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WHFS Dumps Alt-Rock For Latin Format, Becomes El Sol

Today at noon, the popular modern rock station WHFS 99.1, founded in the 1960s and owned by Infinity Broadcasting, was reformatted to become “El Zol.” The new station features salsa, merengue, bacchata, Caribbean and Central American dance music in a Spanish-language format.

“This is the first top 10 market that we’ve done this in,” said Karen Mateo, director of communications at Infinity. “We’re looking to expand into this marketplace and this is the first station that we’ve done this with.”

El Zol is targeted at the growing population of Spanish-speaking residents in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, almost 10 percent of the overall population, according to figures from Infinity President and CEO Joel Hollander. Infinity has also told sources that in the nation’s capital, the Hispanic population has grown more than 25 percent in four years to more than 400,000 residents.

The change in format came about with the assistance of Spanish Broadcasting System, who allied with Infinity in October 2004.

Other Washington, D.C., Infinity stations include WARW-FM (classic rock), WJFK-FM (talk), WPGC-FM (urban) and WPGC-AM (gospel). Taking HFS off the menu removes alternative rock from Infinity’s D.C. lineup. But the Lanham-based station’s low ratings made it a good candidate for reformatting.

“Changing the format at HFS made the most sense from a ratings and performance standpoint,” Mateo said. “Infinity is committed to expanding into the Spanish-language radio format.”

Said Jeff Wyatt, regional vice president of programming for Clear Channel in the D.C. and Baltimore areas: “It’s an intense situation when a radio station changes format. It’s gonna be felt across the country.”

Record labels and bands rely on the radio to get the music to the public and one less station means less air time for music.

“All the record labels will be deeply concerned; the bands will be deeply concerned,” Wyatt added.

However, when asked if Clear Channel was planning a similar move, Wyatt said: “We’ve looked at that possibility and decided not to go down that road. At HOT 99.5, 20 percent of our audience that listens is Latino. WashFM has 15 percent. The Hispanic population doesn’t just listen to Hispanic radio.”

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