Hispanics Embrace New WHFS Format; Spanish-Language Station Targets Growing Demographic in D.C. Area

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Byline: Andrew Johnson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Some listeners were angry about Infinity Broadcasting Corp.'s decision two weeks ago to scrap radio station WHFS-99.1 FM's alternative-rock lineup for a Spanish-language format, but the change is a welcome one to the ears of newcomers like Karen Terrero.

Miss Terrero, 20, a resident of the District's Columbia Heights neighborhood, learned about the station's format change, which took place Jan. 13 with little notice to its rock listeners, from a friend and has become a regular listener.

The station now calls itself "El Zol," or "The Sun" in Spanish, and is targeting Hispanics - one of the Washington-area's fastest-growing demographics - between 18 and 40.

Hispanics make up 10 percent of the District's population, which is one reason the station is jumping into the Spanish-language market, said Michael Hughes, senior vice president of Infinity Broadcasting in the District, which still owns the station. U.S. census data show that in 2000, 7.9 percent of the District's population was Hispanic.

El Zol surpasses other Spanish-language stations in the area because of its variety, Miss Terrero said.

"It's way better than the other one," she said, referring to Spanish station WBZS-92.7 FM. "It's not just hip-hop or merengue, and it's new music."

Many listeners have reacted positively to WHFS' transformation, Mr. Hughes said.

"We've been surprised with how quickly the word has spread in the Hispanic community," he said.

Infinity is relying on data from MobilTrak, a company that uses devices placed at various city intersections to record what radio stations people listen to in their vehicles, Mr. Hughes said.

"The early reports have just been amazing," he said. "We've essentially tripled and quadrupled, in some cases, the previous WHFS ratings."

In recent years, WHFS ratings consistently had trailed those of its rock competitors, including DC101.

Ana Vigil, 20, a front-desk representative at Unity Health Care, downtown, has also heard El Zol, but isn't sold on the station's musical selections.

"Most of the time they played my dad's kind of music - not mine," said Miss Vigil, who likes more modern popular music and not the "old school" music she said she has heard on El Zol. …