Podcasting in Puerto Rico: past, present, and future

The data seems to suggest that the growth of podcasting in Puerto Rico is reaching a turning point. Here’s a look at the history and the present of the Puerto Rican podcast industry, keeping in mind the context of its development and particularities with regard to climate, politics, and religion.

By Enrique Vargas

What you need to know about Puerto Rico

Before I get into the history of podcasting in Puerto Rico, I’d like to clarify some things with respect to the source of information used for this article: RSS feeds, which are web pages with all the information referring to the podcast in question. This has its disadvantages: On one hand, the RSS files can be modified, which brings uncertainty. On the other hand, these files don’t require country of origin to be included. This adds to the difficulty of discovering podcasts — a problem that still doesn’t have a satisfactory answer. But in the case of Puerto Rico, you also have to consider the effect of its political relationship to the United States.

One consequence of this is the fact that the major podcast databases don’t recognize Puerto Rico as another country. Instead, local productions drown in a sea of American podcasts. This turns the job of finding RSS files to decipher the history of Puerto Rican podcasting into an exercise in digital archaeology, something I’ve been doing for more than three years. With all this in mind, here’s what I’ve found.

The beginning of Puerto Rican podcasting

Puerto Rico has been present on the podcast scene since the early days in 2005. RSS files show that podcasts like Puerto Rico TravelCast, iWannabes and FADcast were pioneers of the medium, although I know through anecdotes from people like Manolo Matos (Podcast Ateorizar) and James Lynn (¡Resuélveme Tecnético!) that they were experimenting with the format back when the word podcast was still unknown locally. From that time until 2011, the Puerto Rican podcast-phere remained small but stable. Podcasts like Foro Colegial from the University of Puerto Rico, Tiflo Audio and Rincón del Irreverente survived this early stage.

The podcast Hablando de Tecnología con Orlando Mergal is also a survivor of that early stage that deserves special mention. From the start, Orlando recognized the differences between the podcast and traditional radio. He also understood the importance of search engine optimization (SEO), which is a technique to maximize the visibility of internet content. His strategies, coupled with interesting and useful content, won him the honor of being the first podcast with a major international audience.

The first big wave: religious podcasts

During the first phase, there wasn’t a dominant category. It remained that way until the end of 2011 when music and religion podcasts began their rise. Without a doubt, the first Puerto Ricans who took advantage of the potential of the podcast were religious groups — specifically Protestant Christians. Podcasts like IWES, Encuentro con la Esperanza, Iglesia Ciudad de Dios, Truth Talk and Iglesia Emanuel Cayey PR initiated the movement, publishing sermons and Bible classes, a trend that would lead to a sharp rise in podcast popularity. In 2013, “Religion and Spirituality” indisputably became the category with the most podcasts in Puerto Rico, a position it maintained until the end of 2017.

The phenomenon of Masacote

The comedian Vicente “Chente” Ydrach learned the secret to a good interview from the legendary American journalist Larry King: Listen. With this understanding, in March 2014 he started an interview podcast, “Masacote con Chente Ydrach,” to document the history and the present state of comedy in Puerto Rico. His casual style, unusual thoughts and the use (and abuse) of language censored by traditional media earned him immediate fame. And with a fortuitous mix of the opportunity to interview locally renowned personalities and a great SEO strategy, he landed “Masacote” on iTunes’ list of the most popular podcasts. This turned Chente into the first star of Puerto Rican podcasting. Thanks to him, many Puerto Ricans, in particular kids and young adults, heard the word podcast for the first time.

“Masacote” also marks the consolidation of podcasts featuring informal interviews or conversations among friends. For example, I’ll mention

Dulce Compañía con Angel Gonzalez, Empresarios con Pablo Tirado, Coloquio Podcast, ¿¡En Serio!?, De La Vaqueta Podcast, Hablando a 24 Frames, and Dándote en la Cara. The majority of these fell into the “Society and Culture” category, which began notable growth from the beginning of 2015 until it recently became the category with the most podcasts.

The arrival of local media and well-known personalities

The mainstream Puerto Rican media arrived very late, and they’ve been too timid incorporating the podcast as part of what they offer. The first to use it seriously was the radio station SalSoul when it published at least four of its programs in this format. Another well-known station is Fidelity with at least one radio program that it repackaged as a podcast. However, all of these productions have disappeared. Also, the Puerto Rican public radio station sporadically has published a series of radio dramas and programs on cultural topics since August 2015.

It was as recently as the summer of 2017 when the radio station WKAQ, as part of a request from its parent company, Univisión, began to publish some of its most popular programs in podcast form. El Azote de Luis Dávila Colón, Las cosas como son con Ángel Rosa, Sin ataduras con Jay Fonseca and WKAQ Analiza con Luis Pabón Roca y Carlos Díaz Olivo were the first to be repackaged, marking the arrival of big media on the local podcasting scene. However, this industry still has a long way to go to understand the differences between the podcast and traditional radio. It seemed like this understanding was beginning to develop by the middle of 2018, but first came a major interruption by Mother Nature.

