Americano Media, the first national Spanish-language conservative radio and streaming news service, aims to nudge more Latinos to the right
A man leans into a microphone.
“¡Esto es ‘Battleground Americano,’ mi gente!” (This is “American Battleground,” my people.)
The call to political combat comes each weeknight from a pol turned radio guy named Jesús Marquez, who hosts his two-hour “Battleground Americano” program on Americano Media, an upstart venture that bills itself as the first national Spanish-language conservative radio and streaming news network.
Marquez, a 48-year-old Mexican American who split his childhood between the Los Angeles suburbs and Zacatecas, Mexico, has sold many things in his life: washers, dryers, air conditioners, political advice. It’s his “gift,” this ability to sell, he said in a recent interview, and the product he’s offering now is a brand of political conservatism steeped in what he calls “Trumpismo.”
As a radio host, Marquez is part of a complex and audacious experiment, a long-game wager that the drift of Latinos toward the Republican Party in some states is far from over, and that it’s the Spanish-dominant speakers who are now the most ripe for persuasion. His network hopes to woo “conserva-curious” Spanish-speaking voters and convert Latinos it believes are already conservatives but, as the Americano team puts it, don’t know it yet. In an era when the Latino population is growing at a faster rate than the nation as a whole — winning them over in a big way could mean, quite simply, winning.
Marquez’s program is just one in a suite of 18 hours of daily news and opinion offerings from Americano, which started modestly last spring on satellite radio and has since shifted to traditional terrestrial radio, podcasts, internet audio and video streaming, and app- and web-based audio via the broadcast giant iHeart.
Its founder, Ivan Garcia-Hidalgo, a former Donald Trump surrogate who made a pile of cash selling personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, envisions a “Fox News in Spanish.” His network has adopted a Spanglishy, Trump-style motto: “No más fake news.” It has set a goal of airing on 50 radio stations in key political markets by the end of the year, which the company has estimated would give it the potential to reach as many as 10 million listeners — approximately 1 in 6 Hispanics in the United States. The timing is important, Garcia-Hidalgo said, because he wants his network “robust and ready” to play a role in trying to boost the percentage of Latinos voting Republican in the 2024 presidential election.
Americano is modeled on the Fox News formula of right-leaning news programming bookended by much-further-right-leaning opinion shows. Its opinion programs frequently hammer “woke” culture, criticize policies that expand inclusion for transgender people, paint Democrats hyperbolically as “communists” and “socialists” and — perhaps counterintuitively for those unfamiliar with a certain segment of the Latino population — advocate for beefed-up border security and more restrictive immigration policies.
Its arrival alarms some liberal Latinos concerned that it will add to the prevalence of disinformation on Spanish-language media in recent years, including anti-vaccination messaging during the pandemic. Americano sees itself as a counterbalance to the dominance of left-leaning Spanish-language network Univision and the takeover of more than a dozen radio stations — including Miami’s legendary right-wing stalwart Radio Mambí — by a left-leaning group that secured financing from a fund affiliated with liberal investor George Soros.
For Americano to emerge as a major player, Garcia-Hidalgo has to overcome a significant barrier that is bigger than just a shared language: Will the flame-throwing Cuban American hosts he’s been poaching in Miami, with their high-decibel, metronomic anti-communism screeds, resonate with the immigrants from Mexico in Southern California? Can the former Colombian and Venezuelan beauty queens (who also bring with them TV news cred) and the Venezuelan telenovela actress he’s hired to anchor lifestyle programming click with the Guatemalan Americans in the mid-Atlantic and Salvadorans in the South and Midwest?
The accents are different. The volume is different. The slang is different. But might the core values be the same?
Garcia-Hidalgo is chasing what has almost gained mythic status for both political parties: that long-hoped-for, mega-bounce, paradigm-altering, supersize, nationwide Hispanic voter explosion that seems so tantalizingly achievable, yet so frustratingly elusive, even as Hispanics have now spent two decades as the country’s largest minority group.
