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Latinos on Illinois Airwaves 

Trailblazer of the Day | Monday, October 7, 2013

From WCIU-26 to the Ponces

After being fairly invisible for decades, the number of Latinos in Illinois media blossomed in the 1980s. By 2000, many reporters and broadcasters who Illinoisans read in the paper, heard on the radio or watched on TV every day were Latino.

One early trailblazer was Fred Partido (1932-1999), who was a reporter and anchor for WBBM-AM for more than 25 years. Partido was born in Oklahoma, where he was a Golden Gloves Boxer before joining the U.S. Air Force and serving three years in the Korean War. It was during his military service that Partido became interested in radio communications.

Partido returned home and graduated from the University of Oklahoma-Norman with a degree in journalism in 1959. He reported at several radio stations in Oklahoma before moving to Chicago. He was fascinated with Chicago politics, and worked as a writer, editor, street reporter and then anchor at WBBM-AM. His versatility and fearlessness as a reporter made him a fixture for years at Chicago-area crime scenes, disasters and political press conferences.

Partido was the first Latino to win the prestigious Jacob Scher Award for Investigative Journalism and produced “Speaking of Spanish,” perhaps the first radio program focusing on the needs and interests of Illinois’ Latino community.

While various Chicago TV stations had limited Spanish-language programming dating back to the 1960s (including Friday night bullfights on Channel 26), it wasn’t until 1981 that Marcelino Miyares Sotolongo established WBBS-TV (Channel 60), Illinois’ first Latino-owned television station.

Miyaraes Sotolongo was a Cuban dissident who earned a PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University in Evanston and taught at Benedictine University in Lisle. His new station, which aired in Spanish from 7:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. daily, offered variety shows, “Este Semana en Beisbol”, telenovelas and locally-produced community programming. In 1984, WBBS-TV became known for introducing the world to the band Menudo, featuring Ricky Martin. Faced with competition by two new stations, WBBS-TV curtailed Spanish-language broadcasts in 1985, and was sold.