Dialing in a dialect

Forget the melting pot.

South Florida's proliferation of foreign language media means immigrants can stay informed without learning English.

Just turn the dial on your radio. On one station, the commentary is in Creole; on another it's Polish. On still more stations, a varied array of Spanish dialects dissect everything from the state of the economy in Nicaragua to baseball in the Dominican Republic.

"We discuss everything," said Alex Saint-Surin, who is host of a call-in radio show on 24-hour all-Creole Radio Carnivale, AM 1020. "It could be social issues or the economy. It could be entertainment, the newest movie."

The same information can be obtained in other languages through newspapers, Web sites and cable and satellite television programs.

Technology also allows ATMs to offer directions in French. Automated phone systems ask callers to press 1 for English or 2 for Spanish. Regional supermarket and drug store chains now print advertising circulars in different languages, too.

The goal of these media is to serve, not acculturate.


As globalization and immigration bring more people, and their languages, to these shores, expect bigger and more diverse forms of media and communications.

On the AM radio band, for instance, the past decade has seen steady growth in brokered airtime, where individuals or groups purchase blocks of time and then choose their programming and sell their own ads.

At WVCG, AM 1080, English-language programming accounts for a small fraction of the 168 hours of broadcasts each week. And even then, the English has a distinct West Indian accent.

The bulk of the airtime is in Spanish, with smaller blocks split among shows in Creole, Polish and Hebrew. Station general manager Michael Silva said he has fielded requests from Brazilians who would like to air a program in Portuguese.

"I'm not at all surprised by the variety of languages," he said. "I think it speaks to the diversity we have here in South Florida."

While Spanish and English dominate the airwaves, other languages are popping up through free-distribution newspapers that depend on ads from ethnic-specific grocery stores, travel agents and similar businesses.

Anna Masnev, a Plantation Realtor originally from Russia, gets news from a Russian-language newspaper she picks up in grocery stores and shops.

Masnev has been in the United States a decade and is fluent in English, but she wants to keep track of what's going on in her homeland.

Occasionally, she logs on to Russian Web sites, but the newspaper "is easier to read," she said.

Spanish remains the No. 2 language in South Florida, rivaling English on radio and TV. In fact, WLTV-Ch. 23's Spanish language newscast is the highest-rated in South Florida.

The mainstream media have caught on. English-language television station NBC 6/WTVJ, the network affiliate, is partnered with the Spanish-language Telemundo network. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel last October began publishing a Spanish-language weekly newspaper, El Sentinel. Knight Ridder, which publishes the Miami Herald, also owns El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish-language daily.


The proliferation of alternate media has pluses and minuses. It allows everyone an avenue of expression, can help tutor those learning a different language, and can offer different viewpoints on an issue.

The danger, some say, is that the value of diversity can be lost if listeners and readers are missing valuable news and opinions because they don't understand what is being said or written.

"Having more voices helps," said Aly Colón, director of the diversity program at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg. "But we have to recognize that the goal is to help people understand each other."

Rene Balmaseda, president of Greene Beech Advertising & Design Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, said the proliferation of Spanish print and broadcast media might be in only its nascent stages. Balmaseda cites industry numbers showing that Spanish language media rake in just 1.3 percent of the $200 billion spent annually in marketing dollars.

Within the next decade, as the U.S. Hispanic population continues growing, that percentage could increase to 10 percent. That would translate into a nearly 10-fold increase, to $20 billion worth of ad revenues for Hispanic media.

"I'm predicting the need for information and specific advertising is going to explode," Balmaseda said.

However, he acknowledges the challenges ahead. For example, South Florida's Hispanic population is diversifying quickly. Advertisers and media types are going to have to figure out how to target audiences without relying on references to specific nationalities.

An even bigger challenge will be to keep pace with the assimilation.

Take Cristina Ricardo, 17, a student at Palm Beach Community College who lives in Deerfield Beach.

Originally from Colombia, Ricardo is part of an audience segment coveted by demographers and advertisers. But she's not easy to target.

At home with her family, she speaks Spanish. She watches such popular American network shows as Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond, but prefers the news in Spanish.

"I listen to American radio because I think learning the songs maybe helps me to improve my English,"' she said. "But I watch the news on Spanish television mainly because I get news of my country."

Antonio Fins can be reached at or 954-356-4669