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RADIO | * AROUND THE DIAL

Veteran Executive (and Former Bullfighter) Teddy Fregosa Is Not the Retiring Kind

January 22, 1998|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stepping across the threshold of Teddy Fregosa's modest Sunset Boulevard office is something like passing through a time portal. Decades-old photos of long-dead or retired personalities from the fledgling days of Spanish-language radio in Los Angeles fill the room, and Fregosa is quickly waxing nostalgic about a time when hard-drinking station owners sold their signals for just a few thousand dollars and deejays "had to sell ads and collect [payments] and sweep the floors."

"But it was fun," he adds with a bright smile. "It was different. It was . . . very romantic."

Today, Southern California's top Spanish-language stations are worth several million dollars, deejays pull down six-figure salaries without going near a broom, and the romance has largely given way to the pressures of big business. But while Fregosa, general manager of XRPS-AM (1090), may not be having as much fun as he did in the old days, he has never considered getting out.

"I'm going to retire," he promises, "the day I die."

That day figures to be a long way off. Through Fregosa recently turned 72, he looks at least 15 years younger and keeps a schedule that people half his age would have trouble matching, traveling frequently, meeting regularly with advertisers--even taking occasional turns behind the microphone.

But perhaps the clearest sign that Fregosa remains in top form came last November when he outmaneuvered a number of competitors to win the broadcast rights to Anaheim Angels baseball for the next two seasons.

Yet despite both his longevity and shrewdness as a businessman, Fregosa's greatest asset is his unparalleled success in judging talent. He helped launch the U.S. careers of major personalities such as Jaime Jarrin, Humberto Luna, Pepe Barreto, Amalia Gonzalez, Pepe Rolon and Antonio Gonzalez, among others. As a group, Fregosa's students have helped build Los Angeles into the largest, most diverse Spanish-language radio market in the United States.

"He hired me without even listening to me," marvels Barreto, whose morning show on KLVE-FM (107.9) has topped the local Arbitron ratings for most of the past three years. "He helped me so much and I am so grateful to him. I will always be thankful to Teddy Fregosa for everything that I am.

"He has helped a lot of people. He's one of a kind."

The secret to finding talent, Fregosa insists, is simple: Just give people a chance.

"I believe in the talent and I believe in the truthfulness of the presentation," he says. "How can you tell if you have a good boxer unless you give him some fights? Or if a bullfighter is good if you don't give him some corridos?"

Which isn't to say Fregosa suffers fools lightly. Gentlemanly polite and mannerly at most times, he is also old-fashioned to a fault and can frequently be difficult to please.

"I can spot a phony a mile away. If [a deejay] is bad, he will have a very short life with me," Fregosa promises. "I have a bad temper. I'm a very nice man, but if I don't like something. . . ."

As an example, he tells the story of his most recent discovery, XPRS morning deejay Carlos Magana, a dynamic 25-year-old newcomer whom Fregosa describes as "very talented." Yet the first time he saw Magana waiting outside his office, Fregosa sternly directed him to the bathroom.

"But I'm not here to use the bathroom. I'm here for a job," Magana protested.

" 'Well, then go to the bathroom and take that earring out,' " Fregosa recalls ordering him. "When he got back, I said, 'You're hired. You start tomorrow.' Today he drives a BMW and his second car is a Mercedes."

And he hasn't worn the earring since.

*

Born 20 seconds into Christmas morning of 1925 in a small-town church in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Fregosa almost failed to make it to Christmas afternoon when he was unable to breathe on his own. The priest, who had given Fregosa's parents a place to stay after their car broke down, quickly baptized the newborn, who recovered before the last rites became necessary.

That wasn't the last time Fregosa, one of 16 children, would tempt fate, however. At the age of 14, he left home to become a bullfighter.

"But I was a bad bullfighter," he remembers.

Apparently he had enough talent--or speed--to survive two years in the ring before turning to an only slightly less cutthroat profession--music. And he has done demonstrably better at that, composing a number of hits, including "Sabras que te querio," a Latin American standard that has been recorded by more than 300 artists, from Javier Solis to Placido Domingo.

His nascent musical talents drew the attention of two deejays in Mexico City who urged him to supplement his then-meager songwriting salary with a regular job on the radio, which he got.

He came to Los Angeles in 1950, landing first at KRKD-AM (1150), where he broadcast a two-hour Spanish-language show each morning beginning at 4 a.m. Three years later, he jumped to KWKW, and when the station switched to full-time Spanish-language programming a year later, Fregosa helped ease the transition.

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