No translation needed: Univision pulls the plug on local talk

Oh, great. Now you can hate what’s happening to radio in two languages.

Belying its branding as La Tremenda, Chicago’s only full-service Spanish-language news/talk station just fell victim to the same corporate cost-cutting frenzy that its general market counterparts have been facing for years.

On Thursday, Univision Radio wiped out the entire full-time air staff at WRTO-AM (1200), eliminating the positions of five program hosts and two technical board operators. Among the casualties was morning personality Javier Salas, a 12-year veteran of the station and one of Chicago’s most prominent and respected Spanish-language broadcasters.

Also cut were morning contributor Irma Campuzano, afternoon host Jorge Salazar, evening host Fernando Olvera and sports director Goyo Villanueva.

The move was prompted by the launch of Univision America, a national AM radio talk network set to roll out July 4 on Univision stations in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and McAllen-Brownsville, Texas.

Although the La Tremenda staffers learned of their firings Thursday, they’ve been asked to stay on until June 15, allowing them to say goodbye to listeners on the air. But since Univision America doesn’t debut until July 4, what will air during the two weeks in between? According to insiders, the station plans to generate as much money as possible by selling every available hour as time-brokered programming in the interim.

The demise of Salas’ Un Nuevo Dia comes just as the show is reaching new heights in the ratings. In the latest Arbitron Portable People Meter survey, it tied for 14th place in mornings with a 3.2 percent share of listeners between 25 and 54. Overall, WRTO ranked 28th with a 1.0 share in the adult demo.

Despite the station’s crucial role in serving the Hispanic community, Univision bosses are offering no apologies for abandoning localism in favor of cutting costs and boosting national advertising sales.

“As the leading Spanish-language radio network in the country, Univision Radio has served Hispanic audiences by bringing them best-in-class programming,” Jose Valle, president of Univision Radio, said in a statement. “Univision America reinforces our commitment to continue empowering the Hispanic community by offering listeners unparalleled access to local, national and international news and information.”

The new format is expected to include local news, traffic and weather updates, but it’s not clear yet who will provide that information.

In Chicago, Univision Radio also operates La Que Buena WOJO-FM (105.1), Pasion WPPN-FM (106.7), and Maxima WVIV-FM (93.5) and WVIX-FM (103.1). In 2011, regional Mexican WOJO was the market’s sixth highest billing radio station with revenues of $21.3 million, according to Miller, Kaplan, Arase & Co.


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)