There have been misfires. A deal to buy the Atlanta Hawks collapsed about two years ago. And Meruelo's $20-million bid to buy the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J., was rebuffed last year.
But last week, Meruelo told the group assembled at the building on Pico: "I'm living the dream. We've always wanted to have a voice in the community — a voice in Hispanic media."
A major media merger gave Meruelo an opportunity. In approving Comcast's takeover of and NBCUniversal, the federal government required the cable giant to sell one of three NBC-owned TV stations in Los Angeles. Comcast was also being urged to do more to promote racial diversity in media.
Meruelo Group stepped up and bought KWHY-TV Channel 22 for less than $40 million — a whopping discount compared with the nearly $240 million paid in 2001 by Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo.
"Meruelo Group had two main advantages: They were a minority buyer and they had the cash," said Julio Rumbaut, a Spanish-language media consultant in Miami.
According to Maria Boloori, director of media buying at Huntington Beach ad agency Grupo Gallegos, advertisers have been encouraged by the new management, including the hiring of Padron, who was a top programmer at Univision for many years.
Meruelo Media also created a secondary channel, called Super 22, which broadcasts old Mexican movies and TV shows — which often does as well in the ratings as the primary KWHY station.
Another advantage is that KWHY runs its late local news at 10 p.m. rather than 11 p.m., and the newscast is gaining traction, Boloori said.
"In our market, we have a lot of blue-collar workers who have to start work early, so they go to bed early — but they will watch the news at 10," Boloori said.
KWHY also became the flagship station for MundoFox, the Spanish-language network that Fox launched 18 months ago.
"They were the first affiliates that we signed for MundoFox, and they've done a great job operating the stations," said Hernan Lopez, chief executive of Fox International Channels. Meruelo also manages a station in Houston that runs MundoFox programming.
Xavier Gutierrez, president and chief investment officer of the Meruelo Group, calls KWHY and KDAY "two diamonds that had lost their luster" and said the KDAY acquisition illustrates the company's goal to reflect the rich cultures of L.A.
Meruelo intends to keep KDAY's English-language, old-school hip-hop format and expand its coverage area. The station, the company believes, represents that blend of L.A. cultures and a way to increase revenue by pulling in advertising dollars earmarked for English-language media.
Meruelo is also planning to bolster the station's staff, which last month consisted of 16 people. KDAY studios and staff are to remain at their mid-Wilshire address.
Zeke Chaidez, the station's general manager, described Meruelo Media's plan to buy the station as "a life jacket being thrown into the water, something for us to hold on to."
"We were really running without much fuel," Chaidez said, "and now the question is: How fast and how far are we going to go?"