The history of Mexican radio spans over a century, dating back to the establishment of the first experimental station in the northern city of Monterrey in 1919. By 1930, a musical station, XEW, was launched to run musical programming regularly. Mirroring the US broadcasting model of musical programmings, live shows and sponsorship strategies, media entrepreneur Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta created the station with the aim of making profit, unlike previous experimenters who had wanted to use radio for educational or cultural purposes. He soon acquired sufficient influence as to create and chair the CIRT, a business chamber in charge of lobbying the government to approve favourable legislation and soon, by the 1950s, the mogul had built a network of 13 radio stations and three other TV channels, laying the grounds for his powerful Televisa empire to flourish. With no regulation or public bodies in charge of effectively supervising the granting of broadcasting licences to suitable bidders, instead relying in the discretional powers and decisions of the Mexican president, the radio industry grew rapidly, but concessions were held only by a small number of families. Through the decades, observers were very critical of the discretionary negotiations underlying the granting of these radio licences, as the concessions were traditionally granted (and renewed) by presidential orders to a few ally families with political ties to the regime.
In 2019, Mexico had 1,841 radio stations, from which 1,620 are in the FM Frequencies with 93 percent of coverage and 221 are in AM frequencies with 96 percent of coverage. The coverage of both frequencies is almost universal for the population and surpasses any other infrastructure for mass communication in Mexico.
According to Mexican law, revised in 2014 with a long-needed Telecommunications and Broadcasting Act, there are four kinds of uses for the concessions of radio stations. The first category is comprised by commercial radio stations. Basically, this category is for-profit private firms. 69 percent of all the radio stations in Mexico are commercially handled and pertain to private groups and holdings such as Radiorama, Radio Centro, GTV, Grupo MVS, Grupo Fórmula, Grupo ACIR, NRM Comunicaciones, and Multimedios. This means that a group of around twelve companies has been dominating the industry for the past decades. 70 percent of commercial radio broadcast music and 12.3 percent news.
The second category is for public use and non for profit, like those operated by governmental agencies and State branches such as Legislative and Judiciary, as well as by autonomous bodies and universities. The third is for private, non-for-profit use such as those with experimental aims, for technological innovation or for development or private communications. Lastly, the fourth category is for social, non-profit use, with cultural, scientific, educational or community-oriented aims, such as indigenous or community radios.
Amongst all of them, 326 (18 percent) are public stations and pertain to institutions that receive public funding such as state and municipal governments, public universities, and more; and 240 (13 percent) are social stations and pertain to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and indigenous groups. Among these group of radio stations (i.e., public and social), excels the Mexican Institute for Radio, which is a public network composed of 17 stations throughout the country; there are 29 stations operated by public universities; and last, but not least, it is relevant to mention the Sistema de Radiodifusoras Culturales Indigenistas (Indigenous Cultural Broadcasters System). This radio system is composed of 22 stations that broadcast in regions inhabited by indigenous communities. Most of these radio stations broadcast in original languages such as Nahuatl, Tarahumara, Tzeltal, Mixteco, among many others.
According to a 2018 survey of the Federal Telecommunications Institute, 39 percent of the Mexican population reported listening to radio regularly, and out of that percentage 71% reported listening to FM frequencies. The percentage of people that listen to radio in urban and rural areas is basically similar: 40 percent and 35 percent respectively. As much as a fifth (21%) of Mexican children aged 7 to 12 years reported being regular radio listeners. More than three quarters (77%) of the population expressed a preference for listening music, 41 percent newscasts, 11 percent sports shows, 6 percent cultural topics and the rest is split into various categories. Thus, although it is not the most popular media system, the radio industry is still relevant as a vehicle for disseminating news among Mexicans.
Every month, the ratings of the Mexican newscasts are released by INRA, a private consultancy firm. These ratings rank nees anchors Ciro Gómez Leyva, Óscar Mario Beteta, Mario González, Joaquín López Dóriga, Adriana Pérez Cañedo, Chumel Torres, Denise Maerker, Azucena Uresti, Eduardo Ruiz-Healy and Carlos Loret de Mola as the top ten with the biggest ratings. Seven of these newscasts are broadcasted by Radio Fórmula and its associated stations or through syndicated content around the country, asserting itself as one of the most powerful radio groups in Mexico. The rest pertains to NRM Comunicaciones and W Radio. Most of these radio news anchors are also—or have been— high-profile TV anchors and journalists, and many also write columns for the most important national newspapers. The exception would be Chumel Torres, a high-profile youtuber, stand-up comedian and influencer who targets younger audiences and first gained notoriety in digital media.