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World Cup Goal

Radio Unica is using its exclusive Spanish-language rights to the event as a building block.

June 04, 1998|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first thing Jorge Ramos wants to make perfectly clear is that he's not that Jorge Ramos. The network news anchor who was recently named one of People magazine's most beautiful people? That's the other guy. This Jorge Ramos doesn't even have a subscription to People magazine.

"We've had some problems with that," Ramos says about being mistaken for Ramos. And to make matters worse, both are Spanish-language television journalists who once worked for the same company.

The next five weeks may go a long way toward clearing up the confusion, however. Beginning Wednesday, the lesser known Jorge Ramos will anchor Radio Unica's coverage of soccer's quadrennial World Cup, a platform that gives him an excellent opportunity to make a name for himself.

Because the tournament will be played in the afternoon and evening in France, which is nine hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time, most games will be broadcast in the morning-drive time here, when radio audiences are at their peak. In Southern California, Radio Unica's coverage can be heard on KVCA-AM (670) and KWKW-AM (1330). There are no plans for the tournament to be broadcast in English in Southern California.

"We're going to do the entire World Cup live," Ramos says, "[but] people still have to go to work. An Argentine--yeah, the day Argentina plays--is probably going to do something to watch [on TV]. But for the rest, they're going to have to listen to radio. This is a radio World Cup."

Which explains why the 6-month-old network was built almost entirely around the tournament. Its exclusive, nationwide Spanish-language rights to the event feature prominently in the network's sales pitch to prospective affiliates, more than 50 of whom took the bait and joined the network. Radio Unica also operates five stations of its own--including Simi Valley-based KVCA--and is in the process of spending $21 million to buy a sixth, 50,000-watt KBLA-AM (1580) of Los Angeles, which currently leases its air time to Radio Korea.

Ramos and the rest of his six-member team--Hernan Pereyra, Alvaro Riet, Pedro Antonio Flores, Jorge Zambrano and Carlos Caszly, who played for Chile in the 1974 and 1982 World Cups--will describe as many as four games a day, starting as early as 5:30 a.m. on the West Coast. The network will also expand its daily sports show, "Unica en Deportes," from three to four hours during the tournament.

But while 56 of the tournament's 64 games will be described live, less than half those broadcasts will be done from the game site. The fact that the tournament will be played in eight cities spread all over France creates enormous logistical and financial problems, so Ramos decided to call the first two rounds of the 32-nation event from in front of a television monitor in Radio Unica's Miami headquarters.

"There are so many games, and we have to cover so many countries that, economically, it is impossible," he said. "When most of the teams are eliminated, we can go there for the quarterfinals, semifinals and final."

Ramos, 45, has called two previous World Cups on radio--in 1986 for Radio America and in 1994 for Cadena Radio Centro. He's also worked as a television sportscaster for 16 years, first with Univision and, since 1993, with Telemundo, for whom he has anchored a number of soccer-themed programs. Between network television jobs he spent two years in Los Angeles, first at Orange County's Radio La Voz, KPLS-AM, and then at KTNQ-AM (1020). And although that experience has prepared him well for his latest assignment, Ramos admits to being aware of the additional pressures the fledgling network has placed on him. Not only have 40 major advertisers bought time on the World Cup broadcasts, but Radio Unica is hoping the tournament gives it enough momentum to continue growing after the July 12 Cup final.

It's a risky, high-stakes wager. Although the Spanish-language component is by far the fastest-growing segment of the radio market, several attempts at establishing a national Spanish-language network have been miserable failures. For Radio Unica, the World Cup has proven a vehicle for bucking that trend--at least so far. Already the network can be heard in 90% of the nation's Latino homes, a penetration rate matched only by the Univision television network among Spanish-language media and a figure CEO Joaquin Blaya had told investors and advertisers it would take a year to reach. Now it's up to Ramos to keep everyone happy.

"I'm in charge of everything so the sound on the air is going to be the sound that I want to be on the air," Ramos said. "So I do feel the pressure, but I like pressure."

And, of course, if he does well enough he just might make people forget that other Jorge Ramos.

World Cup Runneth Over: Although KWKW is neither an affiliate nor a member of Radio Unica's station group, it has reached an agreement to carry the network's World Cup coverage. And it's hoping to use the anticipated boost in listenership to introduce its new daytime programming.

Starting June 15, Antonio Gonzalez's morning news and talk show will move to the afternoon 3-6 p.m. slot. The Monday through Saturday morning-drive time, which will largely be filled with soccer through the end of June, will eventually be turned over to the comedy team of Jose de Jesus Cruz and Carlos Ortiz, who have been hired away from KMLA-FM in Ventura County.

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