Several of the network’s initial lineup of radio stations are in central Florida, an area chosen specifically because it’s known for swing voters. On the opposite side of the country, Americano has just inked a deal to add its fifth land-based radio station, in Bakersfield, Calif., in a region with a large Latino population. But that wasn’t all that excited the network. It was also the overlay map its staff produced, showing that the station’s signal covered much of the congressional district of a politician whom it’d like to hear its viewpoints and whose constituents it’d like to influence: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
The origins of this effort trace as far back as an evening in the early 1990s, on a Potomac River booze cruise, when a 20-something congressional press gallery official, Michael Caputo, looked up and saw someone familiar: Tom Woolston, a 20-something CIA technical operations officer. They’d gone to school together as kids in Lima, Ohio, but had lost touch. Though neither man speaks Spanish, that chance encounter and the friendship it kindled would become a seminal moment in the creation of a Spanish-language news network.
In the intervening decades, Woolston left the CIA, practiced law, invented online auctioning systems, won a huge patent fight with eBay and made a lot of money.
Caputo — among many, many other things — worked in politics in the United States, Russia and Ukraine, palled around with political trickster Roger Stone, advised Trump, left a Trump administration gig amid coronavirus controversies and a Facebook meltdown, got pudgy, got skinny, got cancer, got healthy, got religion.
In 2020, Caputo was promoting his book and accompanying documentary, “The Ukraine Hoax: How Decades of Corruption in the Former Soviet Republic Led to Trump’s Phony Impeachment.”
In one of his appearances, he met Garcia-Hidalgo. They hit it off. Garcia-Hidalgo in those days had been hosting low-budget Spanish-language political talk shows based in Washington and airing on different platforms, including, at various times, Facebook and YouTube. One of the shows — airing on a Colombian television network — had a point-counterpoint debate format with an unlikely friend: Jose Aristimuño, who had been a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration and deputy national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. (Aristimuño now co-hosts a liberal vs. conservative debate program on Americano.)
Garcia-Hidalgo had grown up in suburban Washington, the son of a successful Peruvian American civil engineer. He’d gone on to be a high-ranking telecommunications sales executive. But what really turned him on was politics, leading him to ditch his high-paying corporate gig in 2009.
He was early to Trumpism. He wrote an online column in 2011 — four years before Trump announced he was running for president — headlined “Trump: The leadership America needs.” He loves to tell liberals that Trump was the first Hispanic president — a riff on another era’s Democrats calling Bill Clinton the first Black president.
“They go nuts,” Garcia-Hidalgo said. “But it’s true. Hispanics were doing great with Trump. That’s why the needle’s moving.”
Garcia-Hidalgo, a devotee of success mantras and motivational gurus (he’s memorized Arnold Schwarzenegger’s six rules for success, among other affirmations), dreamed of filling what he’d concluded was a void of conservative viewpoints in Spanish-language media. To get there, he had banked cash from his pandemic business endeavors, but he needed more.
Caputo knew someone with money: his friend Woolston, who was like-minded when it came to Trump, having been impressed by the former New York developer’s non-scripted speaking style and the fact that he hadn’t held public office. (“I kind of felt like my Ross Perot vote was put in a time machine and finally got counted when Trump was elected,” Woolston, referencing the non-establishment 1990s presidential candidate, said in an interview.)
In January 2022, Woolston loaned Garcia-Hidalgo $1.2 million. The cash injection was just the boost that Americano Media needed, allowing it to launch on SiriusXM satellite radio in March 2022. Now it needed to let everyone in the political world know it existed. Caputo went straight to Mar-a-Lago to deliver the news personally to Donald Trump.
Trump liked the idea so much that he offered himself for an interview on Americano’s satellite radio station and its apps in mid-April. (Months later, Trump would sit for a half-hour televised interview at Mar-a-Lago with Emmy-winning Americano news anchor Lucía Navarro, a former journalist at CNN en Español and other Spanish-language news organizations.)