Hurricane season

The recent history of Puerto Rico is divided into before and after it was whipped by Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017, but especially Hurricane María on September 20th. In the preceding years, Puerto Rico was already experiencing a growing exodus, primarily to the United States. The hurricanes accelerated this migration, causing about 160,000 people to leave in the following months (according to an analysis by the Center of Puerto Rican Studies). This impacted the Puerto Rican podcasting scene in unexpected ways.

The blue line represents the total number of Puerto Rican podcast episodes published per month and shows an unexpected effect of Irma and María. As an indication that they knew a catastrophe was closing in fast, it looks like many podcasters rushed to publish their final episodes, causing the notable spike in the graphic right before the hurricanes.

Bicha Cool and podcasts by women

Among the people who left for the United States because of Hurricane María was Greydaliz Rivera. This young mom saw podcasting as a way to stay in touch with Puerto Rico, and in January 2018 she launched a project called “Bicha Cool Daily.” Her ambitious proposal was to publish a daily episode for one year, documenting her stories and strategies as a businesswoman and entrepreneur. In her own words: “how to pursue your dreams in spite of fears disguised as excuses.”

Before I go on, I should clarify that in Puerto Rico, “bicho” is a bad word. So even the name of the podcast demonstrates the level of risk in her venture, at the same time as it reflects the rebellious and cool duality of Greydaliz’s personality.

Her bet paid off. Her brief monologues, with the sincerity and wisdom of a friend who has her feet planted firmly on the ground, inspired an army of women who found in Greydaliz the energy to launch their own entrepreneurial ventures: businesses, blogs, and of course, podcasts.

I’m not saying Greydaliz was the first. Podcasts like Musicofilia and Preparate are made by women who were pioneers in production for this medium. But “Bicha Cool Daily” drove the definitive entry of Puerto Rican women in the podcast-phere. Among the podcasts that have emerged since then are: Una Jeva Boricua, A Pasos de Hormiga, Boricua Fuera de La Isla, La Descarga Vegana, Influencia Creativa, Finanzas On The Go!, Mejor con Guanábanas and Mujeres Poderosas Podcast, just to name a few.

Photo: Second Conference of Puerto Rican Podcasts in September 2018. From left to right: Luis Ayala and Ylenia González (Muévete en Bici), Greydaliz Rivera (Bicha Cool Daily), and Enrique Vargas (Mirada Científica).

Podcasting in Puerto Rico: past, present, and future

The data seems to suggest that the growth of podcasting in Puerto Rico is reaching a turning point. Here’s a look at the history and the present of the Puerto Rican podcast industry, keeping in mind the context of its development and particularities with regard to climate, politics, and religion.

By Enrique Vargas

What you need to know about Puerto Rico

Before I get into the history of podcasting in Puerto Rico, I’d like to clarify some things with respect to the source of information used for this article: RSS feeds, which are web pages with all the information referring to the podcast in question. This has its disadvantages: On one hand, the RSS files can be modified, which brings uncertainty. On the other hand, these files don’t require country of origin to be included. This adds to the difficulty of discovering podcasts — a problem that still doesn’t have a satisfactory answer. But in the case of Puerto Rico, you also have to consider the effect of its political relationship to the United States.

One consequence of this is the fact that the major podcast databases don’t recognize Puerto Rico as another country. Instead, local productions drown in a sea of American podcasts. This turns the job of finding RSS files to decipher the history of Puerto Rican podcasting into an exercise in digital archaeology, something I’ve been doing for more than three years. With all this in mind, here’s what I’ve found.

The beginning of Puerto Rican podcasting

Puerto Rico has been present on the podcast scene since the early days in 2005. RSS files show that podcasts like Puerto Rico TravelCast, iWannabes and FADcast were pioneers of the medium, although I know through anecdotes from people like Manolo Matos (Podcast Ateorizar) and James Lynn (¡Resuélveme Tecnético!) that they were experimenting with the format back when the word podcast was still unknown locally. From that time until 2011, the Puerto Rican podcast-phere remained small but stable. Podcasts like Foro Colegial from the University of Puerto Rico, Tiflo Audio and Rincón del Irreverente survived this early stage.

The podcast Hablando de Tecnología con Orlando Mergal is also a survivor of that early stage that deserves special mention. From the start, Orlando recognized the differences between the podcast and traditional radio. He also understood the importance of search engine optimization (SEO), which is a technique to maximize the visibility of internet content. His strategies, coupled with interesting and useful content, won him the honor of being the first podcast with a major international audience.

