In New York, Los Angeles and other major American cities, a spin of the radio or television dial yields an ample assortment of news and entertainment programs catering to the Hispanic audience.
But in Washington, programs with a Spanish accent are in short supply -- a matter of concern to leaders of the city's growing His-panic community.
Except for one-kilowatt Channel 56, the lone Spanish-language broadcast outlet in the city, and less than 60 minutes of weekly public affairs programs on local network affiliates, the airwaves are desolate as far as Hispanics are concerned, according to participants in a symposium last week on Hispanics and the media.
We seem to be losing ground, instead of gaining it," said Josephine Ades, former hostess and producer of "Visayas," a Hispanic-oriented public affairs program canceled this summer by WRC-TV (Channel 4).
WRC replaced the locally produced "Vistas" with a half-hour, nationally syndicated program called "Latin Tempo," which airs on Sunday mornings and may include a few minutes for a local segment, according to WRC spokeswoman Barbara Holtzberg.
"Latin Tempo" is produced in Washington by the National Council of La Raza, a private Hispanic advocacy group, and will focus more on national issues of concern to Hispanics, said Holtzberg.
WDVM-TV (Channel 9) also canceled its 30-minute Hispanic public affairs show, "Prisma," at the end of July. Station officials would not discuss reasons for cancellation other than to say they will condense the program into a 10-minute feature on a new Saturday afternoon magazine show.
Of the three local network affiliates, only WJLA-TV (Channel 7) is continuing a local program for Hispanics this season, airing "Revista," a bilingual talk show, on Sunday afternoons.
At the same time that local stations seem to be cutting back on Hispanic programming, the Hispanic population in the Washington area is multiplying, said Willy Vasquez, director of the city's Office of Latino Affairs.
The 1980 U.S. Census counted 17,600 Hispanics in the District of Columbia. But Vasquez disputes that figure, claiming the city's Hispanic population is closer to 65,000. And he estimates there are more than 150,000 Hispanics in the combined metropolitan area.
Vasquez recently appointed a 27-member task force composed of Hispanic radio and television professionals and officials of Hispanic community organizations to promote employment of Hispanics in the local broadcast and print media and to push for more programs that would serve the Hispanic community.
"Media should be a tool to inform people of their rights and to address the issues, such as housing, immigration and employment," said Vasquez, whose task force plans to fight the cancellation of "Vistas" and "Prisma."
Vasquez and other media experts argued that Hispanics should have full access to mainstream media, instead of being relegated to Spanish-language stations or newspapers.
But those who want to use the resources of Spanish-language broadcast outlets are limited in Washington to Channel 56, a shoestring operation that serves only as a transmitter for sports, game shows and other programs produced mostly in Mexico. It is owned by the Los Cerezos Corp., a group of 11 mostly Hispanic stockholders -- including Leveo Sanchez, president of the Hemisphere National Bank, Antonio Guernica, executive vice president of the National Association of Spanish Broadcasters, and Armando Rendon, president of the Hispanic Public Affairs Association. Channel 56 has its antenna and transmitter at American University but no studios and no capacity to produce local programming.
"We cannot tell the people of their daily lives," said station manager Maria Stella Davancens. "We can just bring in programming that is produced outside the United States." In addition, she said, Channel 56, an affiliate of the Spanish International Network, has such weak transmission that it barely can be picked up in many sections of the city.
There currently are no Spanish-language radio stations in the Washington area. But WDON (1540-AM) in Wheaton, which is being purchased by Lotus Communications Corp. of Hollywood, Calif., with the new call letters (WMDO, hopes to begin all-Spanish broadcasts sometime this fall, according to a Lotus spokesman.
And Josephine Ades says she and other media entrepreneurs have applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a license to operate WOOK (1003-FM), now broadcasting a black-oriented album format, as a Spanish language station.
WOOK spokesman John Turk, however, said the station's present owner, United Broadcasting Co. of Bethesda, has no place to change formats and will content any license challenge.