Spanish Language Broadcast History

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is working to document and tell the story of Spanish-language broadcasting in the U.S. with an emphasis on television, as part of an initiative, “Escuchame: the History of Spanish Language Broadcasting in the U.S.” The museum has world-class collections related to television but until recently had few objects that represented the founding of the earliest Spanish-language broadcast stations in San Antonio, Texas and San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 1940s and 1950s and the development of networks beginning with the Spanish International Network in 1961 through to the networks today known as Telemundo and Univision.

As part of the initiative, the museum is seeking to document stories from early Telemundo and Univision stations in Texas, New York, New Jersey, Miami, California and Puerto Rico as well as other public and independent stations. Curators have traveled the nation and collected objects that include business records, traffic log books, photographs of station personnel, scripts, clothing worn by on-air talent, recorded television footage and promotional objects such as signage, mic heads, and other branded materials. Objects are chosen based on the stories they represent as well as insight into personal and community histories involving Spanish-language broadcasting. In addition, the museum is recording oral histories with employees across all aspects of the business from traffic, sales and marketing, engineering, production, management and on-air talent to document a broad history of Spanish-language television.

The museum collected from KCOR, a radio station opened by Raoul A. Cortez in 1946, in San Antonio, Texas, where he broadcasted in Spanish and addressed the needs of the Mexican American and immigrant communities. He would later receive a broadcasting license for KCOR-TV which would become KWEX-TV in the early 1960s. The museum highlighted Cortez’ story on the biography wall of its business exhibition, “American Enterprise” and his story and influence on broadcast media were featured in the 2015 inaugural display in the exhibit’s “New Perspectives” case. The museum’s collections include the typewriter Cortez used when he began his career at the Spanish-language newspaper, La Prensa, a KCOR radio microphone and an Aztec mask that once adorned the former KWEX-TV building.

Materials from the career of New York-based broadcaster, theater and screen actress and author Gilda Miros were also added to this collection. Born in Puerto Rico, Miros worked with numerous radio and television stations including WADO-AM, WJIT-AM and WBNX-AM radio stations in New York; WXTV-TV, Channel 41 (Univision) and WNJU-TV, Channel 47 (Telemundo), both in the New York metropolitan area; While working for the Spanish Broadcasting System at WQBA-AM in Miami, she hosted the first national live daily show to run simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles from Florida. Miros also worked at WWFE-AM in Miami as well as for the national Telemundo Television Network and Telemiami Cable Network. Her career began in the 1960s in cinema and on TV dramas.

The most recent addition to the collections comes from Telemundo. More than 40 Telemundo current and former employees contributed to the initiative either by participating in oral history interviews about their role in Spanish-language broadcasting and/or by contributing to the collection of objects that reflect the material culture of broadcasting. Among the objects added are more than 30 press credentials reflecting “Noticiero Telemundo” Anchor José Diaz Balart’s journalism career; scripts, photographs, microphone cubes and a Florida Emmy Award capture the work of Marilys Llanos, senior reporter at WSCV-TV; a pair of painted tennis shoes illustrated with personal and career highlights from KVEA-TV Anchor Dunia Elvir and two costumes from “Tanairi,” one of the most famous telenovelas produced by WKAQ-TV, which was one of the primary industry pioneers in the development of Spanish-language programming. The collection also includes promotional materials, employee ID badges, Telemundo branding guidelines and various materials showing the evolution of the network’s logo; photographs of staff, talent and images that show Telemundo support and participation in community events. The family of WNJU-TV Journalist Hector Aguilar donated a suit coat, pocket squares and glasses representing his on-air presence at the station and his life-long career in Spanish-language radio and TV.  

The Spanish-language broadcasting initiative has received support from Guillermo Nicolas, president of 3N Group, LLC and one of Cortez’ grandsons, the Telemundo Network and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

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