In 1936, as a young man returning to his small town in Aguascalientes, Mexico, Victor Diaz’s father understood the power of radio.
From loudspeakers, the governor’s voice aired throughout the local plaza, and Mass was heard outside of the crowded church, Diaz said.
Fresh from working in Los Angeles, Diaz’s father, Alejandro Diaz-Guerra, thought radio could be even more potent than words from a statesman or priest: Whoever spoke into it could be heard throughout the state. He started the town’s first radio station, with dreams of entering larger markets.
More than 30 years later, the legacy endures in the United States. Diaz and his wife, Martha, own Califormula Broadcasting, which owns and manages three FM stations and runs U.S. sales and promotions for two others. They launched a nonprofit station with a classical format last month. The stations transmit out of Tijuana.
Chula Vista-based Califormula’s sales were $13 million last year, said general sales manager Louis Fernandez, who predicts $14 million in 2000.
“I think Califormula is a really good company,” said Nate Mendez, promotions and marketing manager for KLQV-FM and KLNV-FM, two of Califormula’s competitors in the local Spanish-language market.
“Companies that promote the viability of the Hispanic market in San Diego are good for the business community,” added Mendez, who had worked for Califormula for eight years.
‘Innovators And Pioneers’
He describes the Diazes as “innovators and pioneers” in the market.
The FM stations, contemporary mix KHTZ Jammin’ Z-90 on 90.3, XKCR Hot Country on 99.3, and XLTN Radio Latina on 104.5, were recently joined by the Diazes’ newest venture, nonprofit classical music station XLNC, at 90.7.
The company does U.S. sales for Spanish stations, EXA 91.7 and XTIM-FM La Mejor X97.7, Fernandez said.
According to the Arbitron ratings books for the fall of 1998 through winter ’99, Z-90’s average ranked fourth in the industry-standard category of total listening audience, ages 12 and older. Radio Latina ranked 25th. Among Spanish-language stations in the market, it ranked third.
The picture is slightly different in the stations’ own target markets. In the same ’98-’99 rankings, Z-90 ranked third among listeners ages 18-49. Radio Latina is 22nd in both its primary market of 25-54 and its secondary 18-49 market.
Hot Country targets listeners in the 35-64 age range, Fernandez said.
For the most recent Arbitron ratings, Hernandez said Z-90 had a 4.4 rating, with which the station tied for sixth in the 12-plus market.
In the same time period, KHCR and XLTN tied for 19th in the market.
Diaz said he isn’t satisfied with the Arbitron system, hoping a more reliable alternative will emerge.
Last summer, after receiving permission from the Mexican government to broadcast the 99.3 frequency in English, Califormula swiftly rebranded the then-ranchera format into English-language country music.
Diaz said he is frustrated with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which increased the number of stations a single owner could have in a market.
Larger companies’ abilities to own or be involved in several stations at once isn’t the best way to divide the marketing dollar, he said. Still, Diaz said, “Competition is fun. Now, we have to really work hard, and that’s good.”
Califormula’s sales teams target local companies, Fernandez said.
A major selling point is the stations’ promotions, Fernandez said. The company runs about 250 a year for all its stations, Martha Diaz said. Its biggest one, titled Fiesta Patrias and directed at its Radio Latina audience, drew 40,000 to a park in National City, she said.
These sorts of connections with listeners matter more than even ratings, she said.
“Getting all those people in the park was very important to us,” she said. “We see the results there.”
‘Street Blimp’ Marketing
A major marketing program has been what Califormula calls its “street blimps.” They are enormous luxury buses, emblazoned with the stations’ logos. The vehicles, which have built-in stage attachments on one side, are mainstays at station events, Fernandez said.
The buses were Victor Diaz’s idea. His marketing instinct has been to advertise the stations on transit vehicles and in newspapers, Fernandez said.
The Diazes, who live in Chula Vista, have ingrained their work into their lifestyle. Martha Diaz laughs as she recounts how her employees at Califormula marvel over her sleeping patterns. They ask her if she rests at all, she said. She also is known for calling her stations at all hours.
The couple’s radio plays all night, and she awakens at the sound of any error.
“I am trained,” she noted. “We are always attentive to whatever we transmit. Programming is a live thing, so you have to be perfecting the business and seeing what they want and fine-tuning it.”
Keys to good programming are treating listeners with respect and making music the focus at all times, she said.
Her radio experience began informally, when her father-in-law, Alejandro Diaz-Guerra, visited.
“He liked to talk,” she recalled. He would discuss his thoughts on the radio business with her, she said.
Advice From Howard Hughes
Victor Diaz told his father’s tale. In the mid-’30s, Alejandro worked as a bellboy in Los Angeles and met renowned millionaire Howard Hughes. Hughes liked to practice his Texas-Spanish, and within their conversations, told him that radio was the future.
Alejandro had returned home and eventually launched a station, but found success complicated. He later left the town and moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, where he had four stations before he handed the company to his son.
Under Victor Diaz’s leadership, the business grew to nine stations, he said.
During a trip to Las Vegas in the mid-’60s, the couple heard FM radio for the first time. They thought it had business potential, and moved from Guadalajara to Chula Vista, where Martha Diaz had grown up.
They began their business with an American partner, broadcasting three English-language stations, XHIS, XHERS and XOURs, on the frequencies of 90.3, 104.5 and 95.7, respectively.
When their partner had financial difficulties and pulled out of the business, the Diazes reverted into Spanish-language programming to keep the stations running.
In 1983, they rebranded the stations and received permission from the Federal Communications Commission to broadcast Z-90 in English, Fernandez said.
Radio Latina was christened at the same time. The other station, called X96, remained with its format of regional Mexican music, and was later reassigned to the 99.3 frequency.
In 1992, Califormula rebranded 99.3 to Fiesta Mexica. In 1998, with numerous American companies running Spanish-language stations, Mexico communications agency Secretaria de Comunicaciones y tranbortes gave the Diazes permission to broadcast 99.3 station in English. With only one other country station in the San Diego market, the Diazes chose a traditional country format, with the call letters XCHR and the title of “Hot Country.” It was launched in June 1999.
Last month, the Diazes took the classical music station on-air. It had been available through the Internet for two years, he said.
The format is close to Victor Diaz’s heart: It was his father’s passion, and became his passion early on. The first station his father gave him to run had a classical format, he said. The new station is operated as a nonprofit named for Diaz’s father.
He envisions Califormula’s future as continuing to improve the stations and plans to focus on quality rather than quantity, he said. He doesn’t plan to buy any more stations.
Owners: Victor and Martha Diaz
Sales in 1999: $13 million
Address: 1690 Frontage Road, Chula Vista
Business: Radio stations