By HOWARD FINE

Staff Reporter

Business news has suddenly become a hot commodity in L.A.'s radio market.

Starting this month, Angelenos are getting a double dose of business hours from L.A.'s all-news radio stations: KNX-AM 1070 and KFWB-AM 980. The two stations are owned by CBS-Infinity Radio.

Last Tuesday, KNX launched its "Business Hour," now airing on weekday afternoons at 1 p.m., right after the market closes. Today, KFWB begins its "Noon Business Hour."

Both hours feature extensive market coverage, a look at local and national business headlines, and several specialized segments. KNX's version includes regular features on industries like high-tech and travel, while KFWB's segments will be more determined by the news of the day and may be more geared toward finance and investments, according to Program Director David Cooke. (The Los Angeles Business Journal and Los Angeles Times are contributing segments on both shows.)

Both are aimed at professionals and business owners who want to track the market close. The KFWB show is expected to pull in listeners driving to lunch appointments; the KNX broadcast is aimed at people driving back to the office after lunch.

The first commercial station to air an hour of business news was KRLD in Dallas, which started its broadcast about 18 months ago. WMAQ in Chicago followed soon after.

"This idea has been kicked around for three to five years," said Sherrie Mazingo, a media consultant and visiting journalism professor at the University of Minnesota who used to teach at USC. "The initial proposals were scrapped because it was thought the audience would be too small. But the volatility in the markets and the spreading international financial crisis of the past couple years caused the discussions to heat up at news stations around the country."

At KRLD, Operations Manager Michael Spears said his station was looking for a way to differentiate itself from other news outlets in the Dallas area.

"The old-style news wheel is evolving into new forms," Spears said. "We saw that no one else had done substantial business news in our market. We have an aging audience worried about their 401(k)'s that understands the impact that business has on their lives."

Spears said ratings for the hour were up 20 percent this fall over fall 1997, and noted that the broadcast is making money.

"The hour is now extremely profitable," Spears said. "Right out of the gate it attracted lots of advertisers, from airlines to banks and savings and loans. The advertisers came on board much more quickly than we expected."

Spears said the show has been so profitable that the station recently added a half-hour business news show at 6:30 p.m.

Here in L.A., KNX News Director Robert Sims said advertisers have been enthusiastic. "For years, more of our advertisers have requested to be placed next to our business segments than any other segment," Sims said.

The reason for their enthusiasm is simple: business shows attract an upscale audience with lots of disposable dollars.

"This is the place where you can reach the most sought-after demographics in radio: baby boomers looking at their portfolios and local business people," said Michael Kassan, president and chief operating officer of Western Initiative Media, an L.A.-based media-buying company.

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