In a top-level shake-up, KMEX-TV Channel 34 General Manager Emilio Nicolas Jr. has resigned from his post just a little more than a year after he took over the Univision-owned station.
Richard Ramirez, KMEX general sales manager, was named Nicolas' successor by Univision and replaced him immediately.
In a telephone interview shortly after his departure last month, Nicolas disputed rumors circulating about his move. "The reason I'm leaving is that I'm tired, and I want to take a break. I've been thinking about it for some time," said the 36-year-old veteran of Spanish-language TV. "Nothing has 'happened' with me, as these rumors suggest. There is no mystery around it."
The news of Nicolas' departure came as a surprise to many at the station and in the Southern California Latino community. It was unexpected that Nicolas, a popular general manager among his staff and a highly visible community leader, would be leaving his position so suddenly.
Staff members at KMEX, which has the largest audience of any Univision affiliate, wondered aloud about the move. There was speculation that New York-based Univision executives did not like Nicolas' style of management. Inside sources said Nicolas clashed with financially strapped Univision over money-related issues.
In particular, the sources said, Univision pressured Nicolas to resign in reaction to financial losses from L.A. Fiesta Broadway, the pre-Cinco de Mayo bash in downtown Los Angeles that Nicolas orchestrated.
In response to that allegation, Nicolas said Univision "was pleased" with Fiesta Broadway. "It was the first year of the fiesta. Yes, we did lose some money; there is no secret there. The point is, I didn't get canned for that," he said, emphasizing that leaving the Univision fold was his own decision.
Estela Lopez, director of the organization Miracle on Broadway, who worked on the fiesta with Nicolas, said the fate of the festival is now being discussed.
In announcing Nicolas' departure, William Grimes, president of Univision Holdings Inc., said Nicolas had "helped guide KMEX through a critical period in Univision's history."
Nicolas had devoted years of service to the network, working at stations in New York, San Antonio, San Francisco and finally Los Angeles. Nicolas expressed satisfaction at having been able to work in Los Angeles. "I'm glad I got to the biggest," he said.
In fact, Nicolas grew up around Spanish-language TV. His father, Emilio Nicolas, started the first Spanish-language station in this country and founded what has grown into the Univision network. The younger Nicolas said he eventually will get back into broadcasting.
One KMEX station insider, who declined to be identified, said Nicolas was a well-liked and accessible general manager. "He goes all out, and he treats people well. It seems to be a mystery to most of us here why he's leaving. But I know he was under a lot of pressure to keep things streamlined," the source said.
Esther Renteria, head of the Los Angeles-based National Hispanic Media Coalition, also expressed surprise that Nicolas was leaving. "I thought he was doing a pretty good job in the community," she said, adding that she did not know the new general manager, Ramirez, and could not comment on how he will affect the local media.
When Nicolas took the reins at KMEX in April, 1989, he was immediately faced with a controversy. Members of his staff presented him with a petition encouraging him to name a person "who reflected the interests, experience and culture of Los Angeles" to the vacant position of news director. Although it was not explicitly stated, the petition suggested that Nicolas appoint someone of Mexican descent. Nicolas, who is Mexican-American, did fill the job with someone of Mexican heritage.
One KMEX source expressed concern that Ramirez is of Cuban and Puerto Rican parentage and might not be attuned to the needs of the local Latino community, which is predominantly of Mexican origin. He said some people at KMEX are worried, alleging that Univision is being dominated by Cubans to the neglect of the Los Angeles Latino community. He contended that many of the important decisions at Univision are made in Miami and New York by people out of touch with Los Angeles.
A KMEX spokeswoman said last month that Ramirez had no plans to change the management or the direction of the station. Ramirez had been in the KMEX sales division for the past six months. Before coming to Los Angeles, he was a general partner and general manager at English-language WHCT-TV in Hartford, Conn.
Sales Manager Mike Martinez, who has worked at KMEX since 1987, was named as the new general sales manager.