El Jefe

As the Latino population soars, Alberto Monserrate builds a media empire

Vida y Sabor, he continues, is read by a much younger crowd and by women, mostly in the suburbs. (Monserrate figures that 38 percent of Latinos live in Minneapolis and St. Paul proper, 38 percent live in south metro 'burbs such as Burnsville, and 26 percent live outstate.) A recent issue focused on local Reggaetón acts, and the tabloid's bread and butter is its "Saludos" or "Shout-out" section, personals that Monserrate characterizes as a print version of websites like MySpace.com. "We started seeing all of these 'shout-outs' in English," he says, "and we realized we were getting a whole generation of readers who are U.S.-born, and are 15 to 17 years old."

All told, Monserrate has taken a bunch of marginal community monthlies and a little-noted AM frequency and turned them into a consortium that taps into the diversity within the Latino community—to the tune of $1.5 million in revenue last year, and a projected $2.7 million in 2006. The question is, has LCN expanded too far too fast? "There is a sense," León says, "that they are simply preaching to the choir."

Lupe Gonzalez, owner of Radio Rey (630 AM), another Spanish-language station in the metro, takes a longer view. "Some Latinos are getting rich and some are going broke," says Gonzalez, who has been in local radio for 26 years. "Immigration has been good for business, but there are not enough Spanish speakers to support two stations." (There is actually a third in the market, KBGY 107.5 FM, broadcasting out of Burnsville. As yet, there are no available ratings covering the period in which all three stations have been on the air.)

But others believe the Hispanic market is just beginning to blossom. Patricia Torres Ray, a native Colombian who just secured the DFL endorsement to run for the State Senate District 62 seat, says the newspapers raised her political profile. "The issues in those papers are relevant to an ever-expanding and ever-active community," says Torres Ray.

And Sgt. Giovanni Veliz of the MPD, who is also a prominent member of the local Latino community, points out that it's not just Latinos reading the LCN publications. "The last three years, Latinos have evolved economically, politically, and policy-wise," notes Veliz, who is originally from Ecuador. "Everybody is checking out the Latino newspapers just to gauge what's going on—to see what the Latino community actually looks like."

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