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With Barreto Silenced by Impasse, KLVE Talks Continue

September 25, 1998|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pepe Barreto didn't have to get up before sunrise Thursday. He didn't have to get on the empty freeways for the 30-minute commute to work in the predawn chill. In fact, for the first weekday morning in 13 years, Barreto didn't have anything to do.

And those around him said he hated it.

Barreto, whose morning drive-time show on Spanish-language radio station KLVE-FM (107.5) has ranked either first or second in the Arbitron rankings since March 1995, was placed on indefinite leave after Wednesday's show. Barreto's contract with the station expired in June, and although he continued to work while negotiating for a new deal, station President and General Manager Richard Heftel had promised he would take him off the air if an agreement wasn't reached before the fall ratings period began.

That period began Thursday.

"If you want to blame somebody, blame me," Heftel said. "[But] I expect a positive resolution to the matter, and I expect him back on the air soon."

Neither Heftel nor Bill Skrzyniarz, Barreto's representative, would hazard a guess at how long the talks, which began six months ago, would continue. Nor would either side discuss details. But sources say the impasse has nothing to do with money. One confidant of Barreto said the deejay needed time off the air to attend to family problems, but his agent denied that report. He said the 51-year-old Barreto, who has been KLVE's morning deejay since 1985, is simply seeking an increased role with the station.

"He wants more freedom and more flexibility," Skrzyniarz said. "What we're going to do . . . is look at other options within the station, other things inside the station that maybe he could be doing."

The talks have been amicable and the station is reportedly paying Barreto during his leave, despite the fact he's no longer under contract. But Barreto has talked to at least three other stations--including KIIS-FM (102.7), an English-language rock station, and KLAX-FM (97.9), a Spanish-language music station currently without a morning deejay. However, those talks were not considered serious.

"We like KLVE. It's been a safe and familiar place," Skrzyniarz said. "Both sides have a mutual desire [to settle this]. We're taking a break here to force the parties to focus."

Barreto is one of Southern California's most respected Spanish-language media personalities. In addition to his top-ranked radio show, he also works as an entertainment reporter for KMEX-TV Channel 34, and he has won dozens of awards for his service to the community.

The son of a soldier and a housewife, Barreto grew up in the Peruvian capital of Lima, where he worked for the Voice of America and U.S. Armed Forces Radio before immigrating to Los Angeles in the early 1970s. He bounced among half a dozen TV and radio stations, working in both English and Spanish, before landing at KLVE.

His career really took flight four years ago when Heftel brought the programming team of Bill Tanner and Pio Ferro in to refine KLVE's format of adult-contemporary music. Within months, Barreto's morning program was the top-ranked show in the market and KLVE has been the No. 1 station overall for all but three of the past 30 months.

During Barreto's absence, KLVE's 5-10 a.m. morning show will be run by his longtime assistant, Pelukas. Barreto's voice wasn't completely absent Thursday morning, however: The station is continuing to air commercials he taped before Wednesday.

Barreto did not return numerous calls seeking comment.

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