In the late 1990s, a North Miami, Fla. police officer was presented with a unique opportunity to succeed in a new arena -- radio.
Enrique Santos jumped at the chance, and over a 15-year career has amassed a sizable, loyal following of listeners as morning host of Univision’s Spanish Contemporary Pop station WRTO-FM, “Mix 98.3” in Miami.
On August 11, Santos was given a new arena to conquer -- television. He’s now pulling double duty as the host of El Palenque de Enrique Santos, an hour-long talk show airing weekdays at 5 p.m. on UniMás. The addition of Santos to the UniMás lineup is part of a major shift in focus for the younger sibling of Univision, one that is designed to attract more adults aged 18-34. It just so happens that this group of Hispanics is among Santos’s most loyal radio listeners.
Palenque translates roughly to “arena,” and Santos believes his new show ushers in a new era for talk shows on Spanish-language television. In an exclusive interview from Venevision Productions’ studios in the Miami suburb of Medley, Fla., Santos said he’s excited to be a trailblazer while also following his own carefully crafted path based on what’s worked on radio and on his intuition.
“I’ve dabbled in TV -- a little bit here and there,” Santos said. “I’ve collaborated with a lot of shows on Univision, but this is something totally different. Univision looked to me to reinvent the talk show, and they thought I was the perfect person. When putting it together, I asked for one thing -- for the show to be natural, and to be me.
“There is nothing on TV that looks like what we are doing,” Santos added. “I think El Palenque is the talk show that meets reality TV.” Production on El Palenque started in early July.
Although he swears there is no comparison between what he is doing and any other talk hosts, active or retired, Santos joked, “They are calling me the Spanish Oprah Winfrey.”
Comparisons to Howard Stern, Morton Downey Jr. or Jerry Springer could also easily be made, even if they are misleading.
“I’m not preaching to anybody on my show -- it’s a palenque, a big arena where we can all share ideas about two topics discussed in each show,” he said. One episode featured a man who wanted to marry his inflatable doll. A shaman agreed to officiate, and was going to charge him for the services. Santos brought the man’s mom into the studio, and what started as a funny and odd situation became a serious plea for mental health services.
Another episode put a Mexican-American woman born with no arms but does everything with her feet -- including cooking and taking a selfie with a mobile phone -- into the spotlight. “And the end of the day, we’re looking for stories that tell the viewer, ‘Maybe I don’t have it so bad,’” Santos said.
What does the opportunity to attract a national television audience mean for Santos?
“I didn’t leave the police force to just do ‘radio,’ ” he said. “I wanted to experiment -- to raise the bar. It’s a proud moment to be a bilingual Latino … we need more Sofia Vergaras.”
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