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AEJMC Trailblazers of Diversity Interview with Frank Montero
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AEJMC Trailblazers of Diversity Interview with Frank Montero
Speaker 1: Good morning, it's Tuesday, August 7 2018.
And this is George Daniels from University of Alabama. We're in Washington DC talking today with
Frank Montero for the AMC oral history project. The reports from this interview will actually
be available on the AMC website, and also the Briscoe Center for American history website.
Frank, thank you so much for talking with us today. But the first question I have is to tell us
a little bit about where you grew up in your early life. Just a little bit of how you get started.
Speaker 2: Sure, George would be a pleasure, and it's good
to be here. So I am originally born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I am the youngest son
of parents from the Galicia part of Spain, which is that portion of Spain that's in the
upper northwest corner. And my parents actually met in New York during the Second World War.
And, and there, you know, ran a small Bar and Grill back near the Brooklyn waterfront when
the waterfront was very active. And, back in those days, that portion of Brooklyn was
very ethnic, very Spanish, a lot of Spanish and Puerto Ricans in that part near the
waterfront. A lot of them worked on the piers, my father who had been a merchant sailor, and,
and the, the, the seeds were planted there. We all learned, my brothers and I had to speak Spanish.
And we spoke Spanish as the primary language in our household growing up.
And, and also during the summers, we actually
would spend time with my grandparents who also spoke Spanish all the time, as well.
So we very much grew up even though we were in Brooklyn, in New York, immersed in, in Spanish
language and Spanish culture. And it's been very much a part of my identities all my life.
Speaker 1: So you are practicing law
here in the Washington DC area, talk about some of the work that you do in that particular area.
What are the types of clients you have? What are the types of cases that come through your hands?
Speaker 2: Sure, I'm the managing partner
of the law firm of Fletcher hielden. Hildreth, and we are a communications law firm here in
Washington resort. We're actually an 80 year old communications law firm dating back to the 1930s.
And we represent media and broadcasting companies, but also satellite and different
types of telephony and internet companies. I got involved in representing broadcasters fairly early
on in my, in my career, I, I left Brooklyn, and went to college at the University of Michigan,
I was actually the first in my family to actually leave New York to go to college,
which was sort of unheard of in my family at the time. And, and then, after college, I applied to
and got into law school down here in Washington, DC, where I stayed. I started practicing in a
large firm back in the 80s. And one of the first jobs I got was working with a newspaper company,
the gun net company, which at the time purchased the LDR e o newspaper in New York. And at my law
firm, they didn't have anybody who spoke Spanish, and they needed somebody who could, you know,
read the articles and understand the articles, because they were sometimes involved in libel
suits and that sort of thing. And I was the only guy there that could speak the language. So that
kind of launched me in a career of working with Spanish language media. I, a few years later,
got the idea of trying to organize a group of Spanish language radio stations
to form what was then the very, very first Spanish language broadcasting
Association. We called an order from the American Hispanic owned radio Association,
something that had never been done before. I was only three years out of law school. So
I was, I didn't even know what I was doing at the time. But, but I spoke the language
and those things You and there weren't many back in those days, Hispanic broadcasters who
actually own their own stations, you know, they like to speak in their own language,
they felt comfortable with me because I did. And also because I understood the culture, you know,
back then, if you if you happen to own a Spanish broadcasting station, a small little a and most
of these guys and and there were a few women who owned these small am and FM stations out in Texas
or in California, if they came to Washington, and had to interact with, say, the US government or
the Federal Communications Commission or other officials, nobody spoke their language. So for
them to have somebody who could represent them in their own language was a huge plus.
Speaker 1: What's the
timeline here? What year are we talking about around
Speaker 2: This would have been
in the late 80s. The American Hispanic owned radio Association out out was formed in 1989.
And many of those original founders of the association, you know, they went on to basically
grow some of the biggest broadcasting companies that we see now they were the founders of SBS
of what is today Univision, of some of the larger broadcasting companies in the country,
which is funny what nobody would have thought that that would have happened back then.
