Spanish-Language Radio

By: Teresa Palomo Acosta

Type: Overview Entry

Published: December 1, 1995

Updated: July 27, 2016

Spanish-language radio in Texas, which had evolved into fifty-seven stations by the early 1990s and increased to more than 150 by the 2010s, was first established through a radio brokerage system set up by Anglo radio station owners throughout the southwestern United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Through this system Mexican Americans, many with broadcasting experience in Mexico, could purchase blocks of radio time for Spanish-language programs. By 1939 this type of radio grew enough to allow the International Broadcasting Company of El Paso to produce Spanish-language programs featuring Mexican radio celebrities which it sold to stations around the country.

By 1941 an estimated 264 hours a week of Spanish-language programs were broadcast in the combined states of Texas, Arizona, California, and New York. Although the broadcasters favored musical programming on their shows, they also provided information on community activities, immigration services, American citizenship, and Mexican American businesses in an attempt to meet the unique needs and interests of their audience.

During World War II a San Antonio radio broker, Raoul Cortez, applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a license to operate his own radio station. His request was approved, and in 1946 he set up KCOR–AM, the first full-time Spanish-language radio station in the United States owned and operated by a Mexican American. Cortez recruited the Tejano actor Lalo Astol to work as an announcer and program host for the station. Astol also developed a radio theater program known as "La Hora del Teatro Nacional" and later organized and directed a series of other radio dramas with Mexican-American actors from San Antonio. These programs, broadcast around the country, brought KCOR–AM much acclaim.

Despite this success, however, Anglo entrepreneurs continued to run the state's Spanish-language radio programs in the 1940s and 1950s. A small number of Mexican American radio emcees continued to work on a brokerage basis, but most became salaried employees of the stations. Moreover, most of the opportunities to host radio programs were limited to Mexican-born announcers because station owners considered Mexican-American Spanish substandard. Spanish-language radio programming continued to expand in the 1950s and 1960s, and Mexican-American radio personalities were often well-respected by their listeners. As a result, they routinely influenced their audience through their pronouncements and advice on a host of community-related topics.

In the 1970s new marketing techniques and the rise of specialized Spanish-language advertising companies promoted growth in Spanish-language radio. In addition, the number of Mexican Americans working in the medium grew. Station ownership, however, generally remained beyond their reach. The FCC's commitment in 1978 to increase minority ownership of the broadcast media helped them make gains. Mexican Americans owned thirteen Spanish-language stations in Texas in 1982 and about thirty-one in 1992. Nonetheless, ownership of Spanish-language radio stations in the state continued to be dominated by the Tichenor Media Systems, a nonminority broadcasting chain that merged in 1997 with Heftel Broadcasting Corporation to become the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation. In 2003 Univision, considered the major leader in Spanish-language media, purchased the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, and captured for its Univision Radio division seventy-three percent of the U.S. Hispanic radio audience. By 2007 Univision Radio owned twenty-six stations in the major markets of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, McAllen, and San Antonio. Its closest corporate competitor was Border Media Partners, which owned seventeen stations that featured Spanish-language programming.

Hispanic broadcasting companies have pursued the issue of control of radio in the courts. In 1990 the Supreme Court endorsed their struggle in Astroline Communications Co. vs. Shurberg and Metro Broadcasting vs. FCC. The court found that the FCC had an obligation to provide for "diversity" in broadcasting under the Communications Act of 1934. This idea had been challenged by nonminority broadcasters, who charged discrimination against their interests. Spanish-language broadcasters have formed their own associations over approximately the past five decades to pursue Latino business interests and civil-rights issues in radio. Cortez, for instance, organized the Sombrero Network, a chain of Spanish-language radio stations. Ed Gómez, one of the pioneers in Spanish-language radio in the state, helped found the Spanish Radio Broadcasters of America in the mid-1970s. He was also involved in a later group, AHORA (the Alliance of Hispanic Broadcasters), which advocated for minority clout in radio.

Spanish-language radio continues to emphasize musical programming, with newscasts often limited to hourly relays. Popular formats by the mid-2000s included Mexican regional music, Spanish contemporary, Spanish tropical, Tejano, and Spanish variety. By the 2010s a growing number of stations also featured Spanish-language Christian musical programming. The medium remains quite important to Mexican Americans. It also holds a special value for Spanish-speaking immigrants, for whom the stations continue to provide valuable news and information.

Félix Gutiérrez and Jorge Reina Schement, Spanish-Language Radio in the Southwestern United States (Center for Mexican American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1979). Ana Veciana-Suárez, Hispanic Media, USA: A Narrative Guide to Print and Electronic Hispanic News Media in the United States (Washington: Media Institute, 1987). Arbitron, Hispanic Radio Today: How America Listens to Radio, 2005 edition (, accessed August 1, 2007. “Texas radio stations programming Tejano/Latin” (, accessed August 26, 2015.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Teresa Palomo Acosta, “Spanish-Language Radio,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

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December 1, 1995
July 27, 2016

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