The seeds of Walter Ulloa's Spanish-language media empire were planted early. As a child growing up in Brawley, he would spend weekends at his grandparents' ranch, watching Mexican TV broadcast from across the border. To this day, he still recalls it fondly: "It was Channel 3, out of Mexicali." He grew up to become co-founder and chief executive of Entravision Communications Corp., a publicly traded media company based in Santa Monica. Entravision owns or operates 51 TV and 48 radio stations across the country, the majority of which have Spanish-language programming. Before he built Entravision into a nationwide network, Ulloa was a law student and an editorial writer at Spanish-language TV station KMEX. Ulloa sat down with the Business Journal recently to discuss his childhood, his rise through the media ranks and his love of college football.

Question: How is managing a Spanish-language media empire different from managing an English-language one?

Answer: Well, in many ways it's the same. But the relationship between our TV properties and our Latino audience is a little different than the general market's relationship to its audience because I think that our viewers and listeners are more dependent on our properties for information and entertainment. We like to think of our media assets as beacons for the Latino community. There are fewer choices in Latino media in general, though that's changing. When I started in the business in 1976, there was one Spanish-language station in Los Angeles, KMEX, and it wouldn't even sign on until 3 p.m. Fast-forward to today, and I think there are eight Spanish-language TV stations.

Q: Where were you born?

A: I was born in Brawley, which is a small agricultural town in Imperial County. My father was a certified public accountant, and it was pretty rare at that time to have a Latino who was in business, or really anything outside of agriculture.

Q: What hobbies did you have as a kid?

A: I played a lot of tennis. It was a sport I was very good at and I sort of became known as a tennis player in the region. But I spent a lot of time in school, too. Education was important to my father and something he really stressed to me and my two younger brothers, Ronald and Roland.

Q: Were you interested in media when you were growing up?

A: Yes, to some degree. My brother Roland was a disc jockey at a local radio station, and I spent time at the station, where I started to become familiar with media. Also, on weekends I would sometimes spend time with my grandparents, who lived on a ranch not far from the U.S.-Mexico border, and they would watch Spanish-language TV that came from across the border. That was really my first experience with Spanish-language TV, and later when I started in media I remembered watching that Mexican TV station with my grandparents.

Q: Why did you decide to go to USC?

A: When I was growing up it was certainly a school my parents spoke about quite a bit. My dad took some courses there, though he didn't graduate from there. It was relatively close to the town that I grew up in, around 200 miles away, and I had come to visit it in 1966 when I was getting ready to apply to college and really thought I liked it.

Q: Why did you major in business?

A: It was an area that I felt suited me well. I've always been interested in business because of my dad. His influence was certainly there, being a CPA and interacting with many businesses in his career.

Q: What did you want to be?

A: Well, I went to Loyola Law School after I graduated from USC in 1970 because I had thoughts of practicing law. Turned out I didn't, but it was a good decision. The legal education has certainly served me well because there are so many legal aspects that merge with business decisions.

Q: This is right around when you met your wife, right?

A: We actually met after law school, about 1975. I was working for a program run by the city of Los Angeles, which was designed to employ disadvantaged youth, mostly Latinos and African-Americans. And my wife was working for the same program. She had just finished up her master's in dramatic criticism at UC Santa Barbara. We started dating and were married in 1982. She's a successful screenwriter now.

Q: How did you end up in media?

A: Out of law school I was working for a firm, but then someone told me about a part-time opening at KMEX, writing editorials for the general manager. I thought I had the ability to write commentaries that spoke about issues important to the Latino community here in Los Angeles. As soon as I started, I became enamored with Spanish-language media.

Q: What did you enjoy about it?

A: I think it's the power of the television station, the ability to communicate with so many people. TV stations can motivate, inform, educate and create change, and that was very appealing to me.

Q: So how did you go from editorial writing to the head of a media empire?

A: I'll tell you the turning point: Early in my career at KMEX, I saw some forecasts about the future growth of the Latino population in the United States. I remember looking at all the information and I said to myself: "Gee, if the growth is just half of what these experts predict, then this business of Spanish-language media could become more important than I had originally thought." And I decided then that not only did I want to work in the business, but I wanted to own radio and TV properties.

Q: Then you started climbing the ladder at KMEX, correct?

A: Yes, I had a number of positions. I was the operations manager, I was the news director, I was a local sales manager in fact, of the 12 years I spent at KMEX, I probably spent eight in sales. My goal while I was there was to try to learn every aspect of a TV business, so I could then take that experience and skill and transfer that to the ownership and operation of properties.

Q: When did you leave KMEX?

