While mostly familiar faces continue to dominate Latin pop, tropical and urban music, regional Mexican has been a dynamic genre buoyed by new acts.

Consider the finalists for Billboard's inaugural Regional Mexican Music Awards, who are led by Gerardo Ortiz, Larry Hernandez and Espinoza Paz (see story, below). Of the 32 artists listed as finalists, 10 (including two featured artists) charted for the first time in either 2009 or 2010. By contrast, the finalists of the 2011 Billboard Latin Music Awards included only five new acts outside of regional Mexican, of which two were featured artists on tracks by superstars (l Cata with Shakira and Lucenzo with Don Omar).

Everyone in the business agrees that the main reason behind the disparity is radio. It's no secret that in the wake of the rollout of Arbitron's Portable People Meter (PPM), U.S. Spanish-language airwaves have become increasingly tight-fisted when it comes to playing new artists, or even new music by established acts.

But many regional Mexican stations haven't been hampered by the same fears.because? While the exact reasons are hard to pinpoint, key PDs in the genre appear to enjoy considerable autonomy in programming decisions, perhaps helped by the existence of multiple regional Mexican stations in several markets, which encourages diversification of playlists.

"The regional Mexican programmer takes more risks-albeit controlled risks-and is less corporate," says Alberto Del Castillo, the longtime VP of promotion at Fonovisa who now runs his own promotion company, In-Motion.

Regional Mexican is still a realm where one can walk into some stations, get a programmer excited about a track and have him play it almost immediately, without even taking it to research.

Del Castillo, for example, is promoting "Intentalo," the new "tribal music" track by DJ collective 3Ball MTY featuring regional Mexican singer El Bebeto on vocals. Although there isn't an album attached to it and the track isn't yet available on iTunes, it's already playing on key regional Mexican stations, like KBUE (La Que Buena) Los Angeles.

Despite the advent of the PPM, KBUE PD Pepe Garza "has always been very aggressive and hasn't changed his strategy," says Gustavo Lopez, executive VP of brand partnerships, business development and digital for Universal Music Latin Entertainment.

Several PDs like Garza are key tastemakers in regional Mexican, including Juan Carlos Hidalgo of Spanish Broadcasting System in Chicago and Los Angeles, Jose Luis Gonzalez of KSOL San Francisco, Rafael Bautista of WOJO Chicago and Arturo Buenrostro of KBOC Dallas-Fort Worth. "They have the power to influence several stations," Lopez says.

The current wave of new music on regional Mexican radio has been developing for more than a year now, with a slew of emerging norteño and banda acts climbing the charts. These new acts and their fresh take on the genre have helped hook a new generation of listeners who aren't interested in the legacy acts that had dominated regional Mexican radio for many years.In addition, Del Castillo speculates, tightening immigration laws have curtailed the number of young children and teens crossing the border from Mexico. While immigrant kids grow up listening to their parents' music, those born and raised stateside are more likely to seek out different sounds.

Apparently, many tropical and pop programmers haven't gotten that memo.••••