Media

Radio Mambi's Days Purveying Election Fraud Claims May Soon Be Over

U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar and Sen. Marco Rubio oppose Latino Media Network's acquisition of conservative radio staple Radio Mambi.
U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar and Sen. Marco Rubio oppose Latino Media Network's acquisition of conservative radio staple Radio Mambi. Photos by U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar and Sen. Marco Rubio
Amore Rodriguez grew up in Miami listening to Radio Mambi on car rides with her tightknit Cuban family and in their home. For Rodriguez and many other Miamians, it was considered the go-to station for news about Latin America.

After Radio Mambi came under Univision ownership via a 2002 merger with Hispanic Broadcasting Corp., hosts like "Queen of the Night" Martha Flores and Ninoska Pérez Castellón cemented their on-air legacy by giving a voice to Cuban exiles through criticism of the Castro regime.

The nostalgic image of the station melted away for Rodriguez in recent years as she listened to Radio Mambi drumming up fear in listeners, promoting election misinformation, and peddling right-wing conspiracy theories.

The vacuum of rationality on the station was perhaps most evident after the January 6, 2021, riots on Capitol Hill. According to a Miami Freedom Project report, the host of the station's popular En mi Opinión program seemed to suggest on air that the insurrection was staged, stating, "I refuse to accept that any of the individuals we saw [on Capitol Hill] are genuinely people who support Donald Trump."

In the months leading up to the 2022 midterm election, incendiary and conspiratorial rhetoric was widespread on Radio Mambi. One newly hired pundit told listeners in May that Democrats were "creating the border crisis with malevolent, Machiavellian intention to change the face of the American citizen over the long term and eliminate the white majority that the Democrats detest so much,” Florida Bulldog reported.

Rodriguez, secretary of the progressive group Florida Grassroots Coalition, says the rhetoric has been disheartening and destructive to any hope of honest political discourse.

“What’s really sad is that we’ve seen it turn into this manipulation and, to me, a very targeted fear tactic to get Latinos to freak out and be afraid of what this country can become,” Rodriguez tells New Times.

Last year, when reached by New Times for a story on Spanish-language media misinformation, station owner TelevisaUnivision maintained that its radio news personalities "are held to the same standards as Univision News reporters" and that it would investigate claims of misinformation purveyed on Radio Mambi.

As the Republican Party consolidates support among Hispanic communities in South Florida — in part by pushing the narrative that the Democratic party is dominated by radical communists — Radio Mambi is set to get a top-to-bottom overhaul.

In June 2022, the Latino Media Network (LMN), a company owned by Stephanie Valencia and Jess Morales Rocketto, announced it would buy Radio Mambi along with 17 other stations from TelevisaUnivision for $60 million. The purchase includes stations based in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Texas, and Las Vegas.

Valencia, a former U.S. Department of Commerce employee and voter-outreach director for President Barack Obama, will reportedly hold a 55 percent ownership stake in the radio stations. Rocketto, a former Obama campaign leader and onetime news strategist for the AFL-CIO union federation, will hold a 37 percent stake.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission opposing the Radio Mambi buyout, Republican lawmakers including Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar claimed that the Latino Media Network could "exercise virtually uncontested influence over nearly one third of all Hispanics across the country.”

"Far from benign, the proposed sale is the latest in a series of moves by elite progressives desperate to claw back support from Hispanic voters, who have rightly turned their backs on Democrats and their socialist priorities," the lawmakers wrote.

The buyout stirred renewed controversy in the lead-up to the midterm election, with Rep. Salazar telling CBS News, “They want to use those 18 radio stations and start peddling socialism to the Hispanics.”

Salazar has criticized the role of Lakestar Finance LLC in funding the deal. The company is an investment firm tied to hedge fund manager George Soros, a prominent funder of progressive organizations.

Mike Rivero, co-founder of the progressive group Cubanos Pa’lante, welcomes the format change, saying that Radio Mambi has been a consistent source of manipulative programming in South Florida, with shows pushing Donald Trump's election fraud claims.

“Things that are blatantly false and that have been disproven time and time again are on the airwaves as if it was breaking news,” says Rivero.

A Brookings Institute review found that Spanish-speaking voters in the U.S. are especially vulnerable to political misinformation because social media companies' Spanish language fact-checking is not nearly as robust as their English language fact-checking. Latino residents' high rate of use of messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram also lends itself to the spread of bogus information, according to the review.

The institute claims that many Spanish-language media outlets, including radio stations, "offer little to no response to misinformation, allowing conspiracy theories to spread."

Although the sale of Radio Mambi may have been a loss to the conservative media ecosystem, Florida International University student Alex Franzblau believes Republicans have still found ways to score political points on the controversy during midterm election season.

“Many of the wealthy Republican donors in Miami haven’t really made much of an effort to counteroffer or attempt to buy the station for themselves… What they can do is create scapegoats and, as always, their perennial villain is anyone they can slander as a communist or socialist,” says Franzblau, who is an FIU Young Democratic Socialists of America member.

Whether Radio Mambi's listener base will tune in after the ownership change remains to be seen. If the buyout goes through and programming changes play out as expected, the 2022 midterm will mark the last major election that Radio Mambi covers as a staunchly conservative station.

“Our company, and these stations, are for our community,” Rocketto said in announcing the buyout. “We believe in the power and reach of radio and it remains a main source of media for a significant number of our community.”

Miguel Rodriguez, chairman of Florida Grassroots Coalition, says Radio Mambi's AM format will limit its reach to younger Miamians.

"They stick with the viejitos [older people] and that’s it,” says Miguel Rodriguez, noting he believes Radio Mambi’s value will diminish over time. “That’s it because, all the new generations, we are not going to go with that old type of radio."

Under the deal with Univision, Radio Mambi won't undergo programming changes until the fourth quarter of 2023. But conservative hosts, including Nelson Rubio and Lourdes Ubieta, have already been jumping ship to radio programs on Americano Media.
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Reina Perez is a freelance writer at Miami New Times. She studied journalism at Nova Southeastern University.
Contact: Reina Perez

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