A: 1988. By then I was far enough along with my goals that I decided I needed to leave and create my dream.

Q: Where did you go?

A: Well, one of the first markets I looked at was Denver, which at that time was like the 16th largest Hispanic market. My partners and I had the construction permit to build a station there, but we didn't have capital. I needed about $4 million, and I remember going to talk to some banks in Denver, and they wanted to know how much cash flow I had. I said, "Well, my business doesn't have cash flow yet, I need money to build a TV station." And they looked at me and said, "OK, but we don't really lend to business plans." I understood. After all, banks need to know that you can pay them back.

Q: What did you do then?

A: I had a friend, a lawyer, who was interested in my career, and his firm had just won a big case. My friend was looking for an investment to make, and he said to me, "Well maybe I'll invest in your business." His law firm ultimately loaned us almost $2 million and we were able to leverage that to get an equipment loan, and from that we were able to build the station.

Q: And the company grew from there?

A: Yes, we gradually started to grow. We built a station in Colorado Springs, which is near Denver, then one of my partners and I built a station in San Diego. From 1988 to 1995, my partners and I built the core TV group that later formed the basis for the launch of Entravision.

Q: Were those early days tough?

A: Oh, yeah, it was still a struggle. It's never easy to start a business. Most businesses are undercapitalized, and mine was no different. True story: At the beginning I was funding a lot of the business with my credit cards, and the debt got very expensive.

Q: Did you ever have doubts?

A: There were times along the way when I wondered how I was going to get through it. In those days you would pay 20 percent interest on your credit cards, and when the business wasn't going as well as I wanted, when I didn't have the right people working with me and capital was in short supply, it was tough. But I was able to work through it. I had to believe in my own ability.

Q: What was the turning point for you?

A: By 1995, I had an ownership stake in six or seven TV properties, including ones in Las Vegas; Palm Springs; and Yuma, Ariz. But they weren't all under one company because we had formed separate companies for each station. Around this time I was planning to acquire a station in Monterey. I needed about $10 million, and my partners and I found these bankers in the Southwest who told us: "We'll lend you the money, but there's only one stream of cash flow here, the Monterey TV station. So you need to pull together all these properties that you own so the combined cash flow will protect our loan." So we did it and formed Entravision.

Q: What else happened in 1995?

A: That was the point that Univision came to us and said, "We know you guys, we know you've been around this business for a while, and we'd like to invest in your company." Univision ultimately invested $10 million, and we started buying more properties. It was a very big year. The only other year that was perhaps bigger was when we took the company public in 2000.

Q: Entravision recently launched a new Spanish-language TV station in Wichita, Kan. Is the company expanding?

A: We certainly believe in the future growth of the Hispanic market. And I think Wichita is the 51st largest Hispanic market in the country. It's only been on the air for a couple months now, but we're certainly pleased with its progress.

Q: Do you feel proud looking back at how far you've come?

A: I don't think about it much, to be honest. But I'm proud of what we've accomplished.

Q: What advice would you give to an entrepreneur?

A: It all starts with what you want to do. Whatever your own personal vision is you need to pursue it, and you need to devote yourself to the business or profession that you enjoy. Certainly economic compensation is important to all of us, but I don't think that should be the first reason for doing something.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: Whatever opportunity we have, even though it's hard because I'm busy and so is my wife, we like to travel. We've been many times to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. And exercising is important to me. I try to exercise every day, mostly at the gym.

Q: As a USC alumnus, are you a fan of their football team?

A: Sure, big fan. I'm really impressed with their freshman quarterback, Matt Barkley. But my wife went to UCLA, so I confess I have divided loyalties. And there's another reason I'm interested in UCLA football: They have a young man on their team, Christian Ramirez, who's from the same area where I grew up. I don't know him personally, but I'm interested to see him play. So look for him.

Walter Ulloa

TITLE: Chairman and Chief Executive

COMPANY: Entravision Communications Corp.

BORN: 1948; Brawley

EDUCATION: Bachelor's of science in business administration, USC, 1970; juris doctorate, Loyola University School of Law, 1975

CAREER TURNING POINT: Working part time at KMEX (Channel 34), writing

MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE: Jerrold A. Perenchio, former CEO of Univision; Rene Anselmo, former CEO of Spanish International Network; Daniel D. Villanueva, former general manager of KMEX; parents Walter G. and Margaret Ulloa

PERSONAL: Lives in Pacific Palisades with wife, screenwriter Alexandra Seros ("The Specialist," "Point of No Return"); their 17-year-old son Bruno; and pet cat Mookie

HOBBIES: Exercising and traveling

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