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KLAX's Mission Statement

New programming director Martin Fabian promises his deejays will put station on top again.


A couple of co-workers rushed Eddie Cancela into a crowded conference room above the KLAX-FM (97.9) studios one day last month, ostensibly for an important meeting. But when he burst through the door, the station general manager found the room crowded not with deep-pocketed clients, but with clerks, technicians and secretaries. And the table was covered not with sales charts and financial reports but with a birthday cake and boxes of takeout pizza.

For Cancela, a high-energy, backslapping kind of boss, the surprise birthday party was a perfect opportunity for a pep talk.

"We're going forward little by little. Now we've got to stay focused," he encouraged the crowd, first in English, then in heavily accented Cuban Spanish. "We're going to be No. 1. We're going to be No. 1 again in this market."

That's a message heard frequently around KLAX's West Los Angeles offices these days. Although the station has lost nearly two-thirds of its audience since dropping from the top spot in the Los Angeles radio rankings four years ago--a free fall that three general managers, three program directors and a host of deejay combinations failed to arrest--it now appears serious about launching a comeback. Spanish Broadcasting System, the station's Florida-based parent company, invested well over $1 million in the past five months to upgrade KLAX's signal, hire new personnel and launch an aggressive sales and marketing campaign.

"La X needed a change and that's what we did," says Jose Grimalt, SBS' senior vice president.

Yet the station's success will ultimately be determined by what it puts on the air, and the responsibility for that lies with a confident 30-year-old from Nuevo Leon, Mexico, who, in the past decade, directed stations in Mexico's three largest cities to the top spot in their respective markets. And Martin Fabian promises his handpicked team of deejays will do the same here.

"With new personnel, [we] will be No. 1 again," he says. "We've been No. 1 in Mexico for 10 years in whatever market we've been in. That's why we're here."

Fabian's new team, which includes Tomas Rubio, Pepe Garza and Alberto Martin Perez, has only been on the air 12 weeks, yet it's already made its presence felt. According to February's survey of listening trends, KLAX's audience is up nearly a point since the last three-month Arbitron ratings were released in January, and the afternoon drive-time show, hosted by former top-ranked morning deejays Juan Carlos Hildago and "El Peladillo," ranks second to KLVE-FM's Pio Ferro among Spanish-language stations.

Although the station's staple will continue to be regional Mexican music, one of Fabian's first innovations was to chop daily programming into a number of one- and two-hour personality-driven shows that leaves KLAX's lineup looking more like a prime-time TV grid than a radio schedule. He also added two daily shows of Spanish-language oldies while at the same time sharpening the cutting edge of Spanish-language music by giving generous amounts of air time to up-and-coming artists. The result is a clash of styles that seem to have little in common.

"Everything I've heard discussed about radio, Martin is doing contrary to that," says General Sales Manager Juan R. Navarro, who came to KLAX from Riverside-based KSSE-FM (97.5) in November. "He's going about it totally the wrong way. You can't be everything to everyone.

"But his formula has worked for him in the past. And based on the first trend, it's going to work here."

The son of a cook and a butcher who met by accident while planning a trek across the U.S. border in the early '60s, Fabian got his start in radio as an 18-year-old in his hometown of Monterrey. Two years later, he was promoted to program director, a confidence he rewarded by taking the station to the top spot in Mexico's third-largest market. He then did the same thing with stations in Mexico City and Guadalajara.

More Than Just a Game: When KXTA-AM (1150) bought the radio rights to Dodger baseball for the 1998 season, which began Tuesday, station President and General Manager Roy Laughlin took over one of the most storied broadcast teams in baseball history--a team that includes Hall of Fame broadcasters Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrin and Spanish-language pioneer Rene Cardenas. But if you listen to Laughlin, the biggest prize might be Richard Choi.

That's because Choi, who described a few dozen Dodger games for Radio Korea in recent years, brought baseball to a community buoyed by the success of pitcher Chan Ho Park, the first Korean to reach the major leagues. So at Laughlin's urging, Radio Korea--KBLA-AM (1580)--will up its number of Dodger broadcasts to 60 this season, home and away.

In addition, Laughlin expects KAZN-AM (1300) to carry 25 games in Mandarin, and there are plans for Internet Webcasts of as many as 50 games in Japanese, 50 in Korean and 50 in Chinese "so we can have a full season of Asian broadcast," Laughlin says.

Add those to seven planned Russian broadcasts on KMNB-AM--the first ever regular-season baseball broadcasts in Russian--and the 162 Dodger games carried in English by KXTA, and Spanish, on KWKW-AM (1330), and the stadium press box suddenly becomes a very diverse place. Which, Laughlin quickly points out, is exactly as it should be.

"Los Angeles is the biggest collision of cultures in the history of the world," he says. "Now in . . . a community like that, a collision of cultures like that, you've got to look for things that unify it, not separate it.

"Baseball can do that."

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