Speaker 1: So in this time in the 80s,
why was there a need to even start this particular organization? Why do that,
Speaker 2: I think it was the late 80s and early 90s,
where a transitional point for the Hispanic population here in the US. And I think there
was a recognition that the this demographic in the US was growing at was having greater influence,
greater economic influence, and the infrastructure was growing to basically
service that that demographic, a seminal event was the 1990 census, because the 1990 census
was the first time that the US government predicted that by the turn of the century Now,
mind you, this is 1990. So they're predicting the year 2000, that by the turn of the century,
the Hispanic population would become the largest ethnic minority in the US. And that really sent
shutters through Washington, and by the way through Wall Street, suddenly, Wall Street
took notice, and realized, wow, that this is going to be a big group. And we want in so one obvious
major way to reach this, this audience was through broadcasting. And so that was the beginning of the
growth of Spanish language broadcasting in the US, that was a major issue back then.
07:56 Speaker 1: What do you think that
did for just in general, the broadcast industry realizing that this was a reality that was coming?
Speaker 2: There was a lot of difficulty in accepting
the fact that Spanish language broadcasting was a real thing, and that it was there to stay.
You know, and in the 60s and 70s, when I was when I was, you know, a kid, you know,
Spanish language broadcasting and media was really relegated to like the bacteria it was,
for those of us who are old enough for those those weird, fuzzy UHF channels that you could
barely picked up, or, you know, am stations with really bad signals. And nobody really paid
much attention to it. It was just sort of the small little back corner of the media industry.
And they still treated it that way, in the early 90s.
All the while that these companies were really, really starting to grow. And I think, you know,
for example, there was a major event when a an FM station in Los Angeles, k LA x,
which was owned by Spanish broadcasting systems, became the number one station in the Los Angeles
market, not the number one Spanish station, the number one station, and the other general market
stations could not believe it. They thought there was a mistake. Howard Stern went on the
air saying, oh, there must be a mistake. Arbitron messed up their numbers, but no, I mean, it was
when people suddenly had to wake up and realize, wow, this is a real force to be reckoned with.
Speaker 1: So at some point in that
period, you connected with the Federal Communications Commission?
Speaker 2: Yeah. Well, I absolutely. As
these groups started to grow. I was working with a lot of them in helping them with their growth and
purchasing stations and developing new broadcast stations and during that process, I became friends
with another broadcast attorney in Washington by the name of William canard, Bill canard.
For those who don't know, Bill canard, he went on to become the very first African American
chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. And Bill was working with a lot of minority
business development organizations that were investing in and helping in the growth of
minority businesses. And so my clients, the, the, these Hispanic broadcasters, which were having
difficulty finding, financing at times, went to those organizations. So when Bill was named
chairman of the FCC, he asked me to join him at the FCC to be among other things, his liaison with
the Hispanic community, which I did, so I was sort of there to introduce him to the various
civic organizations nclr and Lu lac, and to, you know, make sure that he was able to get
out to those constituencies to convey the message that he and that administration wanted to convey
It could have ever been done, and they ever had a liaison to the Hispanic community.
Speaker 2: Um, at that level, probably not, I mean,
really, a very innovative thing that the FCC did back then, was that they created an Office
of Communications business opportunities ACO, and it's still in existence today. And Oppo is
sort of a unique office at the FCC in that it is an office really devoted to assisting minorities
and women to access the telecommunications and media marketplace and the s, nd and the processes
of the FCC, because there was an understanding that these groups may have difficulty getting
into these markets. And it's there to help. So I was the director of ACO during that time.
Speaker 1: Let's talk
a little bit more about the difficulties.
What were the barriers at that time for those individuals accessing the meeting market?
Speaker 2: Well, I mean, in blunt terms,
I mean, there were still and you know, and may still be there still is a racial discrimination
that exists in the marketplace. Right. So I mean, if there was difficulty in gaining access to
capital, to acquire stations, there was difficulty in gate gaining what's called deal flow, which
is sort of knowing what deals are available. And, you know, they were not the groups that
large broadcast groups, or, or finance organizations thought to go to, to underwrite
or to provide business opportunities to these groups. So they, they were usually, you know,
not invited to the table. Or they found out about the negotiations too late, when all the better
properties were already gone. So, so certainly, you know, accessing opportunities, and capital and
financing were major obstacles that they ran into, because keep in mind, you know, back, you know,
everybody thought, Well, you know, minority businesses, you know, you must be talking about
little grocery stores or little bodega is nobody thought, Oh, this person wants to buy a radio
station, a radio station, what are you talking about? minorities don't buy radio stations. You
know, that's, that was sort of the reaction you got. And so you had to sort of overcome that bias.
