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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
Web radio station nets Latinos
By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent in New York

With about 45 million Hispanics living in the US, Spanish language television and radio stations are enjoying boom time.

Ricky Martin
A pop channel on Batanga is dedicated to Ricky Martin
Recent research showed some 65% of them preferred using Spanish to English.

But the internet 'en Espanol' lags behind, even though the number of Latinos that are wired has grown rapidly in the past few years.

Luis Brandwyn, originally from Colombia, has decided to remedy that by launching a website called batanga.com, to encourage a whole new generation of Latinos onto the world wide web.

Alternative playlists

He moved from Colombia in 1980, and knows the Latin music business well, having worked in it throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

He watched and listened as performers like Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony went onto heavy rotation on Latin music stations across the United States.

But Mr Brandwyn knew there was an unserved audience there.

"There was a lot of other people, young people, who wanted something like rock en Espanol, or hip hop who were not being served by these radio stations," he explained.

Screengrab of Batanga's Rock the Vote page
Working with an online radio station was really important, especially as we look at driving people to register to vote online and making sure everyone knows they can register to vote online
Jehmu Greene, Rock the Vote
So in 1999, Mr Brandwyn teamed up with internet specialist Troy McConnell.

They decided to forego the high costs of radio antennas and permits and founded the online commercial radio station batanga.com.

"Our first music channel, which was the rock en Espanol channel, started out of the basement of his house and one computer.

"Within a month, we already had 5,000 avid listeners, with very little marketing."

He focused on groups like Ratones Paranoicos, Mana and La Ley because he felt such bands were not getting wide enough attention on conventional Latino radio stations.

Playlists are filled with tracks by multi-lingual, alternative rock groups like Kinky, and the online station's mix seems to be working.

According to Mr Brandwyn, 1.2 million Americans log on regularly.

"You realise that we have a bunch of people in LA, a lot of people in Minneapolis, some in Raleigh-Durham, some in Boston," he said.

"But when you put them all together, you know, listening to alternative rock in Spanish, then it's an interesting demographic, and an interesting market like McDonald's that's trying to reach all these people.

"And that's the beauty of online radio."

Rock the Latinos

Batanga has expanded now to include more than 20 different channels of Latin music.

Santana performing with Mana during the first annual Latin Grammy Awards
Santana is joined on stage by Mana at the Latin Grammys
There is everything from Norteno and salsa, to bolero, as well as a pop channel that features Ricky Martin.

But Batanga's main goal continues to be to bring new Latin bands to a wider audience.

One way to do that was through a section of the site which was dedicated to MTV's Rock the Vote campaign.

"Working with an online radio station was really important, especially as we look at driving people to register to vote online and making sure everyone knows they can register to vote online," said Jehmu Greene, president of Rock the Vote.

"Radio's one of the best ways to get our message out there, and voter registration is happening on the internet and so it's the perfect combination of what our outreach is this year to young Latinos."

Clark Boyd is technology correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service and WGBH-Boston co-production

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