The first big wave: religious podcasts

During the first phase, there wasn’t a dominant category. It remained that way until the end of 2011 when music and religion podcasts began their rise. Without a doubt, the first Puerto Ricans who took advantage of the potential of the podcast were religious groups — specifically Protestant Christians. Podcasts like IWES, Encuentro con la Esperanza, Iglesia Ciudad de Dios, Truth Talk and Iglesia Emanuel Cayey PR initiated the movement, publishing sermons and Bible classes, a trend that would lead to a sharp rise in podcast popularity. In 2013, “Religion and Spirituality” indisputably became the category with the most podcasts in Puerto Rico, a position it maintained until the end of 2017.

The phenomenon of Masacote

The comedian Vicente “Chente” Ydrach learned the secret to a good interview from the legendary American journalist Larry King: Listen. With this understanding, in March 2014 he started an interview podcast, “Masacote con Chente Ydrach,” to document the history and the present state of comedy in Puerto Rico. His casual style, unusual thoughts and the use (and abuse) of language censored by traditional media earned him immediate fame. And with a fortuitous mix of the opportunity to interview locally renowned personalities and a great SEO strategy, he landed “Masacote” on iTunes’ list of the most popular podcasts. This turned Chente into the first star of Puerto Rican podcasting. Thanks to him, many Puerto Ricans, in particular kids and young adults, heard the word podcast for the first time.

“Masacote” also marks the consolidation of podcasts featuring informal interviews or conversations among friends. For example, I’ll mention

Dulce Compañía con Angel Gonzalez, Empresarios con Pablo Tirado, Coloquio Podcast, ¿¡En Serio!?, De La Vaqueta Podcast, Hablando a 24 Frames, and Dándote en la Cara. The majority of these fell into the “Society and Culture” category, which began notable growth from the beginning of 2015 until it recently became the category with the most podcasts.

The arrival of local media and well-known personalities

The mainstream Puerto Rican media arrived very late, and they’ve been too timid incorporating the podcast as part of what they offer. The first to use it seriously was the radio station SalSoul when it published at least four of its programs in this format. Another well-known station is Fidelity with at least one radio program that it repackaged as a podcast. However, all of these productions have disappeared. Also, the Puerto Rican public radio station sporadically has published a series of radio dramas and programs on cultural topics since August 2015.

It was as recently as the summer of 2017 when the radio station WKAQ, as part of a request from its parent company, Univisión, began to publish some of its most popular programs in podcast form. El Azote de Luis Dávila Colón, Las cosas como son con Ángel Rosa, Sin ataduras con Jay Fonseca and WKAQ Analiza con Luis Pabón Roca y Carlos Díaz Olivo were the first to be repackaged, marking the arrival of big media on the local podcasting scene. However, this industry still has a long way to go to understand the differences between the podcast and traditional radio. It seemed like this understanding was beginning to develop by the middle of 2018, but first came a major interruption by Mother Nature.

Hurricane season

The recent history of Puerto Rico is divided into before and after it was whipped by Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017, but especially Hurricane María on September 20th. In the preceding years, Puerto Rico was already experiencing a growing exodus, primarily to the United States. The hurricanes accelerated this migration, causing about 160,000 people to leave in the following months (according to an analysis by the Center of Puerto Rican Studies). This impacted the Puerto Rican podcasting scene in unexpected ways.

The blue line represents the total number of Puerto Rican podcast episodes published per month and shows an unexpected effect of Irma and María. As an indication that they knew a catastrophe was closing in fast, it looks like many podcasters rushed to publish their final episodes, causing the notable spike in the graphic right before the hurricanes.

Bicha Cool and podcasts by women

Among the people who left for the United States because of Hurricane María was Greydaliz Rivera. This young mom saw podcasting as a way to stay in touch with Puerto Rico, and in January 2018 she launched a project called “Bicha Cool Daily.” Her ambitious proposal was to publish a daily episode for one year, documenting her stories and strategies as a businesswoman and entrepreneur. In her own words: “how to pursue your dreams in spite of fears disguised as excuses.”

Before I go on, I should clarify that in Puerto Rico, “bicho” is a bad word. So even the name of the podcast demonstrates the level of risk in her venture, at the same time as it reflects the rebellious and cool duality of Greydaliz’s personality.

Her bet paid off. Her brief monologues, with the sincerity and wisdom of a friend who has her feet planted firmly on the ground, inspired an army of women who found in Greydaliz the energy to launch their own entrepreneurial ventures: businesses, blogs, and of course, podcasts.

I’m not saying Greydaliz was the first. Podcasts like Musicofilia and Preparate are made by women who were pioneers in production for this medium. But “Bicha Cool Daily” drove the definitive entry of Puerto Rican women in the podcast-phere. Among the podcasts that have emerged since then are: Una Jeva Boricua, A Pasos de Hormiga, Boricua Fuera de La Isla, La Descarga Vegana, Influencia Creativa, Finanzas On The Go!, Mejor con Guanábanas and Mujeres Poderosas Podcast, just to name a few.

