that it was the only market Heftel owned and operated at the time. The immediate and most obvious draws were the energy, music, and fun that I got to participate in and enjoy. It was literally playing music and throwing parties each and every day.
As I got to do more, the ability to have meaningful impact on a P&L and competition became more obvious. Everything from programming, content, and promotions to sales, branding, and culture was another lever you could pull quickly and effectively. What you did and how you did it mattered to your staff, your business partners, and the community.
That was, in great part, because there was no “hubbing.” No out-of-market programming or content. No bland corporate brands. No regional managers. No searching for endless synergies. It was literally you and your team versus the team across the street. Game on, and may the best team win. If you’re a real competitor, what more can you ask for?
What are the biggest challenges facing Hispanic radio?
Valle: That’s a tough question, but I’ll give you the top three things that I see as critical challenges.
Focus: The top three Spanish-language radio broadcasters, Univision, SBS, and Entravision, all have other broadcast interests that overshadow radio. The belief is that since radio and TV are both local, you can synergize costs and put both organizations together and have them work as one. The reality, however, is that something always get shortchanged and left behind — and typically that’s radio.
Debt: This is the four-letter word that should be added to the list of seven dirty words for all broadcasters. High debt and the need to feed that beast has limited expenditures in talent, product, branding, and training.
In many cases, it has actually negatively impacted or eliminated critical investments and positions within radio stations. Stations have less local staffs, less sales leaders and sales teams, less resources, and less promotional tools while facing more diverse competition than ever. Radio can’t get bigger if it keeps getting smaller.
Spanish: Hispanics are becoming more American in every sense of the word, including language capabilities. The more English-capable you become, the more entertainment options you have. This is especially true with video, where there is a clear quality difference between English-language and Spanish-language content. This is not to say that there isn’t quality Spanish-language video content, but in general, it is a far cry from the options available on general-market broadcast and cable networks, Netflix, HBO, and other high-quality content providers. High-quality content will drive English-capable viewers to English-language content.
There is, however, no quality difference between English- and Spanish-language music acts. Most of today’s Spanish-language singers/artists are working with the very best producers, technicians, musicians, and studios available. There is virtually zero quality difference between Spanish-language music and English-language music. And you don’t need to speak English or Spanish to tap your toes and shake your hips to quality beats and rhythms in any language. Music is the universal language, has broad appeal, and will always be relevant regardless of language.
Need some proof? Take a look at the top 10 to 15 Spanish-language markets, and what do you see? At least one, sometimes two, top stations are Spanish-language. Are Hispanics learning more English? Sí. Will it impact Spanish-language radio? No way, Jose!
Hispanic radio groups aren’t always visible at general industry functions. For example, you were the first (and are still the only) Hispanic radio leader to participate at our annual Forecast conference Group Head session. Why? And is there some way to encourage more Hispanic radio involvement?
Valle: If you invite me to a party, pretty much any party, I’ll show up! Maybe it’s as simple as inviting more folks to the table. I will say this. I have seen market rating rankers that exclude Spanish-language stations. I have seen general market groups produce market revenue reports that exclude Spanish-language stations. I have also seen some major broadcasters say they are “doing Hispanic” because one of their English-language stations leans Hispanic demographically, and with that, they “checked the Hispanic box.”
Look, Spanish-language leaders can certainly make a bigger effort to be visible and be involved. But the industry needs to accept the fact that Spanish-language broadcasters are real and many times are number one in both ratings and revenue. Don’t put your head in the sand. Embrace your fellow broadcasters and compete with them in the field of play, fairly and straight up.
How might new immigration policies proposed by the new administration impact Hispanic radio?
Valle: Our job, as broadcasters, is to serve our community. We must continue to inform and educate our listeners on the law as well as their rights. Yes, we are their eyes and ears — but from time to time we need to get off the sidelines and be their voice as well.
What do you see for the industry over the next few years?
Valle: I joined the circus, but I don’t have a crystal ball! That being said, I do have some general ideas, so let me give it a shot. Within two years, nothing will be as it is. As I said above, the lack of focus has cost market share and raw dollars, but the debt is still there. That is not a sustainable business model, and drastic changes will have to be made. It’s just math.
I think the winners of this shakeout could be general-market radio broadcasters that fall between fifth and 20th place in billing. The opportunities will be there for companies with a radio focus, a strong operational backbone, a well-balanced P&L, and with a desire to expand their footprint by embracing new markets.
What positives in Spanish-language radio do you find most exciting?
Valle: I think we are listening to some of the most amazing on-air talents ever. They are doing more with less right now, yet they still provide quality programming that wins. There are many, but here are a few examples.
Omar & Argelia, mornings on KLVE in L.A., are the very best of what radio has to offer. I didn’t say Spanish-language radio. I said radio. They provide a traditional full-service morning show with news, traffic, weather, and commentary, with a sense of class, style, and gentle humor that is simply best-in-class. And, by the way, they win total market on a very regular basis — so there!
Enrique Santos on TU 94.9 FM in Miami is innovative, aggressive, hyperactive, and uber-involved with his listener base. He is the definition of bicultural and bilingual, and nobody works harder than that cat. Watch him as he continues to grow the iHeartLatino brand.
Raul Brindis on 102.9 FM in Houston started doing radio before Marconi invented it. Yet somehow he still looks and sounds like he might be 27 years old. He runs a solid show, is also a first-rate programmer, and simply delivers number one, book after book, decade after decade.
I’m also a fan of Erazno y La Chocolata on several stations with Entravision. Oswaldo Diaz has a very creative show that leverages around him and his talents. He does amazingly well in the ratings, considering the limited signals he has to work with.
And finally, I’m excited to hear LJ back on the air on La X in New York. That guy is the most naturally talented and funny guy I have ever seen. Don’t tell him I said so, but he doesn’t need show prep or a large staff. Just two turntables and a microphone! Watch him take number one in NY within a book or two.
Effective April 4, Jose runs off to join the circus — literally! He has taken on a new challenge as VP of sales for Cirque du Soleil, based in Las Vegas. Reach him at [email protected].
Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected]