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With Southern California's large percentage of people speaking Spanish, it's not surprising that there are two television stations--KMEX and KVEA--devoted solely to Spanish-speaking audiences.

And Hollywood-based KWHY--a financial news channel from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.--devotes 11 of its remaining hours to Spanish-language programming. Several other local broadcast stations feature shows directed to the Latino audience.

While the primarily Spanish-language networks like to emphasize their distinctiveness, they share several similarities. Thirty-year-old KMEX, a Univision station, and 8-year-old KVEA, part of the Telemundo Station Group, each have local offices: KMEX in Westchester and KVEA in Glendale. However, both Univision and Telemundo are based in Miami, and what is not produced locally comes from Florida, or is imported from Latin America.

Programs--soaps called novelas , news shows, movies--may be similar in nature but are often counterprogrammed so that like-minded shows do not air opposite each other.

KVEA and KMEX "are in a competitive business," says David Bright, research director for KVEA. "We both appeal to Hispanics, and our programming strategy is very similar to the one employed in the general market. KMEX is very strong with their novelas in prime time and we compete by putting movies in that time slot. The movies have more of a male appeal, so we must woo women. But that's a clear example of our counterprogramming. Our afternoon and morning programming also works in the same way: In the mornings, when they have their novelas , we show a movie there as well."

"Our most popular shows have been the novelas ," says Maria Esther Beltran, KMEX director of programming and traffic.

Spanish-language programming also includes strong doses of magazine-style shows, children's programs, talk shows and variety shows.

KVEA's Bright notes that the station's most popular show has been " Cine Millionario, " ("Million Dollar Movie") which provides a combination of dubbed English-language theatrical movies as well as original Spanish-language movies.

"The most popular shows here are the movies and novelas," says KWHY's Eddie Dominguez.

Nearly all of KWHY's programming is from Mexico, with the exception of two public-affairs shows. Hosted by Dominguez, " Foro 22 " ("Forum 22") airs twice a month (Sunday 9:30 a.m.). " Para Jovenez " ("For Youth") is a teen-talk show (Saturday 9:30 a.m.).

"We talk about things that are important to our community," Dominguez says. " 'Foro 22' has addressed such issues as the hunger strike at UCLA and the splitting up of the school district. ' Para Jovenez ' has talked about suicide, self-esteem, racial relations, gun control in high schools, graffiti, gang violence and teen pregnancy."

One show's popularity surprised KWHY executives: The audience "really likes wrestling matches with Mil Mascaras, who's sort of the Hulk Hogan of Mexico," says Dominguez. (Wrestling airs Sundays 4-7 p.m.)

It's not only Spanish-language stations that discovered that news in Spanish is big business. In the fall, CNN will launch CNN International (CNNI), which will feature live Spanish-news broadcasts at 1:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on cable systems that can accommodate the additional channel. The service already is available in more than 1 million homes and 50,000 hotel rooms in Latin America and was most recently carried by Telemundo on KVEA.

"There's a hunger for news," KVEA's Bright acknowledges. "Because the bulk of our audience is from Mexico, we make sure to cover earthquakes, tidal waves, whatever is going on in the homeland. Our news isn't just a regurgitation of (network) news. News has to be different for the Hispanic market."

KMEX features two locally produced newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m. and national-international news from Miami at 6:30 and 11:30 p.m. KVEA offers similar news programming at 6, 6:30 and 11 p.m.

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