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For a little more than a year, Univision, the mega U.S. Hispanic communications network, had a conservative radio show on its KTNQ station in Los Angeles. Shortly before 2 p.m., Pablo Kleinman was getting ready. He had already set up the monologue and contacted the interviewee. The clock struck 2 o’clock in California and Pablo, from his home in Miami, using a COMREX device, began transmitting.
“Hello, I’m Pablo Kleinman, and welcome to Radio California Libre, on KTNQ, Univision’s Southern California talk radio and the only Spanish-language political debate station.” Pablo’s introduction, which succeeded the guitar riff of Ni tú ni nadie, was heard by thousands of listeners from November 2019 until January 4, 2021, when KTNQ canceled his show. According to Kleinman, the reason for his cancellation is clear: his conservative voice, the only one in all of Spanish-language radio in California, was no longer wanted at Univision.
No advertising, no freedom
In an interview with El American, 50-year-old Pablo Kleinman, born in Argentina but a native Californian, revealed how his show was brought to an end. According to Kleinman, Univision called him in September 2019 with the purpose of generating a balance in the relaunch of the radio station KTNQ, crowded with leftist and progressive voices. They already knew of Kleinman because between 2008 and 2013 he had filled in on the radio for Uruguayan broadcaster Fernando Espuelas, when he went on vacation. Kleinman accepted the proposal and Radio California Libre went on the air in November 2019.
Although Univision management clearly didn’t agree with his views, Kleinman said that at first “everything was going perfect. I wasn’t treated very well, but at least I wasn’t being censored. Or well, nothing beyond when management asked me ‘not to propagandize.'”
Yet a few months later, the entire country was plunged into unprecedented tension on the eve of the November 2020 presidential election. Inside KTNQ, it was not much different.
“As the election approached, they started putting a warning before the radio show started and before the commercials, to make it clear to listeners that my views and positions did not represent the company. It was the first time they had ever done anything like that on the radio,” Kleinman told El American.
Kleinman was also unable to flee the pandemic and became ill during Christmas, so in addition to the normal vacation dates in December and January, he was unable to broadcast Radio California Libre on December 28, 29, and 30. He rejoined on January 4 and, that night, executives told him that, due to staffing problems, he would not be able to record some of the following days.
“We have some complications at the station, we don’t have engineers who can attend the studio, and starting tomorrow and probably until Friday we won’t have live programming from 5 am, until 3 PM,” Edgar Pineda, the radio station’s content director, told Pablo Kleinman by mail.
“My program was recorded from 2 to 3 PM and, surprisingly, the alleged staffing problem did not affect the 3 and 4 PM program. Both were conducted by well-known progressives and were broadcast normally on those days.”
Regarding the other announcers, Kleinman refers to Fernando Espuelas, the Uruguayan he had already substituted and who heads, together with the former mayor of Los Angeles and member of the Democratic Party, Antonio Villaraigosa, a Political Action Committee called American Latinos United whose purpose was to prevent the reelection of Donald Trump. The other radio program, the one at 4 PM, is directed by the Mexican León Krauze, a famed Mexican journalist, also known for his very hard anti-Trump line.
What at first began as a temporary suspension ended with an outright cancellation on January 7. Kleinman tells El American that Eva Castillo, “the director of the production company through which Univision finances its radio called me and told me that I couldn’t continue doing the radio show.” According to the director of the production company EW Castillo, INC, which worked with Univision and acted as an intermediary at the time, the reason for the cancellation of the program was because the advertisers did not want their brand to appear during Pablo Kleinman’s show.
“Now we have problems covering payroll,” Castillo told Kleinman, “it’s hard to sell advertising for your show.” At that point, Pablo Kleinman responded to Castillo that neither Univision nor his production company is in charge of selling advertising for Radio California Libre.
Kleinman told El American: “It didn’t make much sense to me nor did I see it as plausible, considering that there had never been complaints before and my program was performing very well, according to the feedback I was getting from management.”
El American contacted Eva Castillo for comment on the cancellation of Radio California Libre. Castillo said: “Unfortunately with the pandemic, everything went down. I was looking for clients to advertise, but it was impossible.”
“The decision was strictly economic,” Castillo insists to El American. “Not only did we dispense with Pablo’s services, but also other collaborators.”
“If I had the means to bring him back, I would do it,” she added. “I love what Pablo does, he is a great professional.”
Yet something doesn’t add up about Castillo’s testimony. Kleinman insists that she was not responsible for selling his advertising. Meanwhile, El American spoke to a KTNQ source who requested anonymity. The source said Eva Castillo needed Univision’s approval to permanently suspend a radio show. “I don’t think she has the authority.” On the other hand, even if it were true that she was in charge of selling Radio California Libre‘s advertising and had failed to do so, there is flexibility in the medium.
“She could have worked out a deal with Pablo if she really wanted to. Univision could have done it. It’s common for talent to also get their clients. That’s been done forever,” the KTNQ source tells El American.
