A decade ago, Univision-owned KAKW Channel 62 took a chance, launching a Spanish-language local newscast targeted at Central Texans.
Would it work? The answer has been a resounding yes.
Today, the station is an integral part of the lives of thousands of people in Austin – and beyond. Viewership for its news programs at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. weeknights frequently tops other Austin TV stations in advertiser-coveted demographics, such as adults ages 18 to 49, according to Nielsen ratings.
“Before us, a huge percentage of this community didn’t have any way to get local information,” said news anchor Gustavo Monsante, who previously worked at the Univision station in Dallas. “It’s been a huge success. Ratings are going up every day. I’m filled with pride.”
KAKW isn’t alone in its success. During the recently completed February “sweeps” period, Univision beat NBC nationwide in primetime, making it one of America’s top four networks – along with ABC, CBS and Fox – for the first time ever.
Like Monsante, news director Ismael Martinez was part of the team that helped get “Noticias 62” on the air. Martinez started out as a part-time video editor before working his way up to his “dream job” overseeing the entire newsroom. He said the station’s news team has worked hard over the past 10 years to produce broadcasts that are just as polished as those seen on its English-language competitors, which have been on the air decades longer and have more employees.
“I love Austin; I love everything we’ve done here,” Martinez said. “We really have a great team. Even though we haven’t grown in staff that much, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.”
One staffing addition the station has made was giving Monsante a co-anchor. Regina Rodriguez made the switch from print to broadcast journalism almost six years ago.
“He’s the veteran, but I think I’ve contributed to the news in a positive way, too,” she said. “We help each other and learn from each other every day.”
Since joining KAKW, Rodriguez has handled a variety of duties – reporting, hosting morning news updates and even delivering the weather – endearing herself to viewers of all ages.
“It’s rewarding to head out after a long day of work and see someone on the street who says they can’t go to sleep without watching you each night,” she said.
The key to the station’s success, according to staffers, is its intimate connection to the area’s Hispanic community. KAKW regularly organizes events around town focusing on topics viewers say they’re most interested in, such as education, health care and immigration.
“We have a team that really enjoys helping and inspiring our community,” Martinez said. “Our news is more community-oriented, giving viewers information to overcome barriers and grow. They feel like we’re on their side. We’re their watchdog.”
“We touch people,” said Monsante, who also hosts a weekly political show seen on Univision stations across the state. “We give them what they’re looking for; what they need.”
Thursday night, for example, the station opened up its phone lines for six straight hours, giving Austinites a chance to call in and get answers to their questions about diabetes. As many as 500 calls were expected. And Monsante was front and center in a recent weight loss challenge, dropping an impressive 85 pounds.
“When I go to the supermarket, I still have people asking me, ‘How did you do it?’” he said.
Austin’s rapidly growing Hispanic population has a “thirst for information” that Univision 62 is quenching, said Andy Martinez, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“Not having Univision … I don’t think that’s an option,” he said. “They bring a lot of value to the community, keeping people informed.”
“Noticias 62” is no longer the only game in town, though. KEYE Channel 42, Austin’s CBS affiliate, now features Telemundo programming on one of its digital subchannels, including Spanish-language local newscasts that also air at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.
The Telemundo broadcasts have struggled to gain much traction in the ratings, but KAKW isn’t taking its commanding lead for granted.
“We have loyal viewers who started watching us at the very beginning, and we want them to stick with us,” Rodriguez said. “We want to give them the best newscast possible every night.”
Univision 62 has big plans for the future, Martinez said. Weekend newscasts are on his wish list, and morning news updates will likely be expanded at some point. KAKW also plans to begin broadcasting in high definition this summer.
One change you’re not likely to see is in front of the camera. Like so many other transplants, Monsante says he’s enamored with Austin and has no plans to leave any time soon.
“I’m pretty passionate about my job and my company,” Monsante said. “I don’t see myself anywhere else.”
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When to watch
Univision 62 airs news broadcasts at 6:24 a.m., 7:24 a.m., 8:24 a.m., 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. weekdays.