Speaker 1: Now,
during that time, we also came around to the Telecommunications Act of 1996,
where bigger was better, and to some extent, still, it still continues more than 20 years
later, but at that time, you have this new policy that was promoting larger and larger media
companies. What did that do to this challenge for broadcasters from underrepresented groups?
Speaker 2: Yeah, you know, I mean, you you it was a
double edged sword. I really do think that I mean, throughout the 90s, even right, leading right up
to the 96 Act, which is that we frequently referred to the telecom act as the 96 Act.
There had been steady growth in these Hispanic broadcast groups. Like I said,
earlier, Univision started to really grow Telemundo really started to grow.
You had HBC which became Univision radio was growing SBS others the the 96 Act.
Speaker 2: basically lifted
didn't entirely left but it significantly raised ownership caps on
media ownership and To us, and that led to sort of a buying frenzy. And, and so there was, you know,
groups that were already big we're starting to get really bad. Yeah, that was the birth of, of
the modern Clear Channel which became net, which is now I Heart Radio for example and,
and other Sinclair broadcasting on the TV side. And you saw some of that, by the way, in Hispanic
media. I mean, it was during this period that, that Univision really grew much bigger
that, that that groups like, back back in the US, like I said, earlier, you had HBC,
which is spanic Broadcasting Company, which became Univision radio that they they grew
z, Spanish Radio Network grew very big. And so they were able to sort of ride that wave,
until eventually they got purchased. I mean, HBC got big, but then became a member, and then it got
bought by Univision. So what happened was that there were fewer owners in the marketplace.
And even to this day, if you're going to get into broadcasting, it's very,
very difficult to compete, no matter what language you're going to be in, because
you're almost immediately going to be going up against competition that has not one, not two,
but maybe 567, or eight stations in the market. And that's a really hard, you know, competitive
environment to enter into. And that's that was the change in the demographic and the dynamic there.
Speaker 1: So you serve with Chairman Connor For how long?
Speaker 2: I was at the
FCC for about two and a half years, three years.
Speaker 1: And what happened after that?
Speaker 2: Well, I mean, we
got into the, into the 2000, you know, presidential race. We were on the road.
Chairman Canard was a Democrat. Bill Clinton had already served his two terms. So
al gore was running for president at the time, if you may recall against George W. Bush.
And, you know, you for your younger audience. The election really ended up in a deadlock where
really the issue was the Florida electoral votes, and it actually went, you know,
there was a count there was a recount, there was then there was a Supreme Court challenge,
Bush v Gore. And at the end, the Supreme Court prevented a recount, which ultimately gave Bush
the state of Florida, which then gave Bush the national election. So
basically, when the Republican Party won the White House, Bill canard left office,
I also went back into private practice, and, and really have stayed in private practice ever since,
although I've always worked very, very closely and continue to work closely with with Hispanic media,
although it's it's evolved, right? I mean, it's not all about broadcasting
anymore. Now it's evolved into a lot of new and innovative technology. So for me,
it's always an interesting challenge to see where this is taking me because it started out in the
morning, then went to FM them once a TV and satellite radio and you know, and satellite TV.
And now, you know, my clients are doing everything from, you know, podcasting to digital streaming,
to, you know, Ott content. So it's really diversified pretty dramatically.
Speaker 1: Do you see yourself as doing advocacy
as an attorney? Now? You're not in a role with an organization necessarily, but as an attorney,
are you doing advocacy on behalf of those who are spanning broadcasts on one against broadcasts?
