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Station Tuned In to L.A.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Synchronized swimmers: When KCMG-FM (100.3) introduced its format of rhythmic oldies last November on the frequency formally filled by dance music station KIBB, that’s what greeted the 250 potential advertisers invited to the celebration at the poolside Skybar atop the Mondrian Hotel. It may have been the first launch party in radio history in which nose plugs played a crucial role.

Nine months later, however, the whole thing has proved to be a good idea--the new format, that is, not the synchronized swimmers. That’s because KCMG--called Mega 100--has gone from a standing start to 12th place among Southland radio stations, more than doubling KIBB’s audience. In last week’s Arbitron ratings, it garnered a respectable 3.1% audience share, just a fraction of a point behind such traditional heavyweights as KRTH-FM (101.1), KROQ-FM (106.7) and KIIS-FM (102.7).

“It was pretty clear that this format was going to work,” says music director Ricci Filiar. “The passion level for this music, and its mass appeal, [is] very strong. This format, this station, was custom-built for L.A.”

Custom-built, that is, with material collected during months of research--research aimed at finding a segment of the market’s radio audience with no station to call its own. What the studies determined was that a format aimed at 25-to-49-year-old, English-speaking Latinos, skewing female, could be successful in luring fringe listeners away from more established oldies and urban music stations.

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What the studies didn’t predict, however, was how much broader the format’s appeal would be. With a well-defined playlist of rhythmic oldies by the likes of Santana, War, Kool & the Gang and Marvin Gaye, plus slow jams from Heatwave, the Stylistics and others, KCMG was quickly reaching across ethnic lines and winning a vast multicultural audience of Latinos, whites, blacks and Asians.

“What [KCMG] has done, when you really break it down, has redefined what oldies are,” Filiar says. “This radio station, everything about it, is reinventing radio.”

For years, many English- and Spanish-language media companies have tended to look at Southern California’s burgeoning Latino population in monolithic terms, assuming its members liked the same music and spoke the same language. In response, many English-dominant Latinos have militantly broken ranks and set off in search of their own cultural space. KCMG, with such popular on-air personalities as Monica Brooks, Jeff Wyatt, Benny Martinez and Xavier Soriano and a playlist rich in English-speaking Latino artists, proved a welcome home.

To drive the point home, the Chancellor Media-owned station staged major promotional events at Olvera Street on Cinco de Mayo and at the Mariachi USA festival at the Hollywood Bowl.

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“We’ve been very aware that there was a sizable audience that’s second- and third-generation and whatnot that only speaks English,” says Don Parker, the station’s operations manager. “So there’s not a barrier there.”

And there are no plans to erect one any time soon; KCMG won’t be experimenting with bilingual programming as other stations in the market have done.

The music mix is also unique to KCMG--so distinctive, in fact, that some club deejays around the Southland have christened the sound “Mega music” after the station’s name.

“The music is generational,” Filiar says. “The music is passed down from generation to generation to generation. And it’s fresh to each generation, and it stays live forever. The music is just as good to new listeners who haven’t heard it before as it is to people who grew up with it.”

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Goooal!!! The recently concluded World Cup soccer tournament in France provided a major boost for KWKW-AM (1330) and tiny KVCA-AM (670), both of which carried Radio Unica’s Spanish-language broadcasts of the games.

Just how much of a boost is hard to say with any certainty: The most recent Arbitron ratings, which measure listenership, covered just two weeks of the six-week tournament. But anecdotal evidence was enough to please Jim Kalmenson, KWKW’s vice president and general manager.

“The World Cup, for us, was one of the great moments in KWKW history,” said Kalmenson, who said his office was flooded by more than 1,000 faxes regarding its tournament coverage. “Ask the advertisers about the response they got. The results were incredible.”

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Officials at Miami-based Radio Unica, the nation’s only 24-hour, Spanish-language radio network, were almost as effusive, crediting the tournament for giving their 7-month-old network immediate credibility.

“To say that we were well received would be an understatement,” says Nickie Jurado, the network’s director of communications. “The most significant growth and advancement we were able to make was branding-wise. Look at NBC. It took years for the general public to learn what the peacock was.

“This definitely puts us two years ahead of schedule.”

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Star Quality: Dodgers announcer Jaime Jarrin, who will be inducted into the broadcasters’ wing of the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, will have his name placed on a star along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame on Sept. 14.

Jarrin, who has described more than 6,000 games in his four decades with the Dodgers, is only the second Spanish-language radio personality to receive a star, following Humberto Luna of KTNQ-AM (1020), who was honored in 1990. He’s also the second Dodger broadcaster to be so honored: Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully earned his star in 1982.

The Dodgers and KWKW, which have carried Dodger games in Spanish during most of the team’s 41 seasons in Los Angeles, are also planning to salute Jarrin on his Hall of Fame induction during pregame ceremonies Aug. 9 at Dodger Stadium.


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