Latinx Files: Capitalism not socialism at core of Radio Mambi flap

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A few weeks ago, a new media startup made headlines for two reasons.

The first was the fact that the Latino Media Network, founded by Stephanie Valencia and Jess Morales Rocketto, had raised $80 million in initial capital. As Sarah Fischer of Axios put it, this is “one of the largest capital raises for a Latina-owned and operated startup in the U.S.”

The second has to do with what the company did with most of that money.

On June 3, the Latino Media Network announced that they had reached an agreement to buy 18 radio stations in 10 U.S. cities from TelevisaUnivision. The acquisition, which is pending regulatory approval, would give the startup an immediate audience in markets like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Houston and McAllen, Texas (puro 956 cuh!).

“They basically give us access to one-third of the Hispanic population in this country,” Valencia told Axios.

The deal, worth a reported $60 million, also includes Radio Mambí, a Spanish-language talk radio station in Miami.

Here’s where things get interesting. You see, Radio Mambí isn’t just any radio station.

“You are talking about perhaps the most symbolic communication platform for the Cuban exile community in its history,” said Alejandro Alvarado, an associate professor and director of the Spanish-language journalism master’s program at Florida International University.

Founded in the mid ‘80s by self-made millionaire Amancio Víctor Suárez, Radio Mambí has been a prominent mainstay of the Cuban exile community for decades. A decidedly anti-Fidel Castro and anti-communist outfit from the beginning, the popular radio station was the longtime home of Armando Pérez Roura, who would begin his show by reading a list of people executed by the regime that day. Such was the reach of Radio Mambí that its signal was reportedly jammed in Cuba to prevent its broadcast from reaching the island.

Radio Mambí has historically tilted conservative. In recent years, the station has not only been pro-Trump, but also has become a hotbed for Spanish-language disinformation. According to a 2021 report, Radio Mambí had three of the four shows that were “most egregious” in pushing unfounded conspiracy theories in the region, spreading falsehoods on topics ranging from Trump’s Big Lie to the so-called “great replacement theory” to blaming COVID-19 on “Chinese communists.”

It should come as no surprise then that when the agreement between TelevisaUnivision and Latino Media Network became public, more than a few feathers were ruffled. That’s because Valencia and Morales Rocketto previously worked for the Democratic Party. To further complicate matters is the fact that part of the money raised by the Latino Media Network came from Lakestar Finance, an investment firm with ties to George Soros, a name that has been a dog whistle for the far right.

“We cannot let our youth not be informed firsthand of the harm of communism,” Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez said at a recent event protesting the sale. “It is important for young people to know because today we are seeing a very dangerous movement.”

“This is what socialism does, communism does. They want to silence people,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who in 2017 signed a bill that would allow residents to request a book ban when he was the state’s governor.

But for all the finger-pointing at socialism and communism, the real culprit appears to be capitalism.

You don’t need former “Despierta América” chief meteorologist Albert Martínez to know which way the wind is blowing.

In February 2021, Univision acquired ad-based Spanish streamer Vix and rolled it in with its own would-be streamer, PrendeTV. (In 2019, Vix itself acquired Pongalo, yet another streaming service).

In April 2021, Univision merged with Mexican TV giant Televisa to become the largest Spanish-language media company in the world.

“The merger facilitates an effective move to streaming by combining content, production facilities, substantive operational cost savings and owned distribution outlets in the two largest Spanish-speaking markets in the world,” media consultant Julio Rumbaut told my colleague Meg James.

In May, TelevisaUnivision agreed to acquire Spanish streamer Pantaya from Hemisphere Media Group for an undisclosed sum of money and two radio stations in Puerto Rico.

You starting to get the picture?

And though TelevisaUnivision is paring down its radio portfolio, the company said in a statement to The Times that the 39 radio stations it wasn’t selling would still give it “the largest Spanish Language Radio footprint in the country by audience reach.

“Audio and music will continue to be a strategic priority through investments in core radio assets and Uforia, TelevisaUnivision’s audio brand which includes audio streaming, podcasts and live concert series,” the statement read.

Radio Mambí might have deep historical and cultural ties to the Cuban exile community, but to TelevisaUnivision, the station was considered to be “non-core.” Its sale wasn’t personal. It’s just business.

But for those opposing the sale of Radio Mambí, take heart!

If it was the free market that led TelevisaUnivision to sell to the Latino Media Network — the former said it had met with a dozen potential buyers, including the conservative Salem Media Group — then these same forces could ensure that the spirit of Radio Mambí is preserved.

In a June 10 op-ed for the Miami Herald, Valencia and Morales Rocketto addressed the backlash, stating that they “do not intend to change the spirit or character of what has made it popular and profitable.” Their “goal will always be to run a successful business.”

And in radio, you can’t run a successful business if you don’t have advertisers. As Alvarado points out, Miami’s economic base leans to the right.

“If they see any shift to the left,” he says, “they will pull out their money from those stations”.

There are several potential outcomes for Radio Mambí once the sale is approved.

The new owners could let Radio Mambí continue to cater to the right wing of the Cuban American community and keep the status quo. They could also impose policies that curtail some of the more outlandish statements from the popular conservative anchors forcing an exodus of talent to other stations, taking the opportunity to reinvent the station into a more progressive outlet.

A third option would be to flip the station to local, conservative ownership for a profit that would ensure the outlet keeps its traditional ties to the Cuban exile community.

Either way, it seems restricting speech might not be the driver for this purchase, but instead the most American of factors — the bottom line.

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Things we read this week that we think you should read

— Did you know that some Latinxs smoke weed? It’s true! Not just that, some of them even make bongs. In the latest episode of “The Green Room, a video series on all things cannabis, host Adam Tschorn profiles Susie Plascencia and Bobby Lady, the duo behind L.A.-based company Mota Glass.

— And speaking of Latinxs who smoke weed, Cheech Marin, arguably the most famous of them all, has spent decades amassing a private collection of Chicano art, much of which is now in display at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture in Riverside. Times art critic Christopher Knight gives it a positive review.

— As it seems like we are prepping for another disco renaissance, take a walk down memory lane in this Melissa Montalvo story in L.A. Taco about the evolution of disco in East L.A. It’s worth your time as it drips with details on how our moms and dads found the underground parties in an age before social media and group chat.





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