Behind the scenes of the world's number one Spanish podcast
Carolina Guerrero is co-founder and CEO of Radio Ambulante Studios, a groundbreaking Spanish-language media company, covering Latin America and US Latinx communities. With two shows, its flagship podcast Radio Ambulante and its weekly news show El Hilo, the company has grown from just a few part-time employees to more than twenty-five staff members in a dozen cities across Latin America, the US, and Europe.
Watch the video of Carolina’s talk
Part of our Global Journalism Seminars series.
Read an automated transcript.
Why podcasts in Spanish matter
- Our Digital News Report 2022 found 38% of respondents across markets had accessed a podcast in the last month, a 3-percentage point increase compared to 2021. In Spain, this proportion is 41% and in Argentina 34%. | Learn more
- The vast majority of podcasts are in English, with Spanish a far-off second. According to data collected by Listen Notes, there are currently 1.79 million podcasts in English and 348,000 in Spanish. | Learn more
- Podcasts and other forms of audio journalism appear to be better at converting listeners to members and generating revenue. | An example
- 80% of publishers consulted for our Trends and Predictions 2022 report said they would be putting more resources into podcasts and digital audio this year. | Explore the report
Five takeaways from Carolina’s talk
1. Find something new to offer. For Radio Ambulante, Carolina’s first podcast, the goal was to create a podcast that was similar to the award-winning show This American Life but in Spanish. This was a response to a gap she identified in the podcast market. For El Hilo, her second podcast, she focused on a need that was not met and created a product to fill it. “We always try to use the space of El Hilo to bring something that you can't find somewhere else. Most media organisations cover the news from one angle, we try to go down a different one,” she explained.
2. To create your own media business, you have to find your own purpose and path and stick to them. “The reason why I feel we are successful is that we still look into the future with optimism,” Carolina said. Also important was a keen sense of what she and her co-founder Daniel Alarcón wanted to create. This idea guided them when choosing their business model, for example, and holding on to the core principles of their idea even as people questioned them.
This attitude also helped the Radio Ambulante founding team through the difficult first stages of the business, when they found themselves having to work for free. “Even though we had limited resources, there was this ambition of creating something that we all were convinced was needed and that had a big potential,” Carolina said.
3. Community is really important for podcasts. During the pandemic, as Radio Ambulante’s listener metrics decreased, Carolina and her team turned to focus on building and sustaining their community. “We made efforts in other spaces to grow on and strengthen our community and that worked very well. And because we are part of that community, we also were grateful that we had this community. For example, we launched these Zoom parties, dancing parties with a DJ on Zoom. They were so beautiful really. Now that everything is open, it sounds a bit ridiculous, but we were dancing on Zoom with these DJs, people dancing with their cats, their grandparents, their cactus,” she recalls, “I think in podcasts, this is one of the most valuable things.”
Something that Radio Ambulante was able to build as a result of closely observing and listening to their community was Lupa, their language learning app. Carolina told us the story: “We always surveyed our audiences from day one and we're learning about who listens to us, how to create varied content, but there was something that was present in the surveys that was very odd. And it was that we have many Spanish learners as listeners. And that number was growing steadily with our metrics, so at some point, we were like yeah, we know who listens to us, but who are they? And then we did more research. And then at some point, we partnered with a technology company and launched Lupa, which is an app that transforms Radio Ambulante's content into very smart lessons for Spanish learners.”
4. Audio journalism is an opportunity to communicate emotion. One thing Radio Ambulante has had the chance to do through broadcasting in Spanish is to have the voices of the protagonists in the stories they cover appear as they are, unfiltered and in their own voice, which adds to the impact of the story. This is something that would not be communicated as strongly through text or translated audio.
“When you're producing audio, you need that power, and you need to feel the emotions…It's so different when you have the text in front of you than when you listen to the story, the words, and the feelings that you can feel,” Carolina said.
5. Appreciate that your staff are individuals with their own aims and needs, and communicate. “What is important is remembering that you work with human beings and that we are all different and have different needs and we all grow, get tired, and get excited. The culture since the beginning has been like this: we are very straightforward, we are direct and transparent, and have a safe place for people to say how they feel and what they want. I ask people when they come to Radio Ambulante, ‘How will your period at Radio Ambulante help you to reach your mission if you have one?’ I want people who are going to Radio Ambulante to bring their own challenges and to make sure that this is a time well invested while they're here.”
Carolina highlighted trying to pay market-rate salaries, which was hard at the beginning as a start-up and a nonprofit, and listening to employee requests about things like more vacation days.
The bottom line
All media start-ups are difficult, and podcasts are now a crowded field. However, by identifying a gap in the market and an underserved audience, Carolina and the Radio Ambulante founding team were able to set up a business that has turned out to be very successful. This has not been a smooth experience throughout, with difficulties when starting, and again during the pandemic, but through a strong commitment to the core idea of the project and to their audience, Radio Ambulante has pulled through and continues to put out impactful stories by and about Latin Americans.
If you want to know more…
- Find out about Radio Ambulante’s listening clubs and their language learning app.
- If you're curious about what it takes to make a successful podcast, here is a model for producers to use when thinking about content quality. | Read the piece
- For more data about the growth of daily news podcasts, check out this 2020 report. | Read the report