- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The music faded out and overhead lights glowed as anchors welcomed viewers to the Spanish-language newscast, quickly outlining the day’s events and weather in Fort Myers, Fla.

Within nine minutes, the segment faded to black and the anchors began again — now welcoming viewers for the news of Amarillo, Texas.

From a control room in Arkansas’ capital city, station group Equity Media Holdings Corp. producers rely on correspondents to put together newscasts in six markets across the nation — often the only local Spanish-language television programming in the area. With half of the nation’s population increase last year coming from Hispanics and advertising dollars waiting, company officials see an ever-growing audience searching across the dial to hear a Spanish voice give the news.

“I think we have just blown away expectations with what we’ve been able to do,” said Greg Fess, a senior vice president with Equity. “They were starved for news and for local presence.”

Based in Little Rock, Equity started its first Spanish-language television channels in Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., in 2002, partnering with U.S.-based television network Univision. Now, Equity also owns Univision affiliates in Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah that receive nightly newscasts from Little Rock.

Equity has traded publicly on the Nasdaq stock market since May, after the company was bought by Coconut Palm Acquisition Corp., which took on Equity’s name. Equity’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show the company posted an operating loss of $12.4 million on March 31, which it blamed on the expense of buying and building stations.

Standing in its small west Little Rock studio, executive producer Juan Carlos Homez acknowledged the program’s limits. The program relies on a few full-time photographers and reporters in each market, not the local bullpen accompanying established English-language newscasts. Four producers put the show together with one in-studio cameraman and four persons huddled into what looks like a hallway converted to a control room.

While unable to match the manpower, Mr. Homez said reporters instead focus on issues that affect Hispanics — particularly the recent debate over federal immigration laws. Police and crime stories, known in Spanish as “sucesos,” also get their play — but only when a victim or a criminal is Hispanic, he said. The filming takes place in about 90 minutes, shooting a different nine-minute start to the programs and one national and international news segment and sports segment uniformly.

Language plays a role, too.

“If there’s a health fair, first we look to see if they have information in Spanish. If there isn’t, we tell the audience where they can find it,” Mr. Homez said. “The fair is important, but what is more important is if they have information in Spanish.”

The Spanish-speaking staff fills in for on-air roles at times, such as Mr. Homez anchoring the shows’ sports segment. However, in the control room, the four staffers running the filming acknowledged they didn’t speak Spanish.

“I’m picking up a little bit,” said Philip Tripp, who cued video for a segment after an over-the-shoulder graphic displayed a misspelled word.

Regardless of the content, the stations could tap into a huge — and rapidly growing — market. Estimates from Nielsen Media Research show there are 11.6 million Hispanic households in the United States with televisions. Research by TNS Media Intelligence shows advertisers spent $4.2 billion on the Spanish-language market last year, up from $3.7 billion the year before.

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