In Orlando, Florida, a Spanish-language Christian station has tied its major secular competitor for first place in the ratings wars.

Offering a full service of news, sports, and advice to a non-Christian audience, the station's successful programming formula blends spiritual and practical themes, linked with Hispanic Christian music. "We need to offer what the listeners need to hear: how to buy a house, how to finance a car, how to stay healthy," says Luis Hernandez, general manager of Orlando's WRLZ, known as Radio Luz.

Melvin Rivera, the Miami-based publications coordinator for the United Bible Society and past president of Hispanic National Religious Broadcasters, says Radio Luz, WWRV Radio Vision Cristiana in New York, and several Christian-format stations in Puerto Rico are "changing the way that Christian broadcasting is being done."

Along with its information format, Radio Luz fills 75 percent of its airtime with Spanish-language Christian music, in contrast to other Christian-format stations, which rely heavily on preaching and teaching programs. "As a result, non-Christians listen," Hernandez says.

STATION EXPANSION: The number of Spanish Christian radio stations is expanding, especially in Texas and Southern California.

There are around three dozen Hispanic Christian radio stations in the United States, including Puerto Rico, and about 15 Hispanic Christian tv stations. Churches or ministries own the majority of stations, which is different from English-language Christian stations, which are most frequently operated by commercial groups.

Hispanic Christian-format stations are not limited to areas traditionally thought of as Spanish-speaking strongholds. In some Michigan communities, for example, stations have started inserting two-hour blocks of Spanish programs.

"That's how most Christian stations in the U.S. start," Rivera says. "In Miami, right now there [are] churches starting broadcasting with a block of five to six hours a day with the goal of purchasing a station."

But recent federal changes have made it easier for commercial interests to own more broadcasting outlets.

"The big corporations are buying all of the stations that they can buy," Rivera says. "Those who have one small station are increasing the price and selling them to the groups, which want more presence in the market. That makes it difficult for Spanish broadcasters to buy."

The high cost of owning a station has not stopped Puerto Rican Christians who have a tradition of supporting religious broadcasting. New York has a large Puerto Rican population, which has contributed to the success of Radio Vision Cristiana, purchased for more than $11 million. "In most other cities, Christians do not have the history of knowing what a station can do, so they do not have the custom of giving to broadcasting," Rivera says.

PROGRAMMING SHORTFALL: Hispanic broadcasters are discovering that truly helpful programming is hard to find.

Dolly Martin Monroe, program director of Spanish-language KHCB in Houston, says, "We need to have programs that discuss divorce, abuse, unfaithfulness, and a macho lifestyle." Her station provides talk shows featuring Christian professionals as counselors. However, Monroe says, the majority of her station's listeners are women, and she has not found programs for men.

Rivera says three networks currently provide programming, but more are needed. "I would love to see the day when we have satellite services for all the Hispanic Christian radio stations in Latin America and the United States," Rivera says. "We need to have programming that is not just translating English into Spanish but is produced by Hispanics with the Spanish mentality, with more orientation to Spanish culture and needs."

Hispanic listeners are receptive to evangelical radio, producers agree. Many immigrants are a long way from their families in Latin America. Monroe says, "Many are nominally Catholic, do not attend church, and so are very open to the gospel."

There is an increasing need for networks to produce segmented programming for children, teenagers, young married adults, and non-Christians. Rivera says, "The stations are there and are discovering that they need to grow, but they don't have the resources."

The Hispanic National Religious Broadcasters, an arm of the National Religious Broadcasters, has been instrumental in getting Spanish-speaking Christians to cooperate. "In the past, we have not worked together or learned from each other or done networking," says Rivera, who completed a three-year term as president of the Hispanic National Religious Broadcasters in February. "We may have theological differences, but basically we are the same. We can learn from one another, we can work together, and we can change the world together."

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