Tiny Spanish-language sports station KWKW-AM (1330) barely registers in the Arbitron ratings, averaging a meager 0.4 share of the potential Los Angeles audience.
But president Jim Kalmenson, whose father Howard bought the station in 1962 when Mexican regional music was its staple, gets giddy as he describes the potential for advertisers: KWKW has a virtual lock on young, male Spanish-speaking sports fans.
Since the Kalmenson family's Los Angeles-based Lotus Communications Corp. partnered last year with ESPN's Spanish-language sports network, ESPN Desportes Radio, KWKW and six other Lotus stations that flipped to the all-sports format are experiencing intense advertiser interest.
"Forever we had to share the Spanish news-talk listener with at least two other stations but now we're in a universe of our own," said Kalmenson, whose KWKW studios also serve as ESPN Desportes' national broadcast center. "Our listeners aren't inclined to switch stations when a spot comes on."
KWKW isn't the only local station in the Spanish talk segment to undergo a facelift in recent months. When a tougher interpretation of Federal Communications Commission ownership rules forced Clear Channel Communications Inc. to sell its share in American standards format XTRA-AM (690) last year, the station was snapped up by Madrid-based Grupo Prisa. It recently relaunched the station with a news/talk/sports format.
Another similarly formatted station, KMXE-AM (830) changed hands earlier this month. Arte Moreno, majority owner of Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, intends to make the station more bilingual to appeal to younger listeners.
Entrevision Radio President Jeff Lieberman, whose family, like the Kalmensons, has been in the local Spanish radio market since the 1960s when there were only a handful of stations, said the vibrancy of the region's Latino radio community is driven by demographics. He notes that the market's Hispanic population grew 25 percent between 1997 and 2004.
Estimated revenues at Los Angeles Spanish-format stations grew more than 200 percent between 1994 and 2004 to $181 million as the number of stations more than doubled, according to figures that stations provided to media industry consultant BIA Financial Network, based in Chantilly, Va.
"Because it's such a large market, L.A. is really the place where you can experiment with specialized formats," said Lieberman, whose division of Santa Monica-based Entrevision Communications Corp., broke ground in the U.S. radio market in 1997 when it debuted the trend-setting "Super Estrella" pop-and-rock format on KSSE-FM (107.1).
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