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, “Escúchame: the History of Spanish Language Broadcasting in the U.S.” The museum has world-class collections related to radio and television but until recently had few objects that represented the founding of the earliest Latino-owned and operated stations in the 1940s and 1950s, or 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 collecting initiative, the museum is documenting stories from early stations in California, Texas, Miami, New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico. Curators have traveled the nation and collected objects that include advertising, business records, employee ID badges, traffic-log books, photographs, scripts, reporters’ notebooks, mic cubes, radio and television programs, and clothing. 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 Mirós 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.
Recent additions to the collection come from Univision’s KMEX and Network Headquarters in Miami as well as from four historic Telemundo stations. 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. More than 100 Spanish-language television employees, ranging in positions from reporters, engineers, and advertising and marketing professionals, have participated in oral histories for the Escuchame project. The museum has transcribed most of the interviews and expects to be able to make them available to researchers and the public in late fall of 2021.
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 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.
For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu.