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toward EQUALITY : EXPLORING A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE : KTLA-TV: Setting a Example for Bilingual Television Broadcasting

February 13, 1989|VICTOR VALLE | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles' KTLA-TV (Channel 5) was the nation's first station to simultaneously broadcast programs in English and Spanish.

In 1984, the Federal Communications Commission permitted some TV stations to split up their single monaural sound track into four audio channels--a second for stereo, a third for a foreign language track and a fourth for data transmission. Viewers with specially equipped stereo TV sets can choose between an English or a Spanish-dubbed sound track of the same picture by pushing a button.

KTLA's first Spanish broadcast was "The Love Boat." Since then, the station's bilingual programming has grown to 20 hours a week, including series, feature films, Angels baseball games and "News at 10." The station has also produced special projects, including 48 hours of live coverage during the Pope's 1987 visit.

In the last few months, KHJ-TV and KTTV have aired English-Spanish simulcasts of news shows, while cable movie channels HBO and Cinemax will begin simulcasting selected movies early next year.

Steve Bell, KTLA's general manager , estimates that between 35% and 40% of Los Angeles County's television audience is Latino. Still, he said that until recently many in the TV industry either derided or ignored KTLA's bilingual experiment. Bell spoke with Times staff writer Victor Valle.

"We thought we were doing something quite significant. It was amazing to us that the (local) media didn't look at it that way. They looked at it as something beneath contempt, as not really interesting. They belittled it. We didn't expect that kind of arrogant contempt from the trade media.

"I always felt the one thing about L.A. was that the American dream was alive and well here. You didn't have to impose limits on what you could accomplish, except if you were an ethnic, and particularly, if you were Hispanic.

"Just look at the demographics of Los Angeles, and you'll realize what's coming. You'd better be ready for a change in your audience or you're going to have to play catch up.

"Doing it (bilingual broadcasting) because you're a local station that takes its community seriously is one thing. But that doesn't seem to motivate many people. What motivated them was the potential of selling air time. If I had known that was the spark it took, we would've (sold commercials) a long time ago."

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