“Pablo is literally the only conservative who had a full show on all Spanish-language radio in California,” said the source. “I don’t know what the reason was for his departure, but they never bothered to keep him. They didn’t encourage him to continue, that was pretty clear. It was clear that they were not interested in having his point of view on the radio.”
KTNQ didn’t replace Kleinman at the time. Instead, it began rebroadcasting the 11 AM radio show, hosted by Liliana Garcia, the wife of Luis Patiño, president of Univision in Los Angeles, in his time slot. Although Garcia’s radio program was originally intended to cover the stories of small Hispanic entrepreneurs, it ended up, in the context of the election, becoming another progressive and left-wing radio show on Univision. It was now three left-leaning radio programs, minus one conservative one.
Several days after Radio California Libre was suddenly canceled, García, in between his attacks on then-President Donald Trump and warnings that “a group of white people are at war to preserve” their domination in the U.S., began to say that Kleinman had resigned and that, as a result, his show was being repeated at 2 p.m. He said it not once, but several times.
“It’s shameful that there are people defending Trump. It is shameful that there are representatives of minority communities who continue defending President Trump (…) Our program is being repeated at 2 o’clock in the afternoon because Pablo Kleinman resigned,” said Liliana García in the broadcast of her radio program on January 14 of this year.
Kleinman complained to Edgar Pineda, the programming director, asking them to correct because he never resigned. He was ignored.
The impossible contract
On January 26, 2021, the president of Univision in Los Angeles, Luis Patiño, emailed Kleinman. He proposed a phone call, which they arranged for the following day.
In conversation, Patiño again told Kleinman about the alleged problem Univision had had with advertisers in his space; however, he told him that he still valued having a dissenting voice, with a different perspective, on the radio. Patiño then invited Kleinman to return to KTNQ, but under a different agreement which they discussed in detail ten days later.
During the intermission, Pablo Kleinman received an off-the-record call from producer Eva Castillo, who told him that there had been a strong audience reaction to the suspension of Radio California Libre. Most of the comments called for Kleinman to return to the air.
“This is not known to me, but it was what Eva Castillo told me. She insisted to me that there had been pressure from listeners for me to return,” Kleinman told El American.
Castillo confirmed the above to El American: “A lot of people called. They were telling me to come back, but we couldn’t sustain it, unfortunately. Several followers that he had, because he had a lot of followers, called to ask what had happened to Pablo.”
On February 8, Kleinman and Patiño discussed the new contract agreements. Univision’s president asked Kleinman to be more flexible this time: he would have, this time, the morning time slot; he would not receive any more salary for doing the program and, instead, he would receive advertising payments, per minute, which he would have to sell himself. Pablo Kleinman agreed, “since he knew many businessmen who would be delighted to have advertising on Radio California Libre.”
Finally, Patiño offered Kleinman to sign a memorandum of understanding so that everything could be finalized without so many bureaucratic obstacles. But the memorandum never came. After disappearing for more than two months, Patiño rectified and did not send a memorandum to Kleinman, but a new contract, quite faithful to the conversations they had had, but with an additional paragraph.
“The contract itself was pretty close to what we had verbally agreed to, which meant I wasn’t getting any salary,” Kleinman says.
One clause struck him as paradoxical: the contract offered by Univision made it clear to Kleinman that he could not, in any way, hire any illegal immigrants. Specifically, the contract, to which El American had access, stated that “the producer shall comply with all applicable federal, state, municipal and local laws, rules, regulations, and requirements, including, but not limited to, immigration laws.”
“The producer shall be responsible for verifying that its employees comply with U.S. immigration law,” read Univision’s proposed contract.
However, the poison pill addendum, as Kleinman calls the section that made the contract impossible, was on the last page: “For a radio show that I would do alone from my desk in my home office, the contract required that I must take out a series of insurance policies worth thousands of dollars, when I wasn’t even being paid anything upfront and I was to attempt monetization with my own advertisers!”
The requirements were unusual and disproportionate. The contract required insurance policies that, for the most part, did not correspond to reality. They were for thousands of dollars. Although the rest of the contract seemed fairly faithful to what he had already agreed to, Kleinman asked Patiño to remove most of the policies required by the contract.
“They said they wouldn’t move anything an inch. It was clear to me: this clause on the last page killed it and it was on purpose. It was all designed to make the deal unworkable.”
“I never heard from them again,” Kleinman says. To that extent, the talks prospered. It’s clear to him: there was never any intention for him to actually return to radio. “I was canceled.”
El American reached out to Luis Patiño to get his side of the story. He initially answered a call, but asked to have the questions mailed to him. After two days on hold, Univision’s vice president of Corporate Communications, Yvette Pacheco, told El American: “For now, we are not going to respond to this request.”
Orlando Avendaño is the co-editor-in-chief of El American. He is a Venezuelan journalist and has studies in the History of Venezuela. He is the author of the book Days of submission // Orlando Avendaño es el co-editor en Jefe de El American. Es periodista venezolano y cuenta con estudios en Historia de Venezuela. Es autor del libro Días de sumisión.