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Spanish-Language Radio Station Profits From Hispanic Influx in New Orleans

Since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans a year ago, the Hispanic population of that city and surrounding communities has grown dramatically. One beneficiary of the growth has been a small Spanish-language radio station, KGLA. The station recently won the Broadcast Journalist of the Year award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists for its service to the Hispanic community following the disaster.

KGLA, better known as Radio Tropical Caliente, was a beacon of hope and encouragement for Spanish-speaking people in southern Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. The station kept the community informed and established a link between displaced residents and their relatives in Latin America.

KGLA is primarily a music station. But it also runs news, weather information and sports coverage of both U.S. and Latin American teams and events.

Announcer Jaime Cerrato is a native of Honduras. He says the station has a very loyal following. He says many people call the station to express their appreciation. They say they are tuned in all day long -- they go to sleep with the station and wake up to it.

Ernesto Schweikert, from Guatemala, owns the station. Almost every one on staff is from a Central American country. The audience ranges from Mexicans to Puerto Ricans and even some Spaniards.

Schweikert says the audience for his station has grown along with the Hispanic population in the New Orleans area. It was around three percent before Katrina and is estimated at well above 20 percent now.

He says advertising revenue also has grown. "The big companies, the national companies, they are getting real results here with the Hispanic community and they want to keep putting more money into it because they are getting the results."

Many of the people listening every day are immigrants from Mexico and Central America who came here to work on construction and recovery projects.

Schwiekert says this reminds him of the effort made by Hispanics to rebuild New Orleans following a disastrous fire in 1788. That was during the 40-year period when the city was under Spanish control.

"Because the Spaniards were governing Louisiana, they were the ones that were rebuilding,” says Schwiekert. “It is ironic, because here, if you go look at any roof in any part of the metropolitan area, you are going to see Hispanic people rebuilding the homes and the buildings and cleaning up."

Ernesto Schweikert says this city has deep Hispanic roots and that its ambiance has always appealed to people from Latin America.

"Why do you think Latinos like New Orleans? Because we feel at home. There is 24 hours (a day) drinking, the food is like in our countries, you know, they use a lot of condiments. They even use a lot of hot sauces here. Even the politicians are the same. So we feel like home."

Ernesto Schweikert is planning to open a Spanish-language television station for New Orleans, to build on the success he has had with radio in this rapidly growing Hispanic market.