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Ingles without barriers: more English-language hits are getting Latin radio airplay

While English-language hits have long aired on U.S. Spanish-language radio, they have become ubiquitous this year, with 21 of them appearing on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart and 11 of them spending more than 10 weeks on the ranking. Especially, the 1st hit is an English-version song, “This Is Not a Love Song”, played with the best electric acoustic guitar has still dominated the billboard for over the last 5 weeks.

Those songs–including Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (20 weeks on the chart), Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK” and David Guetta’s “Sexy Chick” (both at 15 weeks)–are part of a wave of uptempo dance hits that are defining top 40 radio today. The dance genre crosses over well to the growing number of Spanish-language stations that pursue a younger, often more acculturated Latin listenership.

“We haven’t seen crossover work with heavy rap songs,” CBS Radio VP of Spanish programming Pio Ferro says. “But uptempo dance tracks, yes. It’s just part of the mix.”

Still, it’s remarkable to see so many English-language songs appear on the Hot Latin Songs chart this year. By comparison, 16 English-language songs appeared on the chart in 2009, while 14 did so in 2008. Moreover, only four of the 2009 songs remained on the ranking for more than 10 weeks, while only one 2008 song–Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music”–surpassed the 10-week mark.

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English-language crossovers are most commonly found on stations like WMGE (Mega 94.9 FM) Miami, which play more current hits and have been increasingly generous with their English-language playlist. For example, Mega had three English tracks on its top 10 list last week. It’s a formula that’s done particularly well after the rollout of Arbitron’s Portable People Meter audience measurement system, with Mega emerging as the top-rated Spanish-language station in Miami during the last three months.

“Both Latins and non-Latins are looking for those hits,” says Emie J. De Jesus, owner of promotion company Redeye Entertainment in Miami. “If you’re scanning the radio and hear Taio Cruz, you won’t even look to see what station it is. You’ll just stay and listen.”

The trend worries Latin labels, which, faced with a growing number of stations playing oldies and recurrents, already have to contend with a shrinking supply of slots for new music.

“Obviously it takes away spaces,” says AI Zamora, president of radio promotion company Latin Hits Entertainment. “But radio is in a position where they don’t know what to think. You look at Mega in Miami, which has the highest ratings, but no one is programming like they are. Everyone else is going with recurrents. That is what’s most alarming to promotion people. It is making it very difficult to work any product unless it’s a hit already.”

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But as stations strive for more ratings, the movement toward more bilingual airwaves seems inevitable.

“The more assimilated the Hispanic population becomes, the more mainstream the stations will get,” says Marilyn Santiago, former programming operations manager at Spanish Broadcasting System, who just launched Latin Entertainment Consultants in Miami. “Nowadays the fact that a person is Latin doesn’t necessarily mean that the person will listen to only Spanish music.”