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Sept. 13, 2023, 9:32 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery
Audience & Social

A new station in Mexico City is making radio for social media — and filling local news gaps

“We aren’t, and do not want to be, like the traditional radio stations in Mexico.”

What happens when a capital city of 22 million people and 16 boroughs doesn’t have enough local news sources to cover its massiveness?

Welcome to Mexico City, Mexico, where this is a reality that a new radio station is trying to address.

Radio Chilango, launched on August 28, is the newest wing of Chilango, a news and culture magazine covering Mexico City. The station is starting off with four shows: The morning show “¿Qué chilangos pasa?” discusses need-to-know news for the day, along with tips for surviving the unique challenges of the megalopolis (the traffic, the air pollution, gentrification, the works).

(“Chilango” is the demonym for people from Mexico City. “¿Qué pasa?” means “what’s going on?” while “¿Qué chingados pasa?” means “What the fuck is going on?” Inserting “chilangos” makes it a clever play on words.).

“Sopitas” is an arts, culture, and technology show. “Vamos tranqui” tells listeners about upcoming events and explains current local trends and issues. “Esto no es un noticiero” explains national and international stories with humor in lay terms. All of the shows are between one and two hours each and feature interviews and talk segments with local experts, officials, journalists, and others.

@radiochilango Es una ley chilanga guiarte en el transporte público por los íconos de las estaciones. 😅 Ayer nos platicó de esto Isaac Torres para #VamosTranqui ♬ sonido original – Radio Chilango

Mexico City isn’t exactly a news desert, said Mael Vallejo, editorial director for Radio Chilango and vice president of content for Capital Digital, a branded content agency and Chilango’s parent company. Almost all of the country’s leading national news outlets — across print, digital, TV, and radio — are headquartered in the capital. Legacy daily newspapers like Reforma, Milenio, and Excelsior once had robust metro desks, but their numbers have dwindled in recent years. City coverage across mediums often centers around crime, public safety, and politics, while other local issues get covered through a national lens, Vallejo said.

“The whole idea of this first [launch] is to show that we aren’t, and do not want to be like, the traditional radio stations in Mexico,” Vallejo said.

According to a 2022 national study from Mexico’s Federal Telecommunications Institute, 38% of survey respondents reported listening to the radio. Of those, 41% reported listening to the radio for news, making it the second most popular category after music. Seventy percent of radio listeners said they regularly tune in between 6:00 a.m. to noon.

“Radio in Mexico City is still an important form of communication,” Vallejo said. “There’s a social stratum that no longer listens to the radio, but listens to a lot more podcasts or uses Spotify. But the people who travel by car — commuters, taxi drivers, Uber passengers and drivers — are listening to the radio all the time. What we saw is that there was no station dedicated to what happens in a city of 22 million residents.”

This isn’t quite a “back to basics” story. Instead, Vallejo said Radio Chilango has two prongs: one is to reach current radio listeners through a medium they already use and to fill a local information gap. The second is to reach new audiences across mediums and platforms with the content from the radio shows. Along with broadcasting via radio, Radio Chilango is streamable on its website and is working on streaming on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram (YouTube and TikTok are the fastest growing platforms for news in Mexico), and a WhatsApp channel. All of the shows are recorded as podcasts, and they’re also filmed. The news briefs and discussions are edited and repackaged into short videos for TikTok and Instagram.

“It’s not that we want people to listen to the radio [as a new habit]. We want to generate good enough content so that on each of the platforms we’re on, people say ‘Oh, this interests me,’” Vallejo said. “If you’re never going to listen to the radio but want to subscribe to our WhatsApp channel, because that’s where you’re going to find news, or follow us on TikTok because you prefer to get informed in 30-second clips than listen to a full program, we don’t mind that. The idea is not just to make a funnel for one of the platforms, but to understand that the audience is there and that we have to meet them there.”

@radiochilango “El Covid llegó para quedarse”, nos indicó Olivia López, Secretaria de Salud de la #CDMX en ¿#QuéChilangosPasa? ♬ sonido original – Radio Chilango

Chilango, as a publication, is in a unique position to expand into a new medium. The magazine will celebrate its 20th anniversary in November. It first launched in 2003 as a Time Out-esque tourism guide to help people make the most of the city. It’s evolved over the years to also produce in-depth journalism about issues like racism, income inequality, air pollution, and artificial intelligence. Vallejo likened today’s Chilango to New York magazine in that it balances hard news and service journalism with lifestyle and culture stories.

Along with Chilango magazine and Radio Chilango, Capital Digital owns news and lifestyle publications like Pictoline (which explains Latin American issues through graphics), UnoCero (covers technology for users), Sopitas (entertainment and pop culture), and Más por más (a free, daily newspaper in Mexico City that will soon be rebranded to Chilango Diario). It’s monetized each publication with display advertising, native content, paid events, and sponsorship by project. Vallejo said they’ll translate those strategies to audio for Radio Chilango and monetize videos on platforms like YouTube.

Capital Digital mostly works with businesses and doesn’t accept advertising from political parties, but does sometimes take advertising from government entities, like the Department of Tourism, that promote exploring the city. Future goals are to create an incubator for local audio talent — and, eventually, to become the go-to source for Mexico City news across mediums.

“It’s not just guides to restaurants, bars, taquerias, and museums,” Vallejo said, “but also, the great brand that does journalism in Mexico City.”

Hanaa' Tameez is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (hanaa@niemanlab.org) or Twitter DM (@HanaaTameez).
POSTED     Sept. 13, 2023, 9:32 a.m.
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