DAVILA, MANUEL GONZALES, SR.
DAVILA, MANUEL GONZALES, SR. (1913–1997). Manuel Gonzales Davila, Sr., Tejano radio pioneer, was born in San Antonio on May 22, 1913, the son of José Luis and María Davila. As a young man Davila enjoyed boxing. He became involved in radio as a teenager and continued that involvement for the remainder of his life.
He and his brother, José, began broadcasting in 1928 by buying one-hour slots on English-language stations; there were no Spanish stations in San Antonio at the time. Davila found bias against Mexican-American broadcasters from Anglos, but also from Hispanics who believed that one should be from Mexico in order to broadcast in Spanish.
In 1961, after losing his job when the station at which he worked throughout the 1950s was sold, Davila decided to buy his own station. On March 17, 1966, after a five-year legal fight, he began broadcasting Tex-Mex music on his newly purchased station, KEDA–AM, nicknamed "Radio Jalapeño." The station's competitors called it the "cantina station" because of its accordion-driven South Texas music, although Davila insisted that the station was "all about familia and respect and giving newcomers a break." The local nature of the radio station raised skepticism at first, but the major labels that originally bypassed it eventually started calling.
About his career path Davila said, "All I ever wanted to do was play country music, but I wanted to play it in Spanish. I had to show everybody… that a Mexican-American could run a station successfully playing Mexican-American music." Emphasizing local bands, KEDA aired Texas musicians Santiago Jiménez, Sr. and Narciso Martínez and later Tejano newcomers Selena, Emilio, and Los Aguilares. Davila's "Jalapeño Network" came to include KCCT–AM, KBSO–FM, and KFLZ–FM in Corpus Christi. As Davila's broadcasting range expanded, so did the variety of musical styles performed on his radio stations. KCCT was a Spanish Christian station, KBSO played classic rock, and KFLZ broadcast international Spanish music. Most members of Davila's immediate family were involved with the radio operations.
In October 1943 Davila married Madeline Peña. They had seven children: Manuel, Richard, Marcella, Roy, Joseph, Albert, and Madeline. Davila died of natural causes in San Antonio on July 12, 1997, and was buried in San Fernando Cemetery No. 2. In 1997 he was inducted into the Conjunto Music Hall of Fame for special achievements and received a lifetime achievement award from the Tejano Conjunto Festival Hall of Fame. In 1998 Davila was honored posthumously with a Radio Pioneer Award from Pura Vida Music Awards, Inc. He was inducted into the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame in 2008.
Davila’s widow, through D&E Broadcasting Company, continued to operate KEDA radio into 2011. At that time, KEDA was the longest-running and last remaining family-owned independent radio station in the San Antonio market; along with playing music, it maintained a connection to its roots through community-service programming. These efforts included the reading of obituaries on the air as well as fundraisers for those who could not afford to bury their dead children. The family, under patriarch Davila, helped make the careers of many of San Antonio’s successful musicians and supported the advancement of a variety of genres—from Tejano to the West Side Sound—significant to the Alamo City.
In July 2011 KEDA was sold to Claro Communications of Corpus Christi, and the station’s office building in South Flores Street was sold to H-E-B. On July 29, 2011, Davila’s son, Ricky “Güero Polkas” Davila, the longtime voice of “Radio Jalapeño” and known as “San Antonio’s Wolfman Jack,” signed off his morning radio program for the last time.
Manuel Davila was inducted into the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame in San Benito in 2015. KEDA continued on the air under the new ownership in 2015, and 2016 would mark the station’s fiftieth anniversary.
Tony R. DeMars, "Buying Time to Start Spanish-Language Radio in San Antonio: Manuel Davila and the Beginning of Tejano Programming," Journal of Radio Studies 12 (May 2005). San Antonio Express-News, March 15, 1991; July 15, 1997; July 30, 2011.
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