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Radio always has thrived in sunny San Diego, but the North American Free Trade Agreement is bound to reinforce that strength.

Retail sales in San Diego were $21 billion in 1993, with average household incomes estimated at $41,672. Just across the border is Tijuana, Mexico, with a 2.2 million population to help swell the market to 5 million consumers.

Local ad revenue this year is expected to reach $95 million, up from 8% from $88 million last year. Sales are projected to top $100 million next year.

Nafta will be a boon to radio, according to Tom Baker, president of KGB-FM and president of San Diego Radio Broadcasters Association, and Bruce Walton, president-general manager of KIFM-FM.

A number of English-language radio stations are based in Tijuana, including the top-rated XHTZ FM.

"Nafta's real impact is still to come, but it has already put a seal-of-approval stamp on the way we do business down here," says Mr. Walton. "We have closed borders, but they're open when it comes to business. It's a free-flowing economy both ways, and it's the way of the future."

Another big reason why radio is thriving in the market: the recession didn't drastically alter a Southern California lifestyle so conducive to radio. People still went outside to play in the warm outdoors-and brought their radios with them.

And, aside from the city bus system, cars are practically the only way to get around.

TV often proves somewhat inefficient for advertisers in San Diego, according to Mr. Walton. While it's the 15th-largest TV market in the U.S., experts say the city's lifestyle is such that TV dramatically underdelivers, and the general rule of thumb is an advertiser has to buy twice as much to reach the targeted number.

The biggest radio advertisers in the market are automakers-especially Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet and their respective dealer associations-and grocery chains like Lucky's, Ralph's and Von's.

Entertainment industry provides an ad boost as well, especially with a bevy of theme parks two hours north on Interstate 5.

"We're not an overradioed market. That helps advertisers target the niche and psychographic that they need," says Mr. Baker.

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