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Guillermo Nicolas honors pioneers of Spanish-language TV in the U.S.

Giving News

Broadcasting is in Guillermo Nicolas’ blood. So is innovation.

His family, after all, is the one to thank for the United States’ first Spanish-language TV station and network. And Nicolas himself is something of a pioneer, helping launch Home Shopping Español.

So it just made sense for the 1987 UT graduate and San Antonio resident to include a bequest in his will to fund Hispanic media studies in the College of Communication. He hopes to give back to the population that helped his family succeed, and he is passionate about helping those who follow in his footsteps.

“One of the defects we have as human beings sometimes is that once we’ve gotten up the hill we forget to pull up the people behind us a little,” Nicolas said. “That’s a very sad thing.”

His gift is in honor of his father and late grandfather, trailblazers of Spanish-language radio and television in the United States.

Guillermo NicolasIn some ways the groundbreaking Spanish international Network, the precursor to Univision, was born on the streets of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where Nicolas’ grandfather Raoul Cortez sold eggs to buy airtime on local radio stations. There he would produce a variety show during which he sold advertising. After he immigrated to San Antonio with his parents and eight siblings, he again worked odd jobs to buy radio airtime. As his variety shows on English-language radio stations grew, he began to see San Antonio’s potential for a Spanish-language station, and in 1946 he launched KCOR-AM.

“It was an instant hit,” Nicolas said. “The community was hungry for it.”

Cortez branched out into television, opening the country’s first Spanish-language TV station, KCOR-TV Channel 41, in San Antonio in 1955. (The station would later become KWEX.) Nicolas’ father, Emilio Nicolas, Sr., joined his father-in-law in the family business early on as a cameraman, a producer, and whatever job needed doing. Emilio Nicolas and his business partners bought out Cortez in 1960, in time opening stations in markets around the country. There were many battles in the early days: With UHF they pioneered a new spectrum, with satellites they pioneered a new method of interconnection, and they were even the first to have a woman anchor their national nightly news more than 30 years ago.

Guillermo Nicolas grew up in the world of television, working for Channel 41 all four summers of high school and for Spanish International Network all four summers of college. He always assumed he would go into the family business after completing his history degree from UT. He didn’t count on his father selling the business to Hallmark.

“My world completely changed when the business was sold,” he said. “All of a sudden I had to invent something for myself.”

It was then he learned an important lesson: “If you’re not willing to change, you’ll fail in this world,” he said.

And change he did, opening a high-end retail chain of stores specializing in contemporary tabletops and gifts. He did that until he was 32. While planning his next move, he became heavily involved in San Antonio’s volunteer scene.

“If I was going to live here I wanted to make our city better,” he said. “I just don’t like people who sit there and complain about everything but never do anything about it.”

A dear friend he knew through volunteering, Guy Bodine, heard he was looking for a new opportunity and referred him to the head of Home Shopping Network. With Nicolas’ experience in the TV industry, it seemed a natural fit. He’d done it all — operated cameras, sold advertising, even mopped a few floors.

And so he ended up in St. Petersburg, Fla., interviewing for a job. It soon became apparent that he and his interviewer didn’t have the same job in mind.

His interviewer thought he wanted to be on the air. He was whisked into a TV studio and told, “Sell me something.”

All he had was his watch. He took it off and launched into a sales pitch. It wasn’t pretty.
“I was the worst ever, and she didn’t know how to tell me,” he laughs.

Once the confusion was cleared up and the interviewer, who, by the way, was the senior vice president of on-air talent at HSN, realized that Nicolas was there to start Home Shopping Español, he landed the executive job he’d been pursuing. He had to get the channel up and running in six weeks. That included hiring 115 people and 16 on-air positions. He made sure to include someone from every Spanish-speaking country in the world.

Three successful years later executives pulled the plug, and Nicolas again had to reinvent himself. He hadn’t been looking to get into commercial real estate, but a firm founded by his father and a friend was having management problems. Nicolas stepped in and took control. He formed his own management and development company called 3N Group. He is in the process of developing two multifamily apartment complexes, one an urban infill project in downtown San Antonio.

Even with a commercial real estate portfolio to manage, Nicolas is still big on volunteering. Much of his other volunteer work reflects his love of contemporary art and his hometown — he is 2012 Gala chairman for the San Antonio Museum of Art, is on the boards of directors for the Texas Cultural Trust and the San Antonio Public Art Board, and is a host committee member for the 2012 Americans for the Arts Convention in San Antonio. And he stays involved with the UT College of Communication by serving as a member of its advisory council.

Nicolas is only 47, but he already sees value in estate planning.

“I think it’s really important to plan things,” he said. “Even though I’m still relatively young and hope to live a long time, you never know.”

He also believes in sharing the credit for your success, and in giving back to those who helped you make it in the first place.

“We kind of think, ‘Oh, I built this business. I did this,’ ” he said. “You know what? No, you didn’t. In my case, it was my parents who taught me so very much and who have always helped me in everything I do. It’s also the teacher who taught you X and the professor who taught you Y and the first boss who taught you something — every single person along the way helped you be the success that you are. You definitely have to give back and think about the people and the things that mean the most to you.”

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