Radio's future? Listen to L.A.

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os Angeles radio throbs to the beat of Latin music. A record 21 Spanish-language stations program for the 6.9 million Hispanics in the seven-county L.A. designated market area. And advertisers, as well as Latino consumers, are listening.

"Los Angeles Hispanic radio, with its different formats and audience target, is a forerunner of what American radio will become as the nation's Latin population continues to grow," says Anita Santiago, president of her own eponymous agency, which caters to Spanish-language radio.

L.A. is a marketer's paradise for advertisers trying to reach Latinos. Its roster of 21 Spanish-language radio stations-out of 82 stations in the market-tops Miami's 14 and New York's seven Spanish outlets. L.A.'s Hispanic community annually spends $66.8 billion, according to Strategy Research Corp.

The City of Angels also is considered a bellwether. The success in L.A. of radio-savvy marketers is seen as a preview for other major Latino markets, says Betina Lewin, marketing/research manager with New York radio rep company Caballero Spanish Media, a division of Interep. "With Los Angeles having more Spanish format niches catering to ethnic populations than any other part of the country, all the other Latino markets are catching up with what's happening there. Hispanic radio's strength is it allows you to customize your advertising to that market's ethnic composition."

CHART TOPPERS

L.A. Spanish market leader KSCA-FM topped the charts in Arbitron Co.'s winter report. Then in the spring report, the Hispanic Broadcasting Corp.-owned station slipped to a tie for No. 2 with Anglo hip-hop station KPWR-FM (Emmis Broadcasting). Three Hispanic stations have been the market leader since 1992.

Ken Christensen, VP-general manager of the five HBC stations in L.A., notes that national advertisers using his stations include Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser, General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet, Heineken USA, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods and PepsiCo's Pepsi-Cola Co.

Spanish Broadcasting System believes Angelenos are establishing roots at its new hot property, Mexican romantic music formatted KXOL-FM, says Luis Albertini, VP-sales at the company. SBS bought the station, then KFSG, from the Four Square Gospel Church for $250 million last January.

KWKW-AM, at age 60 one of the nation's oldest Hispanic stations, owns the Spanish-language rights for Dodgers, Lakers and Mexican soccer radiocasts. The Lotus Communications Corp. station has carried the Dodgers for 43 years and the Lakers four years, says KWKW President Jim Kalmenson, whose father Howard purchased the station in 1989. Jaime Jarrin has been broadcasting Dodgers games in Spanish on the station since 1958.

Advertisers for Dodgers and Lakers game are different, as are their fans, says General Sales Manager Mike Addison. The Major League Baseball Dodgers' core audience is 25-to-54-years-olds. New sponsors Claritin, marketed by Schering-Plough Corp., and Red Bull North America's Red Bull join such regulars as CKE Restaurants' Carl's Jr., Lincoln Mercury Southern California Dealers, Nissan Motor Corp. USA and Toyota Motor Sales USA.

The National Basketball Association Lakers' broadcasts include such sponsors as Domino's Pizza, McDonald's Corp. and Southern California Toyota Dealers.

ROCK STATION DRAWS LATINOS

Hispanic listeners also are an important factor for stations that don't only target that group. Trip Reeb, VP-general manager at Infinity Broadcasting Corp.'s KROQ-FM, credits the station's harder-edged rock music, which attracts a growing Hispanic male following, as a key reason for the station's first-ever No. 1 position in its 25-year history, won in the spring Arbitron report. KROQ also is the first Anglo station in six years to top the L.A. Arbitron standings.

"Arbitron tells us 36%-40% of our audience is Hispanic and almost exclusively English-speaking," he says.

KROQ is the top ratings earner among the seven L.A. stations owned by Infinity, a unit of Viacom, and Mr. Reeb says there's virtually no direct competitive battle going on in Los Angeles between Infinity and fellow radio giant Clear Channel Communications, which has eight outlets. "Our target audience is 27. Clear Channel's closest competitor to us is KIIS-FM, a contemporary hits station that is targeted younger and draws more females." KIIS remains in fourth place in the Arbitron standings.

Media buyers use several tools for gauging their ad schedules on Hispanic radio. They mull over the quarterly Arbitron rankings to check for any position alterations and peruse stations' monthly business reports. By combining cultural background, lifestyle and ages of their sought-after audiences, the buyers link up with the appropriate programming.

The 2000 U.S. Census is especially important in Los Angeles, believes Kathleen Bohan, VP-research/marketing for Katz Hispanic Media, New York, a national rep for spot radio. Its major client is HBC, with 47 stations in 13 markets.

She cites the median age of 25 for Hispanics while the average age among non-Hispanics is 35. "This creates a great sales story," Ms. Bohan says, "because most advertisers target the 18-49 demographic, and this demographic is becoming more Hispanic. In fact, according to the census, in Los Angeles 48% of the Hispanic population is 18-34."