Have Spanish-language radio stations finally reached a saturation point in Los Angeles?

That's what some radio-industry insiders are concluding after the surprising success of KIIS-FM 102.7 in the fall 1999 Arbitron ratings. The pop-music station rose to the No. 2 position in the market marking the first time an English-language station has cracked the top two since summer 1997.

It was a major jump for KIIS, which was No. 8 in the market just a year earlier. The station's average rating was 5.0 in fall 1999, up from 3.6 in fall 1998, according to Arbitron, which measures radio listener trends. KIIS displaced KLVE-FM 107.5, a Spanish station that has ranked among the two top-rated for several years.

"This may be the year when we're able to return to full number one," said Roy Laughlin, general manager of KIIS-FM. "You've got that unique timing of things being good for us, and then there's the (Spanish-language market's) fragmentation on top of this."

More choices for listeners

The L.A. market has 11 Spanish-language stations rated in the Arbitron report, but several other stations have recently changed to the Spanish format, meaning there are now about 15 ratable stations in the L.A.-Orange county region.

"The number had hovered around 10 in the past couple of years. It suddenly burst out of that level and into a new level with the year 2000," said Allen Klein, president of the Encino-based Media Research Graphics Inc., a radio ratings analysis firm.

KLYY-FM 107.1 converted its low-rated alternative-rock format to Spanish-language in January, and R & B; stations KACE-FM 103.9 and KRTO-FM 98.3 were purchased and converted earlier this year by the Hispanic Broadcasting Corp., which owns KLVE and the No. 1 overall station in L.A., KSCA-FM 101.9.

Previous to KIIS rising in the ratings, KSCA and KLVE had alternated between number one and two since fall 1997.

The plethora of Spanish stations means Spanish-speaking listeners now have more choices, and the new stations are stealing listeners from the older ones.

"Before, you had three or four high-quality Spanish-language stations. Now there's easily half a dozen," said Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Association. "As that's happened, it has eroded the base of the two leading Spanish stations. At the same time, KIIS is a very smart competitor, and a great deal of the pop music these days is Latin-based."

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