Jacob Forever performs in 2016

Jacob Forever performs at American Airlines Arena on April 23, 2016 in Miami.

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In a nod to the growing popularity of urban Cuban music in the U.S., Spanish Broadcasting System today flipped its Miami top 40 radio station, La Nueva I95.7 FM, to Ritmo 95.7 FM, with the tagline “Cubatón y más” (Cubatón and more) on Monday (Aug. 15).

The move sends a major message to the marketplace that commercial radio sees Cubatón -- the mix of reggaetón with Cuban beats and sometimes trap -- and the Cuban urban movement in general as more than a passing fad.

“I think it’s [Cubatón] becoming a worldwide phenomenon,” said Jesus Salas, SBS’ EVP of programming, multi-platform coordinator. “Everything Cuban now is fashionable and Cuban music is widely popular all over Europe. And in Miami what I saw and what I’ve been seeing is, when we go to bars they play this music over and over and no one has really embraced it enough. We were the first to break Gente de Zona in the country and the first to break Jacob Forever in Miami. I see all the different fusions that are being recorded. These artists have millions of views in YouTube, and no one is playing it on rotation. We have the station to do that.”

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While the bulk of Ritmo’s programming, roughly 60-70%, will be Cubatón, it will also feature other urban and reggaetón music.

“The appeal is going to be Cubatón, which doesn't have an outlet in and of itself, but it will live within a Latin urban format that will include reggaetón,” said Carolina Santamarina, GM of SBS. 

While Cuban urban music has gained traction in recent months thanks to hits by Gente de Zona and Jacob Forever, to date the music is far from dominating the charts. This week, for example, there are no Cuban acts on the top 25 of Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart (the highest is Gente de Zona’s “Algo contigo” at No. 26), which measures airplay, sales and streams, and only two (Gente de Zona and Jacob Forever) on the top 25 of the Latin Airplay chart, which only measures airplay.

However, Salas says, the music is there.

“I’ve done extensive research on it, and there are more than 10 main Cuban artists making this kind of music, and I’ve found over 100 songs that I think are really good, and when they get exposed they’re going to become hits. There is more than enough music to create a station.”

Cubatón has already tested well for SBS on its Lamusica app, which has a Cubatón-dedicated channel, and SBS is hoping to attract millennial listeners who are very interactive and engaged, opening up the spectrum for more revenue opportunities.

As for ballads and other traditional pop music, they will now live on SBS’s Zeta 92.3 FM, which currently plays hits, ballads and tropical music.

But no doubt, the flip to Ritmo will be hard on non-urban acts who have seen their format lose stations.

“Urban is the new pop,” said Salas. “But traditional ballads will always have a place. And Zeta in Miami will play ballads.”