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Emilio Nicolas, Sr., founder of Spanish language network Univision, dies at age 88

His award-winning career in television began in San Antonio in 1955.
Credit: Komet Communications

SAN ANTONIO — Emilio Nicolas Sr., one of the founding pioneers of Spanish-language television in the United States, died on Saturday at his home in San Antonio. A trailblazer in the community and the media industry, Nicolas leaves behind a legacy of countless civic contributions and several Spanish-language broadcast television networks, including Univision, America’s first.

Nicolas was born on October 27, 1930, to Mr. and Mrs. Constantino Nicolas in Frontera, Coahuila, Mexico. He is one of five children. He was, until the past few years, still working with his son Guillermo in San Antonio, and living on his ranch with his wife of 66 years, Irma Alicia Cortez Nicolas. After finishing high school in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in 1948, Nicolas came to San Antonio to learn English and seek an undergraduate degree in chemistry and biology with a minor in math from St. Mary’s University in 1951. He earned a master’s degree from Trinity University in 1952. Upon graduation, Nicolas went to work for Southwest Foundation, doing research on arteriosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. He also worked in the development of the polio vaccine. 

In 1955, Nicolas was hired to work at KCOR-TV, a Spanish television station in San Antonio founded by his father-in-law, Raoul Cortez. Nicolas, or "Nicky", as he was known to close associates, produced the live shows at night and directed the news departments of the radio and television stations during the day. In the mid-sixties, he also handled the Spanish advertising and production for all clients of Pitluk Advertising, San Antonio’s largest agency at that time. During his six years at KCOR, Nicolas was regularly promoted, eventually becoming the station’s president and general manager.

In 1961, Nicolas and a group of investors bought the KCOR station and renamed the station KWEX.  As general manager, Nicolas rebuilt the financially struggling station, and KWEX soon became part of SIN, the Spanish International Network, a precursor to Univision. Over the next two years, Nicolas oversaw the purchase of additional stations, and, in 1963, the station group was named SICC, the Spanish International Communications Corporation. 

Among Nicolas’ many contributions to multimedia, among the most significant was, in partnership with Rene Anselmo, his successful lobbying of Congress to mandate that all television sets come equipped to receive both VHF and now UHF channels. The success of this effort changed the face of UHF television forever.

Equally committed to civic causes and bettering his community, 1975 saw Nicola’s launch of the Teletón Navideño telethon with then Bishop Patrick Flores to raise funds for underprivileged San Antonians during the holidays. The following year, Nicolas aired the first ever national broadcast of a Catholic mass, which continues to be broadcast from San Antonio.    

In 1976, KWEX and San Antonio became the center of operations for SIN, the first satellite interconnected television network in the United States. SIN would later become Univision, currently the most-watched Spanish-language network, reaching more than 95 percent of Hispanic households in the U.S. in over 60 markets and bringing in revenues of over $1 billion per year. San Antonio and KWEX remained the center of operations for the network until late 1987, when Emilio Azcarraga Milmo moved everything to Laguna Niguel, California.

In his role as president of SICC, Nicolas helped the network of television stations around the nation grow to more than 280 affiliates, and in 1987, he orchestrated and consummated the sale of SICC to Hallmark Greeting Cards for $301.5 million. Additionally, in separate sales to Hallmark, Nicolas sold the San Francisco, Phoenix, Albuquerque and Washington, D.C. affiliates.

Following the sale, Nicolas stepped down as president of the company he had helped build to travel throughout France with wife, Irma ,and son, Guillermo, in search of art and antiques for their rebuilt home in Olmos Park and to work on his Johnson City ranch.

Two years later, he and Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, the son of Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta and a pioneer of radio and television in Mexico, decided to create Galavision broadcasting group, the third Spanish-language television network in the United States. Nicolas Communications Corporation (NCC) was formed to affiliate with Galavision, and Nicolas bought several Low Power Television permits and entered into a ten-year contract with Galavision to distribute its signal. After a 40-year relationship, Nicolas and Azcarraga severed ties in 1997, and NCC affiliated with The Home Shopping Network and its sister network America’s Store. In 2002, Univision and Entravision entered into a contract to purchase two of NCC’s stations for Telefutura, the nation’s fourth Spanish language television network. 

Active in civic causes as well as television, Nicolas was Chairman of the National Association of Spanish Broadcasters and served on numerous boards, including the Board of Trinity University, where he served for 25 years. He was on the Board of San Antonio Savings Association, The University of the Incarnate Word, Southwest Research Foundation, The University of Texas College of Communications, The University of Texas Health Science Center, The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, The National Board of the USO and many others.

Nicolas is also credited for his passionate editorials on matters affecting the Spanish-speaking people of the United States. These editorials aired on SIN and called national attention to U.S. immigration laws and discrimination, among other issues. 

Over the span of his decades-long career, Nicolas’ accomplishments and contributions have been recognized with numerous honors and awards, including El Premio OTHLI, Mexico's highest honor awarded to a Mexican citizen living abroad. In 2006, the National Association of Broadcasters awarded Nicolas, along with since departed Raoul Cortez, with the “Spirit of Broadcasting” Award. Nicolas cherished this award the most, as it was presented by his peers in the broadcast business. 

Emilio Nicolas Sr. is also recognized for his contribution to American media in “American Enterprise,” an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum, that traces the country’s growth from a small, dependent nation to a major global economy. The exhibit includes photos and other mementos from KCOR-TV and its radio predecessor.

Most recently, Nicolas’ work in multi-media was recognized with a 2015 Texas Medal of Arts Award (TMAA). TMAA spotlights and celebrates Texas leaders and luminaries who have achieved greatness through their creative talents, as well as those whose generosity has opened doors to artistic opportunity for Texans of all ages, according to their website.

He is survived by his wife, three grown children and their spouses, one sister, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.


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