Here’s how you know KXOS (Exitos 93.9) Los Angeles is different-the core acts shown on its website are Maroon 5, Ke$ha, fun., David Guetta, Lady Gaga . . . and Robbie Williams.
Williams’ single “Candy” hasn’t been released in the United States yet. But around the world it’s his biggest hit in a decade or so. In Mexico, it’s No. 3 on the Nielsen BDS tally of stations that play English-language music. At KXOS’ sister station, XHFAJ (Alfa 91.3) Mexico City, it’s top 10. And seeing Williams on the Exitos site suggests that the new station hews as much to the Mexican formulation of English-language top 40 as the version of the format that most Americans know.
Launched in 2009 as a broad-based Latin pop station, Exitos flipped last month to English-language hits with a Spanish-language presentation, the first major mainland U.S. attempt at the format for 25 years. For much of the day, it’s mostly rhythmic-leaning pop that you’d hear on rivals KIIS (102.7) or KAMP (Amp 97.1), although the differences are telling. Once or twice per hour, there are international hits that most U.S. listeners don’t know-“Saturday Night” by Whigfield or “New York City Boy” by the Pet Shop Boys.
And when Exitos carries Alfa morning man Tono Esquinca until 11 a.m, that same music is punctuated by stretches of alternative rock that never crossed over to top 40 in the United States. So P!nk, Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson are followed by Keane’s “Is It Any Wonder?,” U2’s “Vertigo” and the Black Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling.” At one point last Thursday morning (Nov. 22), “Love of the Common People” by Paul Young showed up.
The Mexican radio formula for English-language top 40 has always been more open than its U.S. counterpart to heritage artists, deeper library, more dance music (unaffected by its boom/bust cycles to the north) and more alternative crossover-even better if an artist combines dance and alternative.
Until now, that mix has made only a few sorties into the States. Top 40 WMEG (Mega 106.9) San Juan, Puerto Rico, combined dance, pop and even extreme rock in the early ’00s. Now, that market’s WTOK (Hot 102) is capable of playing Foo Fighters, deadmau5 and Kelly Clarkson in the same hour. XHTO (Hit 104.3) El Paso, Texas, launched a decade ago with a unique mix, before evolving to rhythmic top 40.
Then there was KQQK Houston, which tried English-language hits/Spanish-language jocks in the late ’80s. KQQK’s unusual music and high-energy presentation were a rush, especially hearing grown men excitedly intone the calls,”ka-koo-koo-ka.” KQQK didn’t get traction until segueing to Tejano. Industryites who were even aware of the station wrote it off as a proof that Hispanics didn’t develop an interest in Spanish-language radio until about the time they outgrew top 40.
But reggaetón shattered that truism nearly a decade ago. So did the rise of younger-skewing Latin pop and the increased number of English-language crossovers at Spanish pop stations, along with the changing fortunes of top 40 among adults. Even if you weren’t interested in your Hispanic heritage until age 35, you didn’t have to give up top 40.
Younger Hispanic-targeted experiments have proliferated this year, from SBS’ WRMA (DJ106.7) Miami (a mix of English- and Spanish-language hits) to Univision’s KESS (H20 Radio) Dallas (English-language music but explicitly Hispanic-focused). And with the rising fortunes of top 40 and Portable People Meter-era challenges of Spanish-language radio, you understand owners wanting to diversify their porfolios.
Exitos will be an interesting test of one particular programming question: Does the broader top 40 mix that exists in the Latin world mean that tastes are more diverse than we think? Or just that there are fewer stations to cover the full spectrum of English-language music? There is some guidance in knowing that KIIS, where “Hispanic-friendly” once translated to “almost entirely rhythmic,” now happily plays the Lumineers and Imagine Dragons. So will it be playing “Candy” in a few months?