On May 5, 1993, the first episode of Latino USA aired on more than 50 public radio stations across the country. Today, we are celebrating 30 years of Latino USA with something we’ve never done before: an oral history of the show.
We went down memory lane by visiting our archives at the University of Texas at Austin, listening to our first shows, looking at old photographs, and interviewing former and current Latino USA staffers. In this special episode, we’ll hear from three of the people who lived through that history, one for each decade of Latino USA’s existence: Maria Emilia Martin, Benjamín “Mincho” Jacob, and Antonia Cereijido.
In the early 1990s, Maria Emilia Martin —award-winning multimedia journalist and director of GraciasVida Center for Media— received a letter from Yolanda Felton —a publicist from KUT, the local public radio station in Austin— explaining that she had presented a proposal to the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at the University of Texas to do Latino-oriented programming. At the time, other programs aimed at Latinos audiences —like Enfoque Nacional or NPR’s Latin File— had been canceled after a very short run. Still, Maria knew that there was a lot of potential to do a great show: “But we had to be the ones in charge. We had to have editorial control […] I wanted to have it sound professional and just so compelling that it would be an addition to public radio. It wouldn’t be something that there would be resistance to.” Maria Martin’s vision would become Latino USA.
Working with a very small production staff —which included sound engineer Walter Morgan, producer Angelica Luévano, Vidal Guzmán as marketing manager, along with Maria Hinojosa as the host and Gil Cardenas, then-director of the CMAS, serving as the founding executive producer of the show— Maria Martin and the team set out to make a weekly radio show that spoke to Latino audiences.
In its first year on the air, the show tripled the number of radio stations that carried it. And soon after, Latino USA started winning prestigious awards: the Silver Reel Award by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Guillermo Martinez-Marquez Journalism Award by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in 1994.
By 2003, Latino USA had been on the air for a decade. Mincho Jacob was a student at UT Austin looking for a work-study program. He walked into the Latino USA newsroom as an intern and worked there for almost a decade, doing everything from cutting physical tape, to producing, to mixing. “I took on a lot because there wasn’t a lot of leadership in-house,” Mincho recalls. At the time he joined, Maria Martin had recently left the show. “So we were writing, we were editing, we were recording and then we’d mix it and put it out. And sometimes we’d change gears crazily, when we’d get a breaking story. It was both fun and then became incredibly stressful.”
In that second decade, Mincho lived through some of the deepest ups and downs of the show, from its near cancellation to the creation of the Futuro Media Group and Latino USA’s move to New York to start a new chapter.
With the newsroom now based in New York, Antonia Cereijido —Executive Producer at LAist— joined Latino USA as an intern at a moment when the show was becoming more ambitious, in an increasingly competitive field. “I think you can see the difference in having a Latina woman at the head who’s encouraging these young people to pursue what they want. We had the ambition to do things that were at the journalistic level, that were creatively interesting, but also that spoke to our own reality,” says Antonia.
As a young start-up media company, Futuro needed to make its mark. Even after being on the air for 20 years, it was a moment full of possibility and the talented producers and editors who passed through the doors of Latino USA —including Marlon Bishop, Nadia Reiman, Andrés Caballero, Fernanda Echavarri, Janice Llamoca, Julieta Martinelli, Sophia Paliza-Carre, and Sayre Quevedo, among many others— helped shape its voice for a new generation.
Now, Latino USA looks forward to what the next 30 years will bring. So stay with us and ¡No te vayas!