Perplexed staffers at City Hall once called Channel 5 to ask why Mayor Tom Bradley had heard a woman's voice speaking in Spanish as he watched anchorman Hal Fishman deliver the news.
The answer was simple: someone at the mayor's residence had inadvertently pressed a button switching the set's audio to the simultaneous broadcast in another language. The female voice was that of Analia Sarno Riggle, the KTLA "News at 10" Spanish interpreter.
"The call became a legend, but it also underscored the importance of the simulcast system for our channel," said KTLA publicity manager Ed Harrison, in recalling the incident that occurred four years ago.
In October, 1984, KTLA became the first English-language television station in Los Angeles to simultaneously broadcast news and several other programs in English and Spanish by using second audio program (SAP) technology.
This technology has also provided the means for the Spanish-language transmission of the "MacNeil/Lehrer News-Hour," which last month became the first regular nationwide program to employ the simulcast system. The English-language program is being transmitted in Spanish by 36 public television stations across the country, including KCET in Los Angeles. Before this technological advance--which involves inclusion of a second audio band in the signal beamed by the stations--television broadcasters wishing to offer bilingual programming had to do so through agreements with radio stations.
KTLA attributes part of the success of its 10 p.m. newscast to the SAP Spanish simulcast.
"We believe the simulcast has been an important factor in increasing our audience share, which has grown considerably among Hispanics," said Harrison.
The Nielsen report on the Los Angeles Latino market in November, 1985, showed that KTLA's "News at 10" had 6% of the Latino households watching TV at the time of the survey. Four years later, in November, 1989, the news program's share of the Latino market has risen to 11%, about 53,000 households, Harrison said.
A large part of that success is attributed to Sarno Riggle, who every night becomes the voice of Fishman, Jann Carl, Larry McCormick and other newscasters. The trade journal Television/Radio Age described her work as "enough to test anyone's sanity."
From the moment she enters her triangular soundproof booth and adjusts her headphones in front of a TV monitor, she talks nonstop for a full hour (except commercials), interpreting from 40 to 44 news items in the nightly newscast.
"It isn't easy; more words are required to express something in Spanish than in English, and I must say them in the same amount of time," Sarno Riggle said. "The word order is not the same either, adjectives in English come before the nouns, and I often have to wait for the anchors to get through two or three adjectives before I know who they are talking about."
Idioms "are a headache," especially in the sports segment, said Sarno Riggle, who has interpreted KTLA's newscasts for five years.
"It is easy to make a mistake. . . . For instance, in English the strait that separates England from France is called the English Channel, while in Spanish it is the Canal de la Mancha," the Argentine-born interpreter said.
"It is very important to speak a neutral Spanish, since I'm trying to be understood by everybody and not one group in particular," she said.
Other English-language stations also are now using SAP technology to regularly broadcast the news and other shows in Spanish: KCAL Channel 9; KTTV Channel 11, and KCET Channel 28.
Channel 9 began its SAP simulcasts in October, 1988, when it was still called KHJ. Sari Bermudez, who heads the KCAL simulcast team, is a native of Mexico City. She once was the host of KMEX Channel 34's program "Los Angeles Ahora" as well as Univision network's "Mundo Latino."
Last March 5, KCAL began a Spanish simulcast of its three-hour, Monday through Friday news program. For this task Bermudez is paired with interpreter Miguel Angel Rodriguez. "Miguel Angel interprets the male voices and I do the females," Bermudez said.
Arturo Gonzalez, news director for twin radio stations KTNQ-KLVE, is the Spanish news interpreter for KTTV, Channel 11. Gonzalez studied in San Antonio, to become a Spanish teacher.
Since Sept. 14, KCET has been regularly airing a Spanish simulcast of the Emmy award-winning series "By the Year 2000." The public television station also uses Sarno Riggle as its interpreter.
Before airing "By the Year 2000," KCET had broadcast some programs in Spanish, including "AIDS, Hispanics at Risk" and "In the Shadow of the Law," a special on immigration.
Although they have the SAP technology, none of the three local stations affiliated with the major networks--KABC, KCBS and KNBC--has used it for Spanish simulcast of news or other programs on a regular basis. Spokesmen for KNBC, KCBS and KABC said they have researched the viability of using SAP but have no definite plans for it.