Latino Studies Public Radio
Ernest Sanchez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0079


Public radio is the current terminology used in the United States to describe noncommercial radio broadcast programming that has been created or distributed with public support since the congressional passage of the Public Broadcasting Act in 1967. Prior to that time, back to the early 1900s, “educational radio” was the common phrase for radio programming that was noncommercial in nature, regardless of its specific content or intended audiences. With the creation in 1967 of a formal federal mechanism for the support of public radio, there has been a vast expansion of programming content on public radio. In addition, many hundreds of local radio outlets have been created to join the relatively few of the pioneer “educational” radio stations that have survived from the early days of radio. Providing satellite networking and multiple streams of themed programming to local stations are organizations such as National Public Radio (NPR). NPR, based in Washington, DC, since 1971, is the leading public radio organization at the national level in the United States. It is a membership organization, consisting of more than nine hundred constituent member stations, and was created with the substantial financial assistance of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). CPB was created pursuant to the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act as a mechanism to fund local public radio and television stations, as well as to assist those stations in aggregating funds for programming that can be shared and distributed on local, regional, and national levels. From its founding, NPR began considering the programming needs of various minority communities, including Latinos. By 1974, NPR had created a specialized audience department that incubated a number of minority audience programs. In 1979, NPR began coproducing with KPBS-FM in San Diego, California, an ambitious Spanish-language news magazine program titled Enfoque Nacional. This program became the prototype for many additional Latino programs in the following years, such as the acclaimed English-language Latino USA, produced at the University of Texas but distributed by NPR. In a broad sense, Latino public radio in this article refers both to the emerging distribution system of English- as well as Spanish-language public radio stations that serve Hispanic audiences, and to the English- and Spanish-language radio programs that are produced and intended for such audiences. This article relates to public radio and Latino public radio in the United States, its territories, and its possessions. Outside the scope of this review are such topics as US governmental broadcasting for international audiences, such as Radio Marti or the global activities of the Voice of America. Also excluded from this topic are governmentally supported domestic or international broadcast activities in foreign countries, which generally fall under the general term of “public service broadcasting,” such as Radio España in Spain or the Spanish-language services of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service.

General Overviews

At the same time that early National Public Radio (NPR) Latino news efforts were gaining national listenership, a variety of nonprofit organizations were putting local Spanish-language public radio stations on the air, especially in the western United States. Farmworker service groups such as Radio Bilingüe in California’s Central Valley and the Cesar Chavez Foundation in Arizona began with a handful of local stations and started building a national audience with Spanish-language programming distributed to hundreds of stations over the NPR satellite system. Later, the Latino Public Radio Consortium became an important coordinating and political force for those scattered Latino public radio stations. Latino public radio has emerged in reaction to the perceived shortcomings of the commercial media and has been driven by the service mission of modern public radio, and yet it has been built significantly on the financial resources of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and with the production expertise, technical facilities, and satellite distribution system built and operated by NPR. García 2004 and Subervi-Vélez 1994 examine the commercial part of the Spanish-language radio industry, while various documents in Latino Public Radio Consortium 2007 describe the ambitious mission, mandate, and goals of Latino public radio at the grassroots level. KUVO 1990 describes some of cruel realities of keeping a local station on the air with limited resources and shifting political alliances. Radio Bilingüe 2011 illustrates the deep grassroots that increasingly characterizes local Latino public radio.

  • García, James E. “Spanish-Language Radio.” In Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture in the United States. Vol. 2, M–Z. Edited by Cordelia Chávez Candelaria, Arturo J. Aldama, Peter J. García, and Alma Alvarez-Smith, 788–791. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

    Excellent overview of Spanish-language radio, in general, and also the growing influence of Latino public radio.

  • Hernández-Ramos, Florence. The Revolution May Not Be Televised . . . But It Will Be on Radio. Denver, CO: Latino Public Radio Consortium, 1967.

    A call to action by the founder and executive director of the Latino Public Radio Consortium.

  • KUVO. One World, Many Voices: Minority Producers & Programs in Public Radio. Denver, CO: KUVO 89.3 FM, 1990.

    Latino public radio at the retail level in Denver. Documents the clash between high aspirations and local realities, with the resulting day-to-day struggle.

  • Latino Public Radio Consortium. Latino Public Radio Consortium Brown Paper Mission Statement. Denver, CO: Latino Public Radio Consortium, 2007.

    The Latino Public Radio Consortium’s ambitious statement of service objectives and standards. Available to download online.

  • Radio Bilingüe. Radio Bilingüe Station Affiliates as of February 2011. Fresno, CA: Radio Bilingüe, 2011.

    Full list of Radio Bilingüe affiliates in the United States and Mexico, organized by call letters, city, state, and country. Available to download online.

  • Subervi-Vélez, Federico A. “Mass Communications and Hispanics.” In Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States. Vol. 3, Sociology. Edited by Félix Padilla, 304–357. Houston, TX: Arte Público, 1994.

    An outstanding and thorough historical overview of Latino media in the United States as of the mid-1990s.

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