Trump’s appearance helped the network close another deal. Garcia-Hidalgo had recently met Doug Hayden, heir to a Midwestern packaging-company fortune, at a conservative political conference. Garcia-Hidalgo and Caputo played the Trump interview for Hayden while they were courting him. The three men shared a feeling that conservative viewpoints were being drowned out by left-leaning Spanish-language media.
“I don’t like the narrative-setting censorship that goes on,” Hayden said in a recent interview. His distaste for mainstream media hits familiar notes: Hunter Biden’s laptop, the origin of the coronavirus.
“They needed money to get into TV,” Hayden, 51, said over coffee one recent morning at a Las Vegas casino. “Well, I have money. It’s God’s money. I try not to be the spoiled rich kid. I’m trying to do stuff my dad would be proud of.” All told, Hayden says he’s invested about $10 million, though he cracked that he should have withheld half of that money on the condition that Garcia-Hidalgo — who has a gravelly, smoke-cured voice and an abiding affection for F-bombs — at least quit smoking. There is one other investor whom Americano declined to identify, other than to say the person is an American citizen.
With its extra cash — plus potentially more in an upcoming venture-capital financing round — Americano is hoping to build enough of a revenue stream through radio leading up to the 2024 election to eventually make a splash in video streaming afterward, a process set in motion by the recent unveiling of a state-of-the-art television studio in Miami.
“The goal,” Garcia-Hidalgo said, “was always, you know, Fox News, Fox News, Fox News in Spanish.”
At the White House on March 8, first lady Jill Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken presented an International Women of Courage Award to Alba Rueda, a transgender person who is a former government official from Argentina. It was the sort of story that fit neatly into the wheelhouse of Jesús Marquez, who says he considers himself the Spanish-language Rush Limbaugh.
“I do not celebrate the biological men who identify as women who want to usurp the place that corresponds solely to women,” Marquez told his audience in the opening segment of his show. He went on to list other areas he believes transgender people are usurping, including employment, educational scholarships and “the culture in general.”
Marquez, who served on the 2016 Trump campaign’s Hispanic advisory board and was a commissioner on the Trump administration’s Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, was diving into a favorite topic of the American right, what he’s dubbed, as he’s wont to do, with a Spanglish term: “woke-inismo.” Another Americano personality, Freddy Silva, who hosts a program titled “Entre Lineas” (“Between the Lines”), turned to a similar theme a few days later: his support for a law banning lessons on sexual identity and gender in kindergarten through third grade championed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate.
In the America that Americano listeners hear about, President Biden is a socialist, “leftists” are bent on destroying the nuclear family, the government is trying to take away freedoms, and a shadowy “deep state” of government officials hates Trump and is out to get him.
A proposed law in Nevada, Marquez warns, that would codify a gubernatorial executive order that provides protection for women who come from out of state seeking abortions would turn the state into a “touristic” destination for abortions and “a paradise for abortions.”
And, picking up a theme that has gained traction among some on the political right, Marquez has been pumping the idea that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a regional conflict that the United States should stay away from, and that U.S. assistance to the Ukrainians could lead to World War III.
“This is not our war, my people,” Marquez told his audience one recent evening.
At times, the network has tested the bounds of propriety in provocative ways: Three days after the shooting massacre at a Nashville school, the lead image on Americano’s website was an illustration of a handgun firing a bullet at a balloon emblazoned with the words, “Freedom in America.” The image was accompanied by a guest column from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), accusing the Biden administration of weak responses to authoritarianism in China, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba. Next to that column was an opinion piece accusing the mainstream media of being biased by portraying the trans community as victims, following unconfirmed news reports that the Nashville shooter was a transgender person.
Eduardo Gamarra, a Florida International University politics professor who has done polling for Americano, said conservatives, with the aid of sympathetic Spanish-language media, are employing what he calls “the Florida strategy” that helped DeSantis draw large numbers of Latino voters in his gubernatorial race.
“How do they do it? Through the airwaves,” he said. “Constantly with the message. The message may not be true, but that doesn’t matter. They’re still relentless about the message.”
Americano’s programming is informed by results of a poll it commissioned that shows Hispanics consider inflation, the economy and abortion to be the three most important issues in electoral campaigns. Immigration ranks fourth. (A nationwide Washington Post-Ipsos poll conducted before last year’s midterm elections showed Hispanics considered numerous issues more important than immigration, including: rising prices, abortion, gun violence, climate change and health care.)
When Americano hosts talk about immigration, they’re often critical of the Biden administration, which has struggled to manage a surge of asylum seekers. In a recent broadcast, Nelson Rubio, a former fixture on Miami’s arch-conservative Radio Mambí who now hosts a program on Americano, criticized Biden and argued that Trump’s policies deterred illegal immigration.
Americano executives have been discouraging hosts from repeating false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, even though they still have doubts about Biden’s victory. Garcia-Hidalgo would like his fellow Republicans to move on from a topic that Trump refuses to abandon. “Just showing up and saying, ‘Oh, they stole it and fraud?’ … You’re going to continue doing that for the rest of your life? You better go f—ing learn and learn how to f—ing win on mail-in ballots. … It’s frickin’ pathetic.”
In interviews, several Americano executives expressed their support for Trump, but also sought to dispel the notion that the network would become the former president’s mouthpiece or present one-sided news. They’ve been deploying former Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican stalwart who was sharply critical of Trump, to meet with the media and members of Congress to discuss the network; the company’s president, longtime Florida politics fixture Jorge Arrizurieta, is a close ally of former governor Jeb Bush, a Trump foe.
Americano has also won unexpected plaudits from disinformation watchdog Alejandro Alvarado at Florida International University for hiring several highly respected journalists for its news operations and has begun to put in place an advisory panel to review complaints about misinformation and disinformation, Caputo said. Liberal media watchdogs, such as Media Matters, have seemed unimpressed so far and have been tracking what they describe as extremism and misinformation on the network. One of the more out-there conspiracy theories they’ve flagged because it aired on Americano has to do with the United Nations being bent on forming a “new world government.”
The left-leaning group Voto Latino recently sent out a fundraising letter citing Americano Media’s emergence and raising concerns that the network will “spread far-right ideas and disinformation.”
“If you have an audience that is not well-informed and that is [used] as a tool of the aim of that broadcast, it doesn’t make for democratic dialogue and policy,” María Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino’s founding president, said in an interview. “It creates divisiveness and extremism.”
Americano has been pushing back, citing examples of what it considers disinformation and misinformation from liberal media organizations.
On a recent evening, hundreds of people settled into the spacious auditorium of the Torreón Fuerte, a nondenominational Christian church set in a drab business park in Henderson, Nev.
The big draw of the night was Mayra Flores, who has become a star attraction in the conservative world after becoming the first Mexican-born woman elected to Congress. Flores, who won a special election in a district that had been represented by a Democrat in June 2022 but lost to a Democrat in the general election five months later, has signed on as a contributor to Americano Media.
Marquez, who emceed a town hall discussion with Flores, invited his uncle, a retired union member who has never agreed with him on much politically except for a shared opposition to abortion. Marquez has been trying to persuade his uncle to support Republicans.
In the audience, there were families that reflected a reality of Latino home life in America: Grandma speaking only Spanish, Mom speaking English and Spanish, squirmy kids who want to speak only in English.
Onstage, Flores was winning over the crowd with a drumbeat of attacks on the political left, which she says wants to assure Latinos remain “poor and ignorant, to continue controlling us.” Some of her biggest applause lines from the almost entirely Latino crowd had to do with strengthening border security.
When she left the stage, she was swarmed by the audience. One of those moving toward her was Marquez’s uncle. He wanted his picture taken with Flores.
Marquez made it happen. The lifelong salesman was thinking he might be close to making another sale.