February 20, 2009


Juan Luis Curiel, The Johnny Carson of Tijuana

By Augie Bareño

During the late 1950’s and early sixties Dick Clark’s American Bandstand was one of the most popular shows among the nations Teenagers. It introduced many legendary rock and roll figures to the viewing public. It spawned many similar shows throughout the country, locally in San Diego; KFMB-Channel 8 had Don Howard’s Teenage Dance time, where each week he would feature various San Diego area High schools in a dance contest, the winners of which would head to a Dance-off. The show proved to be very popular and gave Channel 8 access to a burgeoning youth market.

Juan Luis Curiel (right) a leader in Mexican television.

Juan Luis Curiel, a Mexico City native, now living in Chula Vista, arrived in Tijuana in 1953, in search of opportunities. By the late 1950’s he understood the power of television. So enthused by the potential of television, combined with the opportunity being presented to him at the new Channel 12 in Tijuana, he pursued one of the earliest television broadcasting licenses issued by the federal government for the Baja California region. His effort at the newly developed Channel 12, would be distinguished by his many marketing and programmatic innovations including the first regular news program on Channel 12 “Telenoticias,” of which he was producer and host. He also served as host and producer of the very popular “Ritmos De Juventud,” the Mexican equivalent of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand which grew in such popularity that it was copied as programming format throughout the republic of Mexico.

His show “Ritmos De Juventud” was one of the major venues for showcasing some the pioneering groups of Mexican rock and roll. When asked what gave him the idea for the “Ritmos De Juventud”concept, he admits to having been influenced by the simplicity of the American Bandstand idea while visiting Channel 6 studios in Tijuana, which at the time had an ABC affiliation, which was Dick Clark’s parent network.

Juan Luis Curiel is credited with producing some of the first commercials promoting the quintessential American products like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Chevrolet to the northern Mexico market, first convincing the American producers that a market existed in Tijuana and other areas, then producing the commercials in such a manner that would appeal to the unique Mexican buying public.

Today, these practices are very common; however, in the sixties and early seventies this was not even imagined, until people like Juan Luis Curiel, gambled with an idea and succeeded. His effort is regarded by many as the framework from which the concept of bi-national marketing was developed.

The most significant achievement of Juan Luis Curiel at Channel 12 was the producing and hosting of his very popular show called “Juan Luis Presenta,” which ran from 1969 to 1990, it was the first of the TV Variety Talk show in Baja California, indeed in most of Northern Mexico. The show featured Mexico’s most popular movie and television stars, major recording artist and prominent officials.

“Juan Luis Presenta” drew a comparison in format to the Johnny Carson show, which at that time dominated American television, so much that the American consulate in Tijuana at the time, Robert Emmons who was a frequent quest of the show, once remarked while introducing Juan Luis Curiel at a dinner that he was the “Johnny Carson of Tijuana,” a designation that was picked up by the press and is still used today, while referring to Juan Luis Curiel.

The program remained an essential vehicle to reach the Tijuana market until the late 1980’s, when the influx of Mexico City influences began to redefine the Tijuana market. In reviewing some of the archive footages of the programs, I was amazed to see a segment, where a former San Diego mayor was extolling the virtue of a close bi-national relationship between San Diego-Tijuana. Funny, these many years later, he is on the radio talking about the closing of the border.

We owe a debt to the Mexican media mogul Emilio Azcarraga Milmo and Frank Faus, owner of the famed Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles for, in 1960, starting Channel 12, in Tijuana, BC. So the next time, you turn your TV on to Univsion, Televisa, etc, know that the power that moves these media giants, started many years ago with people like Juan Luis Curiel, the “Johnny Carson of Tijuana.”

Juan Luis Curiel, we salute you.

Return to the Frontpage