Six o’clock p.m. on March 22, 1981 is a day and time that Hispanic Communications Network’s Mercy Padilla remembers well. “That was my first time on the air,” she explains. A high school trip to a radio station in Padilla’s hometown of Guayama, Puerto Rico propelled her into the world of broadcast. “A well-known announcer at the station told me he liked my voice and delivery. That one compliment changed my whole life,” says Padilla. From that moment, she starting working at the station and studying communications.
From her start at a small station in Puerto Rico, to her current role at Hispanic Communications Network, based in Washington, D.C., Padilla understands the importance of building relationships in the field of broadcast to get stories out over the airwaves. “Relationships are very important because you need to know a lot of people in order to get in the loop and get the story. When you have a strong network built, people contact you directly to inform you about the stories and to participate in your programs,” Padilla says.
According to Padilla, the idea of relationship building also illustrates why the Latino community often connects with what they hear on the radio. “Most of the time Latinos know the radio announcers and they’ve established a relationship with them.” When asked why radio is such a powerful tool to reach people in the Latino community, Padilla says it’s because they trust the radio stations to stay informed and are a very loyal radio audience. “Most people are embracing the internet more, but they still carry radios to their offices, or tune in while driving, or listen at home. They are listening to music and want to be informed on the whereabouts of the community,” she says. Padilla also says that radio is the main media outlet that Latinos can trust in their countries.
While Padilla has done a wide variety of interviews, she has a special interest in health related topics, and wants to be sure people are informed. “The Latino community is behind on health issues. Most people are not aware of how important things like yearly check-ups, immunizations, or cancer screenings are,” she says.
Padilla says the one person in history she would most like to interview is the late President Reagan. “I would ask him if he knew the importance of the immigration amnesty he signed about human rights and what he would change or add if he knew how the United States is doing today,” she explains. Padilla also remembers and cherishes the interviews she has done with immigrants. “When they tell me their stories, I am amazed and awestruck at how much they have had to go through in order to start over and get a better chance at life,” she explains. “One of the stories that motivated me the most was of Dr. Alfredo Quinoez Hinojosa, a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He came here as an undocumented immigrant and decided he wanted a career, and now he saves people’s lives. He’s definitely an inspiration.”
In Padilla’s eyes, there is a strong future for Spanish-language radio. “While many people listen to English-language radio on the internet, that shift will take longer to happen with Spanish radio. Latinos have smartphones and laptops, but most of them limit their data plans in order to save money. Spanish radio is still the indisputable queen of communicating with Latinos, it’s a cultural thing.”