Meet the Phoenix journalist who helped change the face and voice of TV news

“I was one of the very few brown faces, and it surprised a lot of people that I used my name, my original name – Jesus Hernandez.”
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 3:33 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- There was a time when we didn’t see the representation or voices of Hispanic culture in the news unless it was bad news. We recently sat down with one of Phoenix’s first bilingual on-air reporters. Jesus Hernandez shot to network fame in Los Angeles, then returned to the Valley to amplify the stories that weren’t being told.

From day one, Hernandez has been true to his roots and all in on a dream.

“I was one of the very few brown faces, and it surprised a lot of people that I used my name, my original name – Jesus Hernandez,” he said. “And people were like what, ‘What did he say?’ At one point, my news director wanted me to change my name to Joe Hernandez.”

Before he broke into the industry in the early ‘70s, many people, including his professors, told him he’d never make it.

“I had a real thick accent,” he recalled. “They used to tell me, ‘You should go to Spanish radio.’”

Hernandez grew up in the barrio in South Phoenix, raised by a single mother who came up from Mexico to work farm labor through the Bracero Program.

“Barrio Campito, this was my playground,” Hernandez said as he walked us through the streets that are now mostly gravel lots, leveled and cleared of homes southwest of Chase Field.

“Poverty for me was always constant, but it was that struggle, that determination, that taught me you