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Rock 105.3's Mikey Esparza once called members of a local Hispanic band "beaners" on the air and was once suspended after making a joke about the murder of a young girl ("...that's why I don't use duct tape; I use nylon rope"). Six months after Howard Stern left "terrestrial" airwaves for satellite radio, Esparza seems to have won most local Stern listeners.

In the latest quarterly Arbitron ratings, Mikey's morning yackfest is number one in the 18--34 demographic. Local radio listeners in that age range prefer talk over music in the morning; Arbitron says the "music intensive" FM-94/9 morning show comes in 7th place while the music-and-talk Cantore in the Morning show on 91X comes in at 13th place.

"I guess it helps if you have Jesus on your side," says a DJ whose program airs during the same time slot as Esparza's. "He even has a billboard that says 'Christian.' " Rock 105.3 paid for outdoor advertising that included one-word descriptions of Esparza next to his photo. On the air, Esparza talks about his religious beliefs and how he is recovering from substance abuse.

Should Mikey Show ratings hold, insiders speculate that pay for the crew of six will be increased when their contract comes up for renewal. One radio executive estimates that talent for competing morning-radio talk shows Dave, Shelly, and Chainsaw and Jeff and Jer each get compensated between $5 million and $7 million per year. The executive says Rock 105.3 is getting a bargain; he estimates The Mikey Show people are guaranteed $1 million a year or less.

Though Dave, Shelly, and Chainsaw and Jeff and Jer continue to be number one and two among listeners in the older 25--54 age range, the programs don't generate the huge ratings they did in past years.

Meanwhile, radio insiders wonder how long Stern's replacement on Free FM (103.7) can last. The L.A.-based Adam Carolla Show is in 18th place among 18--34 listeners and in 22nd place among those aged 25--54. Free FM (formerly called the Planet) is now all talk. Stern's replacement on the East Coast, David Lee Roth, has already been yanked off the air.

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