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KMAX Reaches Out to Hispanic Viewers

KMAX Sacramento, Calif., is dipping into Spanish-language broadcasting. For five hours each morning, the Viacom-owned UPN station interprets its successful morning show, Good Day Sacramento, for the market's Hispanic population, via the Secondary Audio Program (SAP) feed.

KMAX interpreters work in teams of two. But where SAP is usually a direct translation of English-language scripts, the KMAX feed is original and extemporaneous. The interpreters work on a five-second delay, recounting the show's news and features in their own words. (Airing since late November, the show's Hispanic ratings for February sweeps won't be available from Nielsen until May.)

One immediate bonus: Good Day Sacramento en Español is sellable. Regional mattress company Sleep Train signed on as the exclusive first-year sponsor. KMAX plans to sell sponsorships for particular segments.

The Spanish version is the brainchild of VP/GM Bruno Cohen, formerly CNBC's business programming chief. He was impressed with the market's heavy Hispanic composition. Sacramento now ranks as the 12th-largest Hispanic market with a population projected at 797,000 in 2005, or 22% of the population. “This is part of Sacramento's lifeblood,” says Cohen.

Yet KMAX offered no Spanish-language fare, an oversight Cohen was eager to correct. The station carried one of the top English-language shows popular with Hispanic viewers—WWE Smackdown—which offered an SAP feed. KMAX didn't have the requisite technology to carry it. For about $10,000, the station installed a translation device.

Then Cohen turned his sights on KMAX's local programming.

The station offers 31 local hours per week, an aggressive tally for any station, particularly a UPN outlet. Good Day Sacramento airs seven days a week and is typically the second-highest-rated morning show in the market, behind powerhouse NBC affiliate KCRA. In February, KCRA's 6 a.m. news grabbed a 4.0 rating/20 share, and KMAX nabbed 2.4/12. ABC affiliate KXTV was third with 2.2/11. Univision's morning show recorded 0.4/2.

But rather than use closed-captioning, the most common way to deliver Spanish translations, Cohen utilizes SAP, which he says is more attractive to viewers and advertisers. KHTV Little Rock, Ark., also offers an SAP simulcast of its 10 p.m. news, and CBS O&O KPIX San Francisco translates its 11 p.m. news.

So KMAX hired Martha Garcia, a former diplomatic translator and Spanish teacher. With most programs, scripts are written in advance, and a translator reads from an advance copy. But on Good Day Sacramento, the anchors often banter. “When they ad-lib, there is no way to follow them,” says Garcia. Plus, the five-hour broadcast was grueling for one person.

Cohen simply hired more interpreters and suggested a model akin to sports broadcasting. On a baseball telecast, the play-by-play announcer describes what is unfolding on the field, while a color analyst provides context and insight. KMAX interpreters could do both: relay what the English-language hosts do in terms that make sense to Spanish speakers.

Then he made the interpreters on-air personalities. KMAX built a radio booth off to the side of the set, and the English-language hosts worked them into the ensemble. Several times an hour, they ask their Spanish-language colleagues for a word of the day or how to translate a feature. The tab is about $25,000 to update the studio and technology, plus the cost of the interpreters.

Ratings, however, are still unknown. Yet, armed with anecdotal evidence as a guide, Cohen is expecting a spike: “We are giving people new reasons to watch.”

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