Los Angeles' swelling Latino population has prompted an explosion of Spanish-language media that is attracting a surge of "smart money" investors eager to cash in on $60 million a year in advertising.
"You're going to see more of them coming into the marketplace," said Daniel Villanueva of television station KMEX. "In Spanish we call them convenencieros (opportunists). It's opportune money. It's smart money."
Last December, Rep. Cecil Heftel (D-Hawaii) and Kenneth Wolt of San Diego paid $40 million for Spanish-language radio station combination KLVE and KTNQ, the most paid for a single-city AM-FM pair at the time.
'Crest of a Rising Tide'
"We think we're at the crest of a rising tide," Wolt said. "All of a sudden people are discovering the (Spanish) market. We saw this as a tremendous opportunity and intend to keep both stations in Spanish."
Reliance Capital Group of New York City and other investors converted UHF Channel 52 to Spanish-language station KVEA after buying it for $30 million. President Joe Wallach, former director of Brazil's Globo-TV, launched the station with a $500,000 advertising blitz last November.
"There are about 3.4 million Hispanics in greater Los Angeles. You're talking about a very, very nice market," said KVEA vice president Frank Cruz. "The advertisers see it, and they want to reach that market. The easiest way to do it is through Hispanic media."
In print, new Spanish-language media players include the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, connected to Noticias del Mundo, a Spanish-language daily newspaper launched in 1984. Soon Mexican investors plan to open the city's third Spanish-language daily, El Diario.
In 1984, Country and Western AM station KZLA was switched to Spanish station KSKQ after it was bought for approximately $5 million by New Yorkers Raul Alarcon Sr.; his son, Raul Jr., and Jose Grimalt, said Ligiah Villalobos, sales assistant.
Managers of older Spanish-language media report that the new competitive environment has helped them.
"This (Latino) market is expanding so much that we are absorbing the new media," said Villanueva, who added that KMEX posted record sales after KVEA hit the air. "It appears they've created some new audience. We have the numbers where we were before, and they have some people, too."
'Doing Very Well'
"We're doing very well" with the new competition, said Jose Lozano, whose grandfather founded La Opinion newspaper in 1926. He reports circulation grew 16% to 63,500 between 1984 and 1985 and advertising was up 20% in 1985.
The newcomers have brought more awareness of Latino media among possible users and advertisers, Lozano said. The older media also have become more competitive.
Last September La Opinion hired circulation employees to replace the independent contractors who used to stock the paper in newsstands and markets. It has also targeted free sample papers and subscription calls to prime Latino areas around downtown Los Angeles.
"The competition has been good for the Spanish-language media and for the community," said Rafael Prieto, a former La Opinion staffer who edits Noticias del Mundo. "It has forced La Opinion to improve. There is better coverage than before."
Villanueva said KMEX added a new news crew after KVEA went on the air. There is room for a third Los Angeles Spanish-language television station, he said, and predicted that at least two more radio stations will switch to Spanish.
With more Latino media, advertisers are more choosy than a decade ago when one daily newspaper, one television station and two radio stations competed for the Los Angeles Latino market.
Hispanic Business magazine calls Los Angeles the top Latino media market with $30 million for television, $22 million for radio, and $7.2 million for print advertising in 1985. Nationally, advertisers spent an estimated $333.5 million to reach Latinos in 1985, up 17% from $284.5 million in 1984.
Media directors for Latino advertising agencies say clients now fine-tune their appeals to segments of the Latino audience, just as they do with advertising in English.
"Los Angeles is a terrific Spanish radio town because we've got five viable stations," said Mario Lazo of Mendoza and Dillon in Newport Beach. "They (the stations) have to know who they are and where they want to be. 'Do I want the young people, or the housewives, or to go after men?'
"They are conscious of how they format and who they go after."
Lazo cited KWKW with traditional Mexican music; KALI and KSKQ with pop music in Spanish; KLVE with a soft, beautiful music appeal, and KTNQ with the most popular disc jockey.
In television, KVEA also wants to distinguish itself from KMEX by offering different programs.
"It's largely alternative, counter-programming," KVEA's Wallach said. "If someone is watching a novela (on KMEX), maybe you can have a documentary. It's giving the viewer a choice."
KMEX and KVEA offer entertainment shows produced in Latin America. But KVEA also airs Spanish-dubbed versions of U.S. movies, such as "Dr. Zhivago," and television programs, such as "Medical Center."
In print, Prieto said, an in-house survey showed Noticias del Mundo has drawn relatively new immigrants from Central and South America. He said the newspaper has a weekday press run of 30,000, with many readers buying La Opinion on weekends.
English-language media also eye the growing Latino audience. Television station KTLA simulcasts Spanish dialogue for news and some entertainment shows. Disc jockeys on oldies-but-goodies radio station KRLA sometimes give call letters a bilingual twist.
Along with the economics, the social bottom line of the Latino media boom is reinforcement of the Spanish language and Latino identity by media and advertisers playing off Latin themes.
"There are a lot of economic factors pushing for reverse assimilation," said Carlos Arce of Nu+Stats, an Austin, Tex., research firm. "The direction we have gone on the continuum of assimilation has been reversed. There is an increasing ability and desire to retain the Spanish language and Hispanic interests."