KCOR, one of the first Spanish-language radio stations in the United States, began broadcasting in San Antonio on February 15, 1946. Raoul Alfonso Cortez, its founder, applied for a broadcasting license in the mid-1940s. Cortez asserted in his application that a Spanish-language radio station would lend support for the war effort among the nation’s Spanish speakers. He received approval for the license for KCOR (the call sign was derived by using the first three letters of Cortez’s name), broadcasting over frequency 1350 AM in 1946, after restrictions on foreign language broadcasting were lifted following the end of World War II. This was the first full-time Spanish-language radio station owned by a Mexican American in the United States.
KCOR-AM’s founder was a trailblazer in mass media. Formerly a reporter for La Prensa in San Antonio and a booking agent for Spanish-language entertainers, to make his way into radio broadcasting he entered the broker system and purchased time on stations that he would then sell to advertisers and performers. Despite the domination of the local broadcast system by Anglo entrepreneurs, Cortez made inroads, leading to the establishment of a Spanish-language station in a city with an overwhelmingly large Mexican-origin, Spanish-speaking population.
Harnessing La Voz Mexicana (“The Voice of Mexican Americans”) as its slogan, KCOR-AM initially broadcast on 5,000 watts. Over time, its audience grew, as many listeners were attracted to the station’s offerings. KCOR became successful by employing salespeople and by using a survey to count the number of listeners, who were asked to provide the station with the labels of products they used. This effort revealed that Spanish-speaking residents in the city did indeed purchase many products sold across the nation and that businesses should therefore advertise on KCOR.
Among the station’s great successes was La Hora del Teatro Nacional, a radio drama led by Leonardo “Lalo” García Astol, a Tejano who served both as an announcer and director for the station. La Hora del Teatro Nacional was broadcast across the United States due to its popularity. Mateo Camargo became another prominent host. He offered a weekly political program Frente al Pueblo (Face the People). KCOR also increased its audience by employing actors and writers to fill its airwaves with variety shows and serial dramas. In addition, the station featured the works of Mexican musicians—offering música norteña and corridos, for example—and added programming for the African American community in the late night hours.
The total number of hours of weekly Spanish-language radio broadcasts in 1941 in Texas, Arizona, California, and New York combined was estimated to be 264 per week. With its entry into radio broadcasting at almost mid-twentieth century, KCOR vastly increased the number of hours of weekly Spanish-language radio broadcasts in those states. Combined, these stations offered musical entertainment and community services such as information on immigration and American citizenship. The Sombrero Network, which Cortez also established, served to unite Spanish-language broadcasters to work on issues that were important to the Mexican American community.
Cortez expanded his broadcasting operations and launched KCOR-TV, the first Spanish-language and Hispanic-owned television station in the United States, on June 10, 1955, and the station ultimately became the bedrock of the Spanish International Network (of which Cortez’s son-in-law Emilio Nicolas, Sr., was part owner), the forerunner to Univision. By 1961 Cortez sold his radio station to Inter-American Radio, Inc., which was owned by a group of Anglo media investors. In 1975 KCOR was owned by the Harbenito Radio Corporation, which was originally founded by McHenry Tichenor. Part of the Tichenor Media System, the AM station was part of the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation after a merger in 1997 and subsequently part of Univision Communications after a merger in 2003. Under the ownership of Univision, KCOR-AM has remained on the air as a Spanish-language radio station.
KCOR-AM and its founder Raoul Cortez were honored in 2015 by the Smithsonian Institution for contributions to American media and business in its American Enterprise exhibit in the National Museum of American History.