Housed in the new Agora office complex, one of the most vaunted venues in Cleveland's music history, the new 87.7 La Mega FM radio station is bringing Spanish programming to listeners in Northeast Ohio. Whether or not you were a fan of the alternative offerings at 'The Sound,' it's hard not to be excited by the first station for Latino listeners in a city like Cleveland, one with a bustling Latino population and vibrant Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. Scene caught up with La Mega's program director, Daniel Melendez, last week at the studio. He's a Guatemalan radio prodigy from Houston and he's pumped to be in the 216. Though La Mega's offices are still awash in alt-rock memorabilia, Melendez doesn't seem to mind. He sends a few quick emails at his desk, but then opens up about the state of the Spanish-speaking community in Cleveland, La Mega's offerings, and the best Latino restaurant in town.Viva La Mega
So tell me a little bit about yourself.
Well, I have an extensive background in programming in different formats. La Mega is a new addition to the company, but I am the program director for Cincinnati, Columbus and now Cleveland. I've been doing radio for about 18 years.
Wait, how old are you? (Melendez is awfully baby-faced for an industry vet).
I'm 29 years old.
Help me out with this math. I thought you said you've been doing this for 18 years?
At one point I was the youngest DJ in the country, back in '97. I was 13 when I started in a major market. That was in Houston - I'm a Houston native. I've lived in Ohio for almost two years now.
And how'd you get started so young?
My dad was involved in radio. He was the general manager of a station in Houston, so that's kinda how I got my foot in the door, and then I took it from there.
How would you compare Cleveland to Houston, in terms of the Latino demographic?
I think people here are kind of spread out. There are Latino communities, but there are also areas where Latinos lack a little bit. In Houston, they're all over the place. I think, also, that there's a lot of Latinos in Cleveland who are unaccounted for. So I think realistically there are a lot more than the numbers portray.
My impression is that the Cleveland Latino community is predominantly Puerto Rican. Is that true?
It is mostly Puerto Rican. And then followed by the Mexican community. And then you have other nationalities: Central Americans, South Americans, but yeah: The majority is Puerto Rican.
And are there subgenres within Spanish-speaking music? I mean are there nationally recognized styles or is Latino music just sort of the same across the board?
We infuse I'd say maybe about seven different genres into our programs to cater to anyone who likes listening to Latino music. We play English music as well. We'll play Katy Perry. We'll play Miley Cyrus. They are part of our programming, but that's just because Latinos also enjoy that type of music. If it makes them dance, they'll enjoy it.
I heard a Spanish version of Lady Antebellum's song "Need You Now" on the way over here. That was a surprise - but also awesome.
We're like your Jack-FM format. We play everything. We could go from a country to a hip-hop song. We play everything from Reggaeton to Bachata - which is a fusion of different formats - to Salsa, which is of course very well liked, not only in the Latino community.
It looks a little deserted around here. Are you at full staff?
We have about seven on-air personalities right now, plus interns. We're really opening our doors to a lot of people who have dreamed of being on radio and found themselves without a place to learn how to do it, where language was a barrier for them to learn. And now they have the best possible school -- actually doing something on air.
How's the reception been so far?
We've been on the air for 15 days and have already surpassed 5,500 followers on Facebook. And this is with hardly any promotion. We went two weeks with no commercials, and the amount of people following us on Facebook and Twitter is just incredible.
What sort of comments are you hearing from listeners?
I think the number one thing is that they're grateful. The comment that we've received the most is, "What took you so long?" We hear that every day. There are people who've said they've been waiting for 50 years. Many of them were surprised when they would travel to other cities, and they'd have multiple Latino stations and come back home with no options.
Why is that? Something to do with Cleveland? The radio community?
I think it was just that the timing wasn't right.
Do you anticipate any challenges attracting advertisers?
No. I think there are a huge number of ad agencies that get a yearly budget for the Hispanic market and have had nowhere to place that Hispanic dollar. And now they're coming to us with that opportunity. Now they have an outlet to reach these people, people who are here -- especially the Puerto Ricans -- who have the necessary documents to be able to buy a car or travel or anything the general market could do. But no one was speaking directly to them. Now, you can do it through the radio.
How's the Spanish-speaking community in Columbus?
Columbus is majority Mexican, so our programming is catered a bit more to them. We do have some very popular DJs down there.
Maybe this is a silly question, but are the DJs on 87.7 all Spanish speakers?
It's bilingual. Our DJs are 70 percent Spanish, 30 percent English.
Do you think you'll bring any events to town, associated with the station?
We do festivals in our other markets every year, and many of the big artists that we've spoken to - be it Marc Anthony, be it Pitbull or any of the major artists - have been afraid to come to Cleveland because without a radio outlet to promote them, the events just aren't as effective. This will open doors to artists wanting to come to Cleveland again.
If it's taken this long for a Spanish radio station, there's got to be other areas where Cleveland is lagging behind too, right? What other services for Spanish speakers would you like to see?
I think [Latinos] have all the services within their own communities. They just lack the voice. The next big thing might be a real local TV station, but I think Latinos in general have just felt like they haven't had a voice here in Cleveland, and we're hoping radio will do that now. We are a great signal in town. We cover the entire market. And we are an information outlet.
So do you (or will you) do anything other than music on the station?
We do CNN at the top of the hour, in the morning drive and afternoon drive. We do traffic and weather twice an hour during the morning and afternoon drive. And then we'll open up special community affairs programming soon.
Do ou intend to attract non-Spanish speakers as well?
In order to reach our goals, ratings-wise, we do need to attract the general market and we do that with our mix of bilingual on-air talent and a variety in music. You may not understand every word, but you'll enjoy every part of it.
Hate to get technical, but how do you track listeners?
Ratings are measured by Nielsen, and we're a PPM market, which means that we get a book every month. We feel that the way PPM is distributed - it's like a little beeper - we may not have as many Latinos carrying it as in the general market, which is why we need everyone to tune in.
Good to know. And for the record, do you have a favorite Latino restaurant in town?
I've only been here for a month, so I haven't gone out too much, but I love Rincon Criollo on Detroit and 65th. It feels good to walk in there. They always have the radio at full blast.