Speaker 2: I do I mean, I do and it's
it's something that I've never really left I mean, I enjoy doing that I work actually very closely
with the National Association of Broadcasters the NA B, on on various initiatives they have the
National Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation, for example, has a program called
the broadcast leadership training school wide, which is designed specifically to train the next
generation of women and minority broadcasters and owners to teach them how to actually
purchase a stay And be owners, the station, I'm on the faculty, the what they call the BLT program,
the broadcast leadership training program, another initiative initiative with the NA B two, which is
which is also aimed at access to capital to to educate banks to make them comfortable lending
to and making capital available to broadcasters and specifically minority broadcasters. I
frequently submit comments to the FCC. I did just recently on an incubator program that the FCC just
established to help promote minority ownership. And I participated there. Yeah, there had been
back in the 90s, something called the minority tax certificate. And when there were hearings over
the minority tax certificate, I testified to the House Ways and Means Committee on that. So yeah,
I'm also serving on the board, for example of the mind of the mmtc and minority media
and telecommunications Council. So I serve on the Board of various organizations. And
it's something that you know, I think, is still vitally important, especially now because the
media marketplace is changing so dramatically. And there's been so much
consolidation on the broadcast front that these constituencies need a voice.
Speaker 1: Speaking about now,
in 2018, at AEJMC annual conference, you participated in a breakfast with Hispanic Media
Panel Discussion, you kind of recap some of those current realities,
at least in 2018, that are facing those who are in Spanish language media.
Speaker 2: Yeah, we covered it with a
really interesting panel this morning. I enjoyed it very much. And we covered a lot of very, very
interesting topics. We had representatives from the major networks, Univision, and Telemundo there
had another journalist, print, media journalist, outbreak, Alberto avendano. And, you know,
we covered among other things, how the Hispanic, Latino, demographic in the US is changing,
it's becoming younger. And in some ways for the second and third generations of Latinos that they
are, you know, not gravitating necessarily to Spanish only content that they're looking
perhaps more to, you know, bilingual or trilingual content. And so, and so that's changing all
the same while that the delivery platforms are changing, right? I mean, they're not;
this audience is not necessarily tuning in to telenovelas on Spanish language TV, like they
once did. They're picking up their content on their, on their smartphones, on YouTube,
on social media, and the like. So Oh, and podcasts are also exploding enormously. So. So these,
the content, producers have to be on their game to know how their audiences are changing.
And you know how to reach that audience. We also even talked about how the news delivery,
and news aggregation is changing, you know, especially in this administration,
where you have very, very polarized population, and a lot of editorial content,
as opposed to just, you know, pure news, and how the the the current political climate
is impacting how that news is being developed, and disseminated to this
population. So it was a really, really good discussion. I enjoyed it very much.
Speaker 1: One of the things that has been talked about
a lot in the last few years, the last two years is the political environment, and how that impacts
the way in which journalists do their job apps. And you know, this program, this project is
talking about trailblazers in journalism. But many of those trailblazers probably didn't think
about when they were trailblazing a reality where they could be accused of being fake news
or doing fake news. Right. I'm interested in your thoughts about the political dynamics for
Hispanic broadcasters, especially given our current political environment?
Speaker 2: Yeah. And this was actually something that
we did talk about on the panel today. And, you know, I think there is sort of this, this, this
belief, I certainly believe where the line between news and editorial content is starting to blur
has already blurred. You know, you, you go on to news channels.
Now, and you don't see a lot of news, you see a lot of editorial content, right, you see a lot of
opinions, which is not to say that opinions are bad, there's a role for them. But I think where
it becomes a little dangerous is where something is, that is, in fact, opinion, is presented as if
it were news. So, you know, it's always been a challenge, I think, for journalists to try to,
you know, keep those two worlds separate, and to try to provide, you know, unbiased reporting.
Having said that, with Hispanic media, you know, that they have an audience and a constituency
that, you know, let's be honest, I think at times can feel like it's under siege,
right? especially in this day and age, where there's sort of this, you know, anti immigrant
bat, you know, flavor in the air. And, and so that there is sort of a role for for media and for news
media, I think, a valuable teachable moment where they can provide to this constituency,
a very valuable service, as long as they maintain their you know, and I don't think
there's any problem with, you know, expressing editorial opinions. Right. I mean, yeah, with that
they did the, the, the Edward R. Murrow speech about Senator McCarthy, you know, I mean,
there's a long proud history of the press speaking its opinion when they see something in public life
that they think needs to be pointed out. So I think there's a role for that. I pointed out,
you know, during the, during the panel discussion early today that I think one of the
unheralded heroes of all this is is is some of the local media outlets, the little tiny, you know, am
stations, local newspapers, low power FM stations, non commercial community broadcast stations,
for example. Because they, you know, provide a real valuable local service to small, perhaps
insulated Hispanic populations, not you know, I'm not talking about New York or Chicago or LA, but
I'm talking about small little communities out in the Midwest. You know, I mentioned Fayetteville,
Arkansas, because Fayetteville Arkansas has people, some of you may not realize it has a very,
very large Latino population, because there's a lot of poultry farms there, for example, well,
yeah. So the small stations that are there, you know, provide an invaluable service. And,
you know, I think that news and content, good news and content is inherently local. And with these
local populations, they want to have, you know, useful information about what's going on in their
community. Is my school going to be open or close today? Where can I go to the grocery store? Where
can I go to get my check cashed in a place where they speak Spanish? You know, how can I get, you
know, whatever, can I find a lawyer? Can I find an accountant, a doctor that speaks Spanish, or is my
child sick? You know, that's really the you know, I mean, that's really the information where,
where the local media outlets can provide a really valuable service to those communities.
