Hispanic residents in Columbus will soon bid farewell to their one and only radio station.
Jim Martin, a managing partner at PMB Broadcasting, which owns UNIDOS 107.7 FM, plans to shut down the station by the end of the year, he said in a recent interview with the Ledger-Enquirer. He said general manager Harold "Lefty" Encarnacion and his staff worked hard to keep the station going, and he thanks them for their service.
"They're really good people. They've got really good hearts. They really wanted to make it work," he said. "But in the reality, the community hasn't really embraced the station. If you put something out there and the community wants it, they kind of adhere to it. But from a ratings standpoint it has been disappointing."
Encarnacion, co-owner of Millie's International Food Market on South Lumpkin Road, has been operating the radio station out of his shop since Martin approached him about managing it a year ago. It was Martin's third time launching a Hispanic station in the Columbus market. The first, Viva 1460 AM, existed several years ago when he was at Clear Channel. He said it failed to attract advertisers and went off the air.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Ledger-Enquirer
About two and half years ago, Martin launched the 107.7 FM station under the name Ritmo con Sabor (Rhythm with Flavor), and it also failed.
He said he planned to shut it down a year ago, but he decided to give it one more chance. That's when he turned to Encarnacion, a successful Latino business owner, with hopes that he would turn the station around.
Encarnacion, the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, said he had a block party and asked the community to come up with call letters for the station and the name was changed to "UNIDOS," which means united in English.
He said the station is a significant part of the Latino community but faced many obstacles.
First, he struggled selling advertisements because he couldn't provide businesses with audience information, he said.
Then it was a challenge trying to serve a diverse Latino population comprised of about 21 different nationalities. Encarnacion said there's also the matter of staffing. He said he has one paid disc jockey and a volunteer.
"Basically, I didn't have sufficient staff to go out there and touch base with businesses and try and sell adds," he said. "It's just me and with my full schedule it's hard."
Encarnacion said he accepted the offer to manage the station without knowing much about the radio business. He just wanted to help develop a medium that would bring together the local Hispanic population, which has increased by 44.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In September, a local Tri-cities Latino festival drew about 7,000 people, the organizers said.
Encarnacion said he over-extended himself serving as chairman of the festival and some of his other responsibilities suffered.
When the festivities ended, not only was the station in jeopardy, but also business at his grocery store and restaurant had dropped by 30 percent to 40 percent, he said.
"The radio station is an especially depressing situation for me right now," he said. "I've been trying to do everything I possibly can to keep it going."
Encarnacion said he wants Martin to give him three months to save UNIDOS 107.7 FM and has been talking to local businesses about supporting the station.
"It's something that we need. We don't have anything else," he said. "I'm willing to go out there and donate my time."
Martin said his company, which owns 10 radio stations in the area, has tried to serve the Latino market, but it just isn't working.
"Basically, what's happened is it has really not been able to support the cost of that frequency," he said.
Martin said he's already making plans to use the frequency for another purpose to benefit the community, and he will make an announcement in a couple of weeks.
"I think the real story here is that the Latino community has not embraced the station," he said. "And if things aren't supported, they just kind of go away."
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.