For the 91st episode of the Journalism History podcast, hosted by Nick Hirshon, author Craig Allen describes how Spanish-language television networks Univision and Telemundo became ratings powerhouses by programming a unique mix of news, soccer, telenovelas and variety shows.
Craig Allen: To understand our history, you have to understand the mass media era, the era of journalism. And Spanish-language television, I’m saying, is — is essential to that. It is a core of that.
Nick Hirshon: Welcome to Journalism History, a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to re-examine the stories you thought you knew, and the ones you were never told.
Teri Finneman: I’m Teri Finneman, and I research media coverage of women in politics.
Nick Hirshon: And I’m Nick Hirshon, and I research the history of New York sports media.
Ken Ward: And I’m Ken Ward, and I research the journalism history of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.
Nick Hirshon: And together we are professional media historians guiding you through our own drafts of history. This episode is sponsored by Taylor & Francis, the publisher of our academic journal, Journalism History. Transcripts of the show are available online –
The history of American television often focuses on the Big Three networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC, all of which began regular broadcasting in the 1940s. But the influence of the medium cannot be understood without analyzing two other powerhouses: Univision, which started in 1961, and Telemundo, which came a quarter century later in 1986. Univision didn’t benefit from the traditional ingredients of national television networks. It had no preceding system of radio stations, no financing or direction from New York, no studios in Hollywood. And yet today it is often the most viewed source of television in the United States, speaking in a single voice to Latinos from various countries of origin. Cubans, Mexicans, and Colombians have –
fended off homesickness thanks to the staples of Spanish language programming: soccer, boxing, news, telenovelas, and variety programs with acrobats, dancers, and game show prizes. On this episode of the Journalism History podcast, we examine the rise of Univision and Telemundo with Craig Allen, a journalism professor at Arizona State University.
Well, Craig, welcome to the podcast to discuss your award-winning book. This is a runner-up for the AEJMC – Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication – History Division’s Book Award, so we appreciate you taking the time to come to talk to us today about Univision, Telemundo, and the Rise of Spanish-Language Television in the United States, out by University of Florida Press.
Craig Allen: Great. Nice to be here.
Nick Hirshon: So your book spans the first fifty years of network Spanish-language television starting with the debut of Univision in San Antonio in 1961 through the birth of the second Spanish-language network, Telemundo, in 1986, and you go all the way up until –
2012, and you make the argument that I’d like to explore here, that the history of Spanish-language television changes the concept of how U.S. television developed. I know you mention how it doesn’t follow the traditional model that we associate with a successful television network. So could you explain what that means?
Craig Allen: It clearly did not follow the model of what most people think of was American television in that it brought into the United States a heavy international influence. A key element in the history of Spanish-language television was a media institution in Mexico, Televisa, which actually was larger than any of the existing American television institutions we think of – CBS, ABC, NBC – and –
as a result of that — was very much positioned to start a television network in the United States. Part of my argument is that south of the American border, everything is blank, and no one has imagined that there is television power in a country like, like Mexico. In fact, because of traditions, because of laws, because of politics in Mexico, this media behemoth, Televisa, did emerge, and with that, again, brought internationalization from, of television from a very, very early stage. But I think kind of more germane to your question is how I came into it.
And I certainly was taught that, that the history of American television revolved, was centered on NBC, CBS, ABC, and everything in American television followed from the creation of those, those networks. But once you open your thinking and understand that it’s not fortress America, that there actually were television institutions that rivaled those networks, and the fact that the United States had a free media system that enabled an enterprise like Televisa to come into the United States and form a network, you soon realize there were not three but, but actually four original networks, that the pioneers of American television were not limited –
to William Paley and David Sarnoff and Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, that there were the Azcárragas, there was Rene Anselmo, people like Emilio Nicolas and Danny Villanueva, Jerry Perenchio, long list of people who were essential to the shape of American television today and the — kinda the — sorta the pivot point of what I’m saying is were audience ratings and indicators of which TV institution was which dating from largely the early to mid-2000s. And during that period, it was clear that Univision was substantially the most, single –
most popular television provider in the United States, with Telemundo not far behind. And in television, I’ve been around television my entire life. Um, there’s two questions, two questions that perpetually and perennially are raised: who’s making money and who’s number one? And I was always taught to be attentive to the answers of those questions. Well, Univision was number one, and it led me to believe that, wow, I mean our number one television institution is a blank that, that we don’t know how it formed. We don’t know anything about it. We’re locked into this idea that I must say I feel the AEJMC over the years has largely been responsible for, which is this fortress America idea. Anyway, what I try to do is open that up and there –
it changes the concept. Once you, I think once you realize that Univision — for a long period before the mass media began to decline, but at … the really sort of the end of the big media period — it was Univision that was the big media institution, it does change your concept. You have to accept what the facts showed.
Nick Hirshon: Yeah, that’s incredible the amount of research that I know you did, and I know in the introduction to the book you describe that a lot of this had not been marked down before so you’re going off of scant newspaper clippings and oral history interviews, and trying to collect this before some of the people who were the pioneers pass away and then those memories are gone. So it’s also very telling, as you’re just describing, that by the 2000s, Univision was equal to ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in the numbers of stations and properties, and sometimes it surpassed all four of those in the Nielsen ratings –
which might surprise a lot of our listeners.
Craig Allen: Yeah, and, and again I think the bottom-line importance of television in history is it designates the single most used of all of the mass media. No newspaper, no magazine, really no radio entity ever surpassed the largest television provider in attracting the largest number of people. So to me that’s always been why television is important. My whole training in television was audience: that television is there to appeal to an audience and to attract an audience and so television is important in that regard. If you carry that out further, then it seems like scholars should have interest –
in which of those television providers was in fact the very largest. And during … which was really to me sort of the end, it was prior to social media when the big media really began to decline. But at the brink of the social media period, when the big media were big, it was Univision actually exceeded those networks, and Telemundo was like the number six network. And again, if you read the history of American television, those two institutions are erased. So it’s not difficult to conclude that if we don’t know the two biggest of the biggest media entities that, you know, we’ve got a big hole in our understanding.
Nick Hirshon: I wanna go through some –
of the reasons that Univision and Telemundo became so popular. Some of it is programming that we’re gonna get into in a second, but it’s also technology. And I grew up in New York City in the 1990s and I remember having a sort of a clunky television set. I didn’t get cable television, and it had dials only for about a dozen stations on channels two to thirteen, which had the major networks. In New York, it was CBS 2, NBC 4, Fox 5, ABC 7, and so on. And I didn’t know it then but in reading your book of course it jogged my memory. You describe that these were known as very high frequency stations, VHF, and I recall there being another acronym on the dial that I didn’t know what it stood for, read UHF, which stood for ultra high frequency, and you describe how because UHF channels initially could not be received on all TVs, a lot of the English-language broadcasters avoided them, but then Spanish-language broadcasters seized on these channels, fourteen through eighty-three, and it’s not often acknowledged that UHF underpinned the development of television in the United States.
So can you describe how the founders of Spanish-language television grasped that importance of UHF to construct this fourth national TV network?
Craig Allen: Right, and of course the distinction that you just detailed no longer exists. In the digital age, that no longer exists. But sort of as a interesting aside, you would not believe the difficulties I had with the editors and the peer reviewers in trying to explain the difference between VHF and UHF, but it essentially was this. Um, as you noted the original system of television provided for those 12 VHF channels, which were the strongest channels and the ones that all television receivers were built to receive. Okay. A little bit after that, once it –
was realized how big television was going to be, they had to create more channels. So they established a different band called UHF that had about seventy channels. They initially were weaker but not that weak, and had a big problem because the early TVs were not equipped to receive those first television, first UHF channels. The reason why Spanish-language television is significant from a technological point of view, and it has a lot to do with the huge amount of money that came into the United States from Televisa to do this, but it, it was recognized at an early stage that if you –
acquired enough UHF channels, you could create a fourth network in competition with ABC, CBS, and NBC that there were abundant channels available. The thinking on the history of American television, there were only three networks because there were only enough channels for three networks, but in fact that’s a fallacy. UHF had created abundant channels, and a fourth network was possible, and in fact indeed was attempted. There was an early fourth network called the DuMont network that was initially structured to be built on UHF. It had some VHF stations in cities like New York, the big cities, but out in the hinterlands it, it was a UHF sort of proposition.
And that network failed. Well, anyway, the Azcárragas from Mexico came in and immediately noted, noted that, that they could build a network in the United States on this other band called UHF, and that’s exactly what they did. The history of American television relates that UHF was a failure, this was initially a big mistake, all UHF stations failed, it was a disaster down the, down the drain, but in fact that’s totally untrue, and Spanish-language television shows what a success that idea of UHF was because it enabled Spanish-language television to effectively go into every city.
Nick Hirshon: So in addition to this technological advantage that they seized on, uh –
there’s a lot of programming successes. So I’d like to kinda go through the categories of programming that Spanish-language television capitalized on. The first for me, as a sports fan, I was looking through some of the sports offerings, and of course we associate maybe Spanish-language television most with soccer, and I know you mentioned Pelé in your book and how they invested heavily in providing coverage of the World Cup. So what was the role of sports – not just soccer, maybe other sports – in developing an audience for Spanish-language television?
Craig Allen: Uh, with regard to sports, soccer, football, was, was clearly a signature of Spanish-language television. The other sport that was very popular, and I think Spanish-language television contributed to popularizing it among Latinos of the United States, was boxing. But clearly the history of Spanish-language television is intertwined with –
the broadcasting, the spread of soccer in the United States. I keep mentioning this name, Azcárraga. This was a Mexican broadcast dynasty. They were the founders and owners of Televisa. Um, Televisa was able to grow into really what, what at the time, what at one time was the largest television enterprise in the world, largely because the Mexican government permitted them to have a monopoly. And there were a lot of politics that I get into behind that, but nevertheless resources swelled in Televisa to the point where they were one of the leaders of international soccer. They were intertwined with FIFA and it — an early stage they had agreements with FIFA –
to televise soccer into the United States. And a big push behind the technology that Televisa funded, which brought Spanish-language television into the United States was the Azcárragas’ interest in having the rights to the World Cup. And, is greatly the result of Televisa that the World Cup was popularized. But Televisa was a pioneer in satellite communication. Lot of people don’t realize that there was major Mexican technology that contributed to the first commercial satellites that I get into. The city of Monterrey was a hub of technological development. But the Televisa drove satellite communication, which in turn drove the spread of the World Cup. And to illustrate –
that, it was the Azcárragas’ Televisa that built Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, which was the largest stadium. That was designed as a soccer stadium. That was built by the television interest in Mexico, which was the site of the 1968 tragic Olympic Games. But, but clearly, Televisa, which was the founder of Univision, was immersed in that. They were a driver of international sports. And soccer, not to deny other popular sports such as, as baseball and basketball, but soccer was head and shoulders above all of the others.
Nick Hirshon: Then if we look at entertainment on Spanish-language television, I’d like to get into one of the most famous programs there, Sábado Gigante. Uh, and the host of the show, Mario Kreutzberger, was a former tailor whose family had moved to Chile to escape Nazi death camps –
during World War II, and he adopted the stage name Don Francisco to start Sábado Gigante in 1962 in Chile, and then in 1986 the program moved to Miami. So what can you tell us about Sábado Gigante and its role in developing Spanish-language TV?
Craig Allen: Well, I could do a whole podcast on that. I remember I had first moved to Phoenix and taking my job at ASU in about 1991, reading in the Arizona Republic a big feature article on how Sábado Gigante had been just named the most, longest-running and most popular television program in the world. And I, on Saturday nights, I would tune here in Phoenix, this was kind of before the cable, I would tune to channel –
33 here to watch Univision and see that, that program. And then later there was another article just [inaudible] in the Arizona Republic about the host Mario Kreutzberger, known to gazillions as Don Francisco. But I said, “Wow. You know, I would really like to meet that guy. This — he just seems so warm and so gracious and so humble, and I’ll bet he has got one heck of a story to tell.” Well, doing, as a result of doing the work of the book, I had that opportunity. It was one of the biggest moments of the whole research process, going to Miami. And walking into his office, humble little office in the Univision complex in Miami, he’s wearing this leather, leather jacket. He was, he was older. I mean, this was around 2010, 2011.
He was, he was older. Welcomed me right in. Was just the, the kindest guy. I had my son. I had my son who was about eleven years old at the time. I took him to Miami because I wanted him to meet who I knew was going to be an immortal figure in the history of television, worldwide televi-, and he was just the … I mean the whole thing turned around from a historical interview into this, him, just a conversation about my life and my son, and it ended up with him taking my son and myself to the Univision commissary, which is, it’s like a lunchroom that studios have where people can, can get lunch at any time ’cause they’re recording at all hours, and he took my son and myself in there and treated us to lunch. And I’ve got pictures. They’re my cherished pictures. But anyway, back to how this fits in, fits into history.
Um, that show was on the air for I think a total of fifty-two years. It started in Chile, which was Kreutzberger’s home, and then in 1987 through some very interesting events that I get into, a big conflict in the history, the internal history of Spanish-language television: Was American Spanish-language television going to concentrate on domestically produced, American-produced programs that it did itself, or was it going to rely on foreign-produced programs? Sábado Gigante actually was a foreign program, but Kreutzberger had relocated to Miami and a key figure in the book, Joaquin Blaya, got him to start this program on what was then –
a ramshackle Univision station in Miami, WLTV. And it was big. The show started slowly in the ratings, but almost immediately became the number one program, number one top-rated Spanish-language television program, and it helped because it, it was half foreign, half domestic, and it helped resolve this tension over what Spanish-language television was going to be. But it went on to be iconic symbol in my view, not just of the history of Spanish-language television but all television. It was on the air a total of fifty-one years. It ceased — it went out in 2013 after having a big –
fiftieth anniversary spectacular the previous year. Um, but at that time it was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running, most-viewed program. There’s a notation in there that Kreutzberger was the most-viewed television personality in the world, making him the most-viewed human being ever in human history. Um, so all of these things enthralled me. What it did to the audience was just spellbinding on so many, so many points, so many turning point matters. It helped in part of the process that is another key internal matter in the history of Spanish-language television: the binding together –
of different Latino nationalities. Not being Latino, I was not really that versed in culturalization until I really got into the book and started hearing about it from people that were in the thick of that and dealing with the fact that there is no Hispanic population as the U.S. Census would have people believe and a lot of people would have people believe. I was told again and again, it was just pounded into me, that the Latino population is comprised of multiple diverse populations defined by their nationality. Well, obviously this was a challenge in American Spanish-language television ’cause it was comprised of immigrants and immigrant descendants from all the different, all the different countries. How are you gonna have one U.S. –
Latino audience? Sábado Gigante was important in that because it helped bind those populations. Whether you were Cuban, Mexican, Colombian-descended they all loved that show. They all loved Kreutzberger, and so very, very important development in the history of Latino affairs in the United States.
Um, I think it’s probably good to point out another aspect of entertainment, and that was a driving force in the history of Spanish-language television, the telenovela. Um, of, of all the different things that came into play in the history of Spanish-language television, I would have to say the rise and the dealings, all the affairs relating –
to the program genre telenovela was probably the most significant thing. This was a program that the Azcárragas in Televisa in Mexico City invented in 1952, and it was immediately popular among Latinos, and by that I mean Latinos in every Spanish-speaking country. The Azcárragas designed this program to appeal to a non-distinguished Spanish-language population. They were, they were produced in Mexico, but they were — they did not identify Mexico. They used a universal form of Spanish. The whole idea was universal themes and just common things that –
would enable these novelas to be sold in every Spanish-language country, and eventually in non-Spanish-language countries. This program was a key to the fall of communism. These programs were so popular in Eastern Europe it helped, it contributed to the fall of communism. I consulted in Eastern Europe and Russia, and people would recall how the blast effect of these novelas from Mexico, and some other countries but especially — were import[ant] — but anyway, not to delve too deeply into the novela, but this was the source of the intrigue of all of the, or the source of this pot stirring and all of the intrigue that, that the book entails. There was popularity. There was stardom. There was influence and big, big, big money –
entailed in these telenovelas. Some of the highest-rated programs in American television history were, were telenovelas. The telenovelas enabled Univision to become number one, and Televisa had a lock on those broadcasts.
Nick Hirshon: Another aspect as we go from sports, entertainment, and then to news, Univision had been spending at one point $20 million to produce its own news, but you write how, in 1989, Telemundo began airing a Spanish-language newscast that was fed by CNN, and that low-cost news had helped them avert bankruptcy. This eventually led to the hiring of the news anchors Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas. So what was the role of news programming in the history of Univision? I think it also gets a little bit into what you were talking about before, whether that’s going to be produced domestically or internationally. How does that all play into the history of these Spanish-language networks?
Craig Allen: This was another interesting element of, of the Mexican money and television technology and expertise moving into the United States, because although the Mexican interests, the Azcárragas, were directed toward entertainment programming, they did have an interest in news. And they were, were in a situation in which news was in sideways with forces in the United States. Televisa had this blowtorch newscast called 24 Hours hosted by what for a long time was the most familiar figure in Mexico, Jacobo –
Zabludo-, -dovsky. And that was among all the telenovelas was broadcast from Mexico. That broadcast offended many, many people because Zabludovsky, as was Televisa, was a puppet of the Mexican government, which was not always aligned with the U.S. government. Among other things, the Mexican government at that period was a friend of Fidel Castro. In Miami that is a hotbed of — was a hotbed of anti-Castro resistance. So you can imagine the effect in Miami when — when all the pro-Cuba news, slanted news reporting from Zabludovsky was shown on the news every night in Miami on Univision. But that’s just, that’s just one part of it.
Back to your question about what was happening to Telemundo with their news, what you’re alluding to was an attempt to by Telemundo to counter Univision. Telemundo – Univision began in 1961 and Telemundo began exactly twenty-five years later in 1986. At first, they both — the Telemundo and what became the modern news Univision — both premiered on New Year’s Day 1987. So they’re somewhat easy marking points. But anyway, Telemundo began in 1987 to counter Univision. One of the things they tried to do was form a news division. And so they had a lot of momentum in 1987 in doing that. Eventually –
it became very expensive for them, for Telemundo, to the point that it contributed to economic chaos and calamity at Telemundo through the 1990s that I, that I get into. It was a very, very weak very weak network in news. But at the — at the same time in that period in the late 1980s that, that you’re talking about with your question, a very interesting thing was going on at Univision, and maybe you’d like me to get into that because it’s another landmark in Spanish-language television. Okay, in 1986, what today is known as Univision was known as the Spanish-language – or the, excuse me, the Spanish International Network. That was the forerunner of, of Univision –
and it was going through a difficult period with the FCC. In fact, a landmark, the FCC — because of the Azcárragas’ foreign ownership — put it out of business. It was in violation of FCC rules requiring American ownership, so the FCC ordered that the Azcárragas get out of American television. New owners came in. Well, as a result of that, at the end of the SIN tenure in 1986, as SIN was going out, Televisa attempted to take over the SIN news operation, because although it had to end licensed broadcasting, it still could broadcast news. There’s no licensing on news. So what happened –
was an all-out commandeering of what was then the SIN national news division in 1986. And when this happened, when Televisa sent, actually sent Zabludovsky to Miami to become the new American news anchor, he was going to anchor the American news as well as the Mexican news on a channel called ECO, but he was gonna be in Miami, and again I alluded to the resistance to that, to that dimension, to Zabludovsky in Miami because there was this conflict over who liked and disliked Castro. Anyway, huge protest, one of the biggest protests ever launched over something going on in American television.
Miami was incensed by this Televisa moving in there. The anger spread all over the country to all of the Univision markets. Finally the people in the Univision newsroom, what was then the SIN newsroom, led by a figure who I got to know very well and came to love, Gustavo Godoy who, who was the news director, who actually was the pioneer of Spanish-language network news. But he was fired. He confronted Televisa with – he was fired. Uh, that triggered the biggest news mutiny in the history of American journalism. Totally erased in journalism history. This was a major development in September, October 1986, this mutiny of uh –
of Univision news personnel. An important part of that mutiny was, that, that brings it to the modern day, Jorge Ramos was one of the people involved. He had just joined the SIN news operation and chose to remain. I mean, he was a young kid. I talked to Jorge. Really a nice guy. Went over this in detail. It’s a vivid memory to him, probably more vivid than his confrontation with Donald Trump. But, nevertheless in, in his admitted naivete decided to — not join the mutineers and stay at Univision. The result of that was him getting the anchor seat as the Univision main newscaster, which he today continues to hold, what is it, almost forty years later. But that happened –
and the result of that was Televisa pulled out of Miami in a hurry. There was — they lost all of these journalists that had been, they, that had formed under Godoy at SIN, and to lead into — to circle back around to your question about what happened to Telemundo, Telemundo began something like three months later. Again, I noted that its debut was in New Year’s Day 1987. That was about two months, three months after this mutiny in Miami, this news mutiny. The founder of Telemundo, one of the founders, another key figure, Carlos Barba, persuaded all of those mutineers to come to Telemundo. Telemundo got a quick start because all of the people formerly known as what was known as the Univision news dream team –
suddenly appeared on Telemundo, and this was a big, big thorn for, for Televisa and Univision because television got huge ratings by having these Univision mutineers back on the air. José Díaz-Balart, who today is a well-known NBC anchor, and he does both English and Spanish-language television, esteemed, esteemed figure, really respected, José. He’s, he’s still active. He was one of the mutineers. He was one of the people that originally went from Univision to Telemundo in this conflagration over news values in Miami and stayed at Telemundo. NBC acquired Telemundo later and, and Díaz-Balart became big on NBC News because of that – uh, but lots of implications and just hear, just listening to the people who were involved –
in this recite just the fear and the uncertainty and their concern about the caving in of American news — I mean, we’re doing news in the United States. Are we gonna stick up for freedom, freedom to broadcast, or are we gonna have to comply with this Mexican propaganda, Zabludovsky, who’s going to come in here and through the miracle of technology broadcast Mexican propaganda on U.S. airwaves? Big, to me, a big turning point event that helped define news values. You know, I would say bigger than any of the single events, including the McCarthy matter that is associated with Edward R. Murrow. I mean this, this was really, in terms of the number of people and the clear-cut issues involved, was more definitive.
Nick Hirshon: And a shame that it has kind of gone, I guess, unnoticed in journalism history until your book.
Craig Allen: Yeah.
Nick Hirshon: Um –
Craig Allen: I would say so, yes.
Nick Hirshon: You mentioned before this concept in your book about Spanish language having the power to influence and shape the lives of its viewers, and how the United States had never had this cohesive, quote-unquote Hispanic population. Latinos were identifying with different countries of origin, and now through these networks tens of millions of U.S. Latinos re-identified as different individuals. I’d like to kind of take that point and look forward. So now that you’ve charted the history of Univision and Telemundo, but you were also referring a little bit to the social media age before. We know that we are now in an era where a lot of people are cutting the cord, so to speak, relying on streaming services. Obviously, Telemundo and Univision have adapted in some ways to that, but what do you see as the future there? There’s now maybe also a lot of immigrants who have acclimated to the United States and maybe they don’t view themselves as much as coming from a specific country. They view themselves as Americans and maybe they don’t have that attachment –
to some of this kind of Spanish-language programming, or do they? Uh, so I’d like to kind of get your viewpoint on what is the future of these.
Craig Allen: Yes. Um, sort of as another book note here, I was content to having this be a history ending in 2012, effectively the fiftieth anniversary of Univision. But there was, I would say, energetic interest by peer reviewers [laughs]. Um, you know, I have been involved in peer review my entire life, but I’ve never had a peer review experience quite like this where I had all Latino peer reviewers who were very much involved in the, the subject. And you know, bless their hearts, I, [laughs] I had voluminous
reviews, things, matters, I had to take care of, and all along it was admitted that I was non-Latino and these folks were the true authorities, and so we had a good working relationship. But, but these peer reviewers and the editors as well were really into making sure things were done. So I was content to have this book end in 2012. They wanted a look at the future. They wanted it carried out beyond that into where we are, where we are today. So I spent considerable time on doing a new conclusion that incorporated all their, all their thoughts. My bottom-line impression from that process of having to revise the conclusion to look toward the future was, was basically two things that –
happily the peer reviewers eventually agreed on after [laughs] a lot of, a lot of discussion. Uh, number one was starting around the time I ended the book, the mass media themselves were also ending. That you can no longer really say there is mass communication because social media especially has changed that paradigm. Anybody can communicate to anybody, and if you look at the ratings of Spanish-language television they, they peaked out around the early 2010s, around 2013. 2013, Univision was substantially the number one network. That’s where I wanted to end it, on that note of Spanish-language television being number one –
but because of the revising the conclusion I had to carry that forward. What happened after 2013 was a drop-off in Univision’s ratings, in part because Telemundo had been infused with cash from NBC in the Universal-Comcast buyouts and, and Telemundo was coming up eating at Univision’s audience. But, nevertheless, the total ratings were declining in Spanish-language television, and that coincided with an ongoing decline in the ratings of English-language television to the point where, when I’m writing this in 2019, 2020 even the biggest network is, is getting like a one share. So it’s difficult to genuinely say mass communication exists. If the biggest provider of media –
television, the biggest provider of the biggest provider has one percent of the audience, I mean, you’ve got to make a good, a good case that mass communication is still out there. Okay, and then part of that as well, social media rising and just completely changing the paradigm of news. Today seventy-five to eighty percent of the people get their news from social media. They don’t get it from mass communication sources anymore. So that had to be considered. Looking forward, you’re gonna see Spanish-language television, as will be English-language television, as a niche in a bigger television environment. What’s, what will happen is what’s happened already in English-language TV where there will be a, still be a signature network like Univision, like Telemundo –
but what it will really become is an internet streaming service. It will become a symbol, a name on an internet streaming service, and in fact only just three or four weeks ago Univision announced a big deal with Televisa to form exactly that, a Univision-Telemundo streaming service. So that’s what’s going to happen. You’re not gonna be seeing the big Univision stations anymore, the big Univision presence. Okay. The other matter that you nicely introduced, what’s the future of the Spanish — use of the Spanish language in the United States and, you know again I’m an okay Spanish speaker, but clearly Spanish is not my native — my fluent language. So I, you know, I had to be careful in getting this across, but in researching –
the status of the Spanish language in the United States during this revision of the conclusion period, it was inescapable that, that in the future there will be a decline in people’s reliance on the Spanish language in the United States, and the reason is simply because of the population trends, the demographic trends. The Latino population notably skews toward youth, toward young, young people. As of the 2010 census – I don’t know what the 2020 is gonna show – but as of 2010, something like two-thirds of the — identified Hispanic, officially identified Hispanic population was under the age of thirty-five. Two-thirds.
Okay? Those, those young people are coming up in the United States. They’re living in the United States, coming up through the American school system. They’re making American friends, and they’re relying on English. And from what I have been told going to be difficult to preserve fluent Spanish-language people when you’ve got this influx of young people born and raised in the United States who are learning, learning English. That’s not to say that Spanish will disappear. The research on this just emphatically shows that among Latinos there is an impulse to preserve the Spanish language in the United States. But the evidence shows that, that young, the youth –
the young people are acclimating. They’re growing into the speaking of English. And so what you kind of have, what I, what, where the book kinda is on this, this precipice with, with regard to Spanish. Most of the book, almost all of the book considers what authors, authorities in this area regard as first and second-generation Latinos. Those were the folks that came to the United States immediately after World War II, and then another influx in, in the 1970s and ’80s period. First generation, second generation. The history of Spanish-language television is, is about those, those people. Where the book ends is with this influx –
of young people, the so-called third generation. The first and second generations have now bred young people who are growing up in the United States. They’re, they do not recall a mother country. They’re born and bred, bred, raised in the United States, the question being are they going to continue to cherish Spanish the way their parents and grandparents did? And the answer appears to be no, to the point where I’m getting input from the networks, Univision and Telemundo, that the thing that as of the ending of the book they most feared was the decline of the Spanish language. This is, was so interesting to me because all through the history, the fifty years, the leaders told me that they will never –
retreat from the Spanish language. They would never go to a mixed English-language, Spanish-language concept, and yet as the book ended that was beginning, beginning to happen. Here in Phoenix, Univision has its main channel and subchannels that are all English-language channels. So the promoters of Spanish-language television are seeing this, and this, this is their big challenge in the future. Two challenges: the survival of broadcast television and the survival of the Spanish language.
Nick Hirshon: And I guess we’ll see how that continues to play out. Um, you know, it’s an unanswered question that will take time. Right? It’s –
Craig Allen: Yeah.
Nick Hirshon: – historians look, and they say usually we need at least twenty years or a generation to kind of judge how this is going to play out. Um, well, as we wrap up here, we’ve spent a lot –
of time talking about the kind of role that your book plays in filling a gap in journalism history, that we’ve often focused a lot on broadcast journalism in a traditional sense of the major networks and the Paleys and the Murrows and those sorts of folks. I know we’ve done episodes on Hearst and Pulitzer and those names. But we always end the podcast with one question that I’d like to pose to you now. Why do you think journalism history matters?
Craig Allen: It matters because it is a glimpse at a very important building block of America and the world in the latter twentieth century. This was a key period, the post-World War II period. A key turning point/period in human affairs when –
landmark change in human affairs from social movements to the atomic bomb to the landing of people on the moon changed human affairs. The history of journalism is important because it was a building block of that period. It is — it now to me is history. It is, journalism is now in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t diminish its importance historically, and in fact arguably makes it more important, because to understand this iridescent post-World War II period you have to understand the media. You have to understand that this was also the era of mass communication, that we may not be in that era anymore, but it did once exist. And to understand our history you have to understand the mass media era –
the era of journalism. And Spanish-language television, I’m saying, is, is essential to that. It is a core of that.
Nick Hirshon: It’s sort of stunning to hear the point made that we may be past the era of mass communication, although you make it very convincingly, and it’s maybe nothing new to our psyche ’cause we’ve heard a lot about cord-cutting and fragmentation of media. However, it still, just to hear you as a mass communication scholar say it, it seems like just a “wow” moment that we’re going to look back and say this is charting the decline of that shared human experience that certainly television was such a big part of, right? Of everybody watching the last episode of M*A*S*H together, or Seinfeld, or remembering a Walter Cronkite newscast and being able to go to the water cooler the next day at work. Everybody had seen the same thing and could relate to it, and you’re talking about how with Univision and Telemundo it had that kind of effect –
on all these diverse Hispanic communities in the United States, to think that that could actually be something of the past is just sort of a stunning remark.
Craig Allen: Well, I would, yeah, just to quickly play off this, and I know we’ve probably gone over our time, but I have always sorta seen AEJMC as a group of, of scholars, esteemed, accomplished well-meaning people that tend to march in step. The scholarly process demands that, of course, but, you know, I’ve been going to AEJMC conventions since 1987 and I’ve always had this impression that it is a lot of people thinking the same way. I kind of in the — am the counter to that. I’ve never really totally, of all the loving embrace –
between me and AEJMC, I’ve never really felt on the same wavelength of AEJMC. But to hear you say that, it’s hard to imagine what I just said I would wager that every single person in AEJMC knows what I am saying. They just don’t want to admit it. And, you know, so that’s, that’s my little, little political thing. But, but nevertheless it is true and I’m glad that you have recognized that I have, have said that because it is the case of what exists today.
Nick Hirshon: And I think it’s just the nature of a lot of the research that we do. For those listeners who don’t know much about AEJMC, again the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication that holds an annual conference with all these different divisions including the History Division, so of course a lot of the journalism scholars are focused –
on the past when journalism was at its height, and so you’re thinking about the glory days of newspapers and radio and television. A lot of the scholars are former reporters who still want to believe in that nostalgia and that journalism can have that sort of widespread impact and that’s just the way that we were trained in our graduate programs and what we try to then teach our students because we don’t want to believe that this is failing and that, you know, these majors that we’re teaching students in are no longer maybe as relevant as they once were. Uh, but it’s, yeah, it, it’s definitely an important concept that you’re bringing to the table and I just, yeah, I found that just very provocative. So once again the book is Univision, Telemundo, and the Rise of Spanish-Language Television in the United States, a runner-up for the AEJMC History Division Book Award. The author is Craig Allen. Craig, thank you again so much for joining us today on the Journalism History podcast.
Craig Allen: And thank you, Nick. I had a good time. Thanks again.
Nick Hirshon: Thanks for tuning in, and additional thanks to our sponsor, Taylor & Francis. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast. You can also follow us on Twitter at @JHistoryJournal. Until next time, I’m your host, Nick Hirshon, signing off with the words of Edward R. Murrow: “Good night, and good luck.”