PEÑA, DOMINGO (1917–1983). Domingo Peña, radio and television personality, was born on December 16, 1917, in Kingsville, Texas, the son of Placido Peña and Rose Everrett. He moved with his family to Robstown in the early 1920s, and then to Taft, where he attended grade school. Because of the depression, his father moved the family to Corpus Christi in 1932. Peña attended school intermittently in Corpus Christi and dropped out in sixth grade. He contracted tuberculosis as a teenager and took treatment in a San Angelo hospital.
He began his career in media before World War II as an advertising announcer on a Corpus Christi radio station. At age twenty-eight he became a disc jockey at the city's Spanish-language radio station, KCCT. In the mid-1950s he hosted a variety show with live musical entertainment on KVDO, Corpus Christi's first television station. He also promoted dances in Corpus Christi and across South Texas that became popular social affairs.
In 1964 he began a talk and variety program on KIII-TV. This program, the Domingo Peña Show, was a highly rated Sunday-morning feature for more than sixteen years, during which Peña's name was a household word in the city and its environs. The program featured prerecorded musical artists and live performers; it also included a full range of guests, whom Peña interviewed in his unrehearsed, free-form manner. Using his television program as a community forum, Peña was especially important in spotlighting the activities of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American G.I. Forum, and many other civic and charitable organizations, as well as allowing local Hispanic business, civic, and political leaders to reach the Mexican-American television audience. He regularly helped people who were in financial distress by having them appear on his program to publicize their situation. It was his practice to give his own money to assist these individuals, thus prompting others to contribute. Altogether, he promoted the fortunes of numerous musicians, entertainers, community leaders, and average citizens. During its time, the Domingo Peña Show was recognized as the most effective way to reach the Corpus Christi-area Hispanic community. Peña's show was successful in large part because of his spontaneous (sometimes outrageous) style, humor, and openness.
In January 1968 Peña led a twelve-person troupe of entertainers on a seventeen-day tour of Vietnam to entertain American service personnel. Appealing especially to the large number of Mexican Americans stationed there, this tour was reportedly the only one conducted by a Hispanic during the Vietnam conflict and brought Peña much acclaim. So great was his popularity that in 1968, while away on his Vietnam tour, Peña won election to the board of the Lower Nueces River Water Supply District. He resigned this position to accept appointment as a Nueces County deputy constable. Governor Dolph Briscoe also appointed him to the Texas State Health Advisory Committee in the 1970s.
Peña was married to Ofelia Palacios; they had four daughters. Suffering from arteriosclerosis, he retired from his television show in 1981. The station changed the program's name from Domingo Peña Show to simply Domingo. In 2011 the show went by the title Domingo Live and continued to air on Sunday mornings. He died on January 12, 1983, and was buried in Corpus Christi. In 2000 Peña was posthumously inducted into the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame and Museum. In 2002 he was inducted into the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times, November 17, 1978, December 4, 1981, January 12, 1983. Domingo Live (http://www.kiiitv.com/category/197951/domingo-live), accessed November 10, 2011. Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame 2000 (http://www.tejanorootshalloffame.org/2000.html), accessed January 18, 2008.