Photo: Second Conference of Puerto Rican Podcasts in September 2018. From left to right: Luis Ayala and Ylenia González (Muévete en Bici), Greydaliz Rivera (Bicha Cool Daily), and Enrique Vargas (Mirada Científica).

The second coming of big media

In October 2017, the journalist Carlos Weber (Chilean, resident in Puerto Rico since 1973) published his podcast “Isla Doncella: Puerto Rico en crónicas” to shed light on the current situation in the country and portray the impact of Hurricane María. It was the first one in its category, hosted by a locally recognizable personality, to take maximum advantage of all the characteristics that differentiate the podcast from traditional radio.

It was around this time that Julio Axel Ponce, creator of the Click Deportes Podcast and employee of the TV station WAPA, approached management to propose that they start a podcast. His proposal was heard and in February 2018 the first episode of El Podcast de Wapa Deportes came out. A month later, Puerto Rico’s most important newspaper, El Nuevo Día, presented its podcast offering with Torres Gotay Entrevista, Entrelí­neas, Maldita Montero, and Tiempo Extra. That’s how major local media definitively entered the Puerto Rican podcast-phere, even propelling the “News and Politics” category to second place in terms of most podcasts today.

Growth in recent years

At the beginning of 2017, there was an explosion in the production of independent podcasts. By 2018, public figures like the ex-governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, and the attorney and host, Jay Fonseca, were introducing the word podcast to an older demographic, which is the largest segment of the Puerto Rican population. We’re also seeing recent production of podcasts by journalists, communicators and small businesses, although it’s still too early to tell if it will be something definite.

At the time this article was published, I identified more than 500 podcasts related in some significant way with Puerto Rico. Of those, approximately 300 have at least one episode published in the last year, and I consider them active. Among the inactive ones, 58 have disappeared.

In recent months, the categories that show the most aggressive increases continue to be “News and Politics” and “Society and Culture,” but the subjects “Technology,” “Comedy,” “Business” and “Health” have seen unprecedented growth. You can see the complete list of podcasts and the data I collected by visiting Observatorio de Podcast de Puerto Rico.

This graphic represents distribution by category in mid-November 2018. “Society and Culture,” “News and Politics” and “Religion and Spirituality” dominate with a combined total of 45.5%; in other words, almost 1 of every 2 podcasts in Puerto Rico is in one of those three categories. These are the primary categories as they were established by iTunes, except “Unknown,” which I added to hold the podcasts that don’t say to which category they belong.

Reflecting on the future

If my interpretation of the data is correct, the podcast in Puerto Rico is about to reach the first peak of what’s called a “cycle of high expectations” (this term makes reference to the maturity, adoption and commercial application of a specific technology). When will it be reached? That I don’t know, but unfortunately the theory says that after getting to that summit, called the “peak of oversized expectations,” the “abyss of disillusion” follows, and many podcasts will end up abandoned.

Puerto Rico arrived late. Some people argue that the cycle has already happened for podcasting in English and that it’s now in the stage of maturity. If that’s the case, this presents an opportunity to learn from the mistakes made and lessons learned by others.

So, producers who arrive at the future of local podcasting will be those who take advantage of lessons from producers who came before them. My recommendation for all podcaster@s is that they research the productions that inspire or astonish them every time they listen. I suspect they will be surprised when they discover that every episode requires a lot of time and effort. I also suspect they will discover the importance of learning about communication skills, storytelling, and hosting. That is to say, some producers will take seriously the job of improving the quality of their podcasts through education and self-evaluation until they begin to innovate in their production process. Those will be the ones that will survive the abyss of disillusion and will be transformed into spectacular podcasts.

I hope I’m not mistaken, but there’s also the risk of falling into the trap of conformity that affects various facets of Puerto Rican culture. Local radio and TV fell for that, and we all suffered the consequences. Listening to independent podcasts that follow traditional radio as a model, or the big media outlets that package their radio programs as podcasts, doesn’t demonstrate originality or contribute to the eradication of conformity. But when I see people innovating in podcasting, I feel the winds of change. I firmly believe that podcasts can show us a path to the revolution that the Puerto Rican media needs so badly.

This text was translated and edited from it’s original publication in Spanish in the Podcaster@s bi-weekly newsletter, where we share the top news and diverse perspectives from fans and producers of podcasts in Spanish. Sign up for it here.


Enrique Vargas is from Puerto Rico. He produces Mirada Científica, Repaso Noticioso and Talento Escondido at his recording studio, JYE Studio. Ever since he got into the podcasting world, he spends tons of time researching about the Puerto Rican podcasting scene. He also collaborates with Unión Podcastera. @vargas_ej // www.jyestudio.com