Speaker 1: I believe one of the things you do as you require
the universities that own these licenses for radio stations, talk more about your work there.
Speaker 2: Well, I mean, I do I do a lot of and it's funny,
because the, the, the media environment, in, in academia and with the universities and colleges
is very, very, very, right. I mean, they're small, medium, and large. I mean, you can
look, for example, to American University here in Washington, which has a very,
very sophisticated operation with their w hmu. Station, NPR affiliate, very, very professional,
all the way down to these small little, you know, Community college stations
that are almost entirely student run and student organized. But I mean, I have found that
the college and university media outlets frequently can be the birthplace of some very,
very innovative ideas. You know, for example, you know, the The the use of podcasting that the
spoken word content and, and the dissemination of spoken word content through podcasting was really
championed at the at the public broadcasting level with with these colleges and universities,
and they've done and continue to do incredibly innovative things, you know, mixing up formats,
multimedia, you know, presentation, displays of content, you know, mixing and matching,
how they do things, you know, storing of digital content on a sort of on demand basis, you know,
all those sorts of things. A lot of times it's, it's, and I think part of it.
I mean, is is because they have this, you know, young think outside the box, staff, right, that
if you go to some some, you know, established old, you know, broadcast shops across the country,
you know, people young people are frequently told, no, we don't do that. No, you can't do that. No,
nobody does that. Nobody. Yeah, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Well, you know, at the small
community colleges, there's nobody there to say no, so they just do it.
And then and lo and behold, it's like, wow, you know, nobody's ever done that before. What a great
idea. So, you know, sometimes you know, that's a, that's a, that's a really good thing to have.
Speaker 1: Speaking of the universities who own the stations,
you're at. You're at the Association for education and Journalism and Mass Communication.
We're the largest organization of journalism, Mass Comm educators? Or do you think we play a role
in this area of preparing students to perhaps own stations, or create new media outlets? What
are academics able to do in this area of addressing diversity when they're on air
product? and programming? What do you see us as educators being able to do about this?
Speaker 2: I think you mean, I think you serve an invaluable
role. And all this. I mean, first of all, I mean, I think, now speaking for myself, I mean,
when I was young and new, I mean, and new to all this, one of my biggest obstacles, was my own
insecurity, right? I didn't know what questions to ask. I didn't know, you know, what to say?
Or do and so my reaction would be just to kind of clam up and just like not, not say anything? Yeah,
I think, certainly an important role of the educators, I sort of certainty see it this way,
when not when I'm teaching classes to these young students is, you know,
nothing is, is out of bounds here. You know, there is no as my father, you say, there's no such
thing as a stupid question. They're only stupid answers, right? So So, you know, if you if you're,
if you, you know, speak up, we want to hear and also, you know, instill in them, you know,
try to anticipate some of the obstacles that they're going to run into, and instill in them,
you know, a, you know, an understanding that, yes, you're going to run into these problems,
every, you know, things are going to go sideways, and you need to have a plan B, or a Plan C,
don't be you know, don't be discouraged. And just kind of say, oh, it just wasn't meant to be No,
I mean, you have to sort of come back then, then I have many, many clients who, you know,
started their businesses out of the trunk of their car. And the ones that really succeeded,
were just dogs, they just kept going at it. And they kept Yeah, they were not discouraged
by by the problems that they were running into even, you know, even more recent, for example, I
had clients who were like, you know, ran into what was the brick wall of the Oh, eight market crash,
and they still were like, no, we're gonna figure out some way so that I can finance this,
this acquisition, so that I can make this happen. And, you know, it's amazing. They, I mean, I know,
I know, some of these small broadcasters who, when they buy their first station, they're their
own General Manager, their own program director, their own general sales manager and their own DJ,
they wear like, six hats, and they do it all. And, you know, that's, it's, that's what you do.
