About a year and a half ago, a group of mostly affluent, thirtysomething Angelenos was in mourning over the death of their favorite radio station, which switched its format from adult album alternative to Mexican regional music.

But nobody at Heftel Broadcasting is wearing black. Its station, KSCA-FM 101.9, has pulled off what is probably the most dramatic turnaround in L.A. radio history.

When Heftel bought KSCA from Gene Autry's Golden West Broadcasters in early 1997, the $112 million it reportedly agreed to pay for the station was considered an astronomical sum. The station has a medium-range signal and under its former ownership had never been able to rise above No. 25 in the rankings of L.A.-market radio stations.

Besides, Heftel planned to switch the format to Spanish language and Spanish stations aren't as attractive to advertisers as English-language ones. Despite its low position in the rankings, KSCA was a profitable station under the album alternative format because it attracted such a desirable audience demographic.

But if there were ever any doubts that KSCA would fare better as a Spanish station than an English one, they've now been put to rest. Less than a year after the format change, it rocketed to the No. 1 station in the L.A. market in the winter-quarter Arbitron survey. It dropped to No. 2 in the spring survey released last week, but its market share still increased over last winter.

Ratings, of course, don't matter to advertisers as much as demographics. But KSCA's enormous improvement in the ratings has undoubtedly had an effect on its bottom line.

"I don't know what (Golden West) was billing, but we're doing significantly more," said Richard Heftel, who manages the station's content. "It's not as profitable as it would be if it were No. 1 in English, but it's doing very well."

We'll have to take Heftel's word for it. Although Heftel Broadcasting is a public company, it doesn't report the revenues of its individual stations. Furthermore, it doesn't yet technically own KSCA. Under terms of its acquisition, the station is being leased from Golden West until Autry's death, at which time ownership will transfer to Heftel.

Richard Heftel's family no longer owns the company that bears its name, ever since a merger with Tichenor Media Systems Inc. last year. Heftel Broadcasting is now based in Dallas, owns 39 stations across the country (making it the dominant player in Spanish-language radio), and is headed by former Tichenor chief McHenry "Mac" Tichenor Jr.

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