Over the past decade, the population of Los Angeles has swelled, turning its already congested freeways into rivers of motionless slag.

It's a pretty grim scenario for most of us, but there is one group that looks on L.A.'s traffic problems with nothing but pure delight: radio executives. The more time people are stuck in their cars, with nothing to do but stare at creeping taillights and stew, the more time they spend listening to their radios.

The result is that there have only been two years since 1987 when advertising sales at L.A.-market radio stations did not increase over the previous year, according to figures from Miller, Kaplan, Arase & Co., which conducts a monthly survey of sales revenue at 27 L.A.-area stations.

And if the past decade has been good for radio advertising, the past month was positively awesome. Local advertising sales in August for Miller, Kaplan's 27 stations were $36.04 million, a 21.1 percent increase over August 1996, and national ad sales were $14.6 million, a 39.7 percent increase over August 1996.

It was the best August ever in local radio, and was all the more surprising considering nothing much happened last month there were no local elections or big sporting events, or any other unusual programming that could be expected to attract those kinds of numbers.

Year-to-date through the end of August, overall radio revenues in L.A. were running 11.1 percent ahead of last year, according to the survey.

Increases in radio sales parallel increases in listenership. Gordon Mason, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Association, said the amount of time Angelenos spend listening to the radio has increased between 12 percent and 14 percent over the past decade.

Traffic increases are part of the explanation, although there's more to it than that. Mason says the improving L.A. economy has a lot to do with the recent increases in radio ad sales.

In addition, the emergence of Spanish-language radio in Los Angeles is turning heads among media buyers. Spanish stations like KLVE-FM 107.5, which dominates the L.A. market in the Arbitron ratings, are attracting mass audiences not seen here since the arrival of television, and that in turn is prompting advertisers to spend more on the medium.

"The assumption (among advertisers) is, L.A. has this infusion of newcomers, and a lot of them have greater listening habits than reading habits," Mason said.

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