So I think, you know, instilling in them, you know, that the idea that this is very doable,
and that it's these are challenges that they can take on.
Speaker 1: Would you buy in 2018,
a radio station or television station?
Speaker 2: Yeah, it's a really good question. Because I mean,
one thing that I hear frequently, for example, is Oh, well broadcasting his dad who would do that?
And, you know, I guess my, my answer to that is, it really depends. I mean, that's really sort of,
it depends. I mean, you know, oh, would I buy a broadcasting station that I knew was
going to do well, and make a lot of money? Well, yeah, I would, you know, so the,
so really, that the, the, the, the, really what you have to look at is, you know, what are the
market opportunities that are out there? You know, broadcasting absolutely is not what it once was.
Newspapers aren't what they once were, hell, you know, those CDs and DVDs and,
and, and, and, and, you know, videotapes aren't what they once were. But, you know, you, you,
you look to see where the where the opportunities were? I mean, my answer, I'm not giving an answer.
My answer to your question is that if, if there was a marketplace, a more niche market,
where a radio station, for example, could really serve a need in that market, then yeah, I would,
I would absolutely do it, I think I still do believe that with with broadcasting or any of
what we're talking about, it's really all ultimately, it's all about the content,
good content, will, you know, people will flock to new content, no matter what the delivery
system is. And if it's, you know, and if it's, if it's a, if it's a good, you know, a good program,
whatever, it'll just migrate to a broader and broader audience,
eventually, through different systems, people will come to you and say, Hey,
can I grab your content, put it on my station? If you have it? So it's really what you produce.
Speaker 1: What are your
biggest challenges going forward? meaning in your advocacy in the work you're doing,
the current political environment? What are your biggest challenges moving forward?
Speaker 2: Well, I think certainly right now,
for me, and for my clients is that there is a very rapidly changing media marketplace right now. And
it's not just I mean, there's, there's always been a certain amount of change. But I think the,
the, the pace at which the change happens, it seems to be accelerating. So you know,
for example, you know, I mean, I mentioned earlier that I'm, I'm running an eight year old law firm,
I'm not 18 years old, but the firm's been around so this firm has been around through,
you know, you know, it started out with, you know, Western Union, Telegraph and am and then FM,
and then, you know, VHF TV, UHF TV, digital TV satellites, those with every, with every shift in
technology, the change has happened more and more rapidly. Right. So now the changes are happening,
and, you know, at almost breakneck speed, just as you're getting up to speed on one, something
new is popping up. So a big challenge for me. And I think for everyone in the marketplace is
staying on top, you know, where, where is my audience right now? Where are they consuming
media and content, so that I can be there and be on top of that, that, that, that that's really a
huge, huge challenge. And, you know, and also integrating all those together because I think
the prepense, the gut reaction, the propensity is to to say, well,
the new technologies are just going to be ancillary to the, to the old, stable technology,
right? You know, when I hear somebody say, Oh, you know, we're a, we're a broadcast company. And if
you like, we can also offer you some streaming media and a podcast now, that's the ones who
are saying, No, we are a multimedia company. And we know, for us, as I mentioned earlier,
it's about the content. And we can distribute that content through a variety of different platforms.
So here's your menu. What would you like and we can mix it up for you. Would you like,
you know, FM and TV, TV and social media, social media and podcast and satellite. I mean, how,
you know, how would you like it because I think really having that the audience demands that
level of flexibility. The advertisers want that level of targeted access to the audience
and to their customer base, and you have to be able to offer them what they want.
Speaker 1: Frank Montero,
thank you so much for talking with us today.
Speaker 2: My pleasure.
I really enjoyed it. Thank you very much.
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications Trailblazers of Diversity collection
AEJMC Trailblazers of Diversity Interview with Frank Montero