La Plaza: Fluent in Spanish-Language Media

Welcome to Alejandro Lazo's weekly blog-within-a-blog on the region's Latino business community; we're calling it "La Plaza."

By Alejandro Lazo

Francisco R. Montero, co-managing partner with the Arlington-based law firm Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, has made his career representing Hispanic media. The medium first caught his eye when he was fresh out of George Washington University Law School, working as an associate at the Washington office of Rochester law firm Nixon, Hargrave, Devans & Doyle.

Francisco Montero, a co-managing partner of the Arlington-based Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth law firm, in his office. Photo by Alejandro Lazo

Newspaper giant Gannett was one of the firm's major clients. In 1989, when McLean-based Gannett sold El Diario to Peter Davidson, a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Business School, Montero took note.

While he was not directly involved in the sale of the big New York Spanish-language newspaper, Montero had attended Saint Anne's High School in Brooklyn Heights with Davidson. Hispanics were also getting more attention in the media as a burgeoning ethnic minority. Montero sensed opportunity.

"I wanted to branch out on my own and find my own pool of clients and contacts," Montero said. "I spoke fluent Spanish, and there was a buzz in the air about the growth of the Hispanic market."

Montero joined the District firm Fisher, Wayland, Cooper & Leader and began to do just that. Montero got to know several Hispanic radio station owners who in 1991 banded together to form the American Hispanic Owned Radio Association (AHORA, "now" in Spanish), the first of such associations. Montero was appointed the group's counsel.

Through AHORA, Montero began doing legal work for Amancio Suarez, owner of two Spanish-language radio stations in Miami. Suarez joined forces with Cecil Heftel, a former congressman from Hawaii who owned two Los Angeles Spanish-language radio stations. Montero represented their company, Heftel Broadcasting Corp., before the Federal Communications Commission in 1994, when the acquisition of two additional radio stations in Miami was challenged because it would give the company more than 50 percent control of Spanish-language market there. Ultimately, the FCC allowed the acquisition, deciding that blocking it would impede the growth of the medium. Heftel Broadcasting became a publicly traded company and eventually was bought by Univision, becoming Univision Radio.

Under the Clinton administration, Montero joined the FCC, where he served as director of the Office of Communications Business Opportunities. Its mandate was to increase access to the telecom industry for minority- and women-owned businesses.

In 2003 Montero joined Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth. There he continues to represent Spanish-language broadcasters with copyright issues, find them financing and make the transition to the digital world. Montero also continues to advocate on behalf of Spanish-language broadcasters through both the Puerto Rico Broadcasters Association and the Independent Spanish Broadcasters Association.

He has pushed rating service agencies such as Arbitron and Nielsen to reconsider how they count Spanish-language audiences, as many Spanish broadcasters believe their audiences are under-counted, and he has advocated for the proliferation of emergency service announcements in Spanish.

Montero said that foreign companies, including Mexico, Venezuela and Spain, are increasingly trying to buy into the U.S. Hispanic market, which has become one of the largest in the world. He also expects more stations offering programming in both English and Spanish, such as MTV Tr3, which aims to appeal to younger Hispanic viewers.

"You are going to see, as time goes on, an increasing blurring of the line of Spanish-language content and English content," Montero said. "People like me, people like my daughters, who like Spanish-language music but watch CNN."

By Dan Beyers  |  September 11, 2008; 1:46 PM ET  | Category:  La Plaza
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Posted by: sarah | September 11, 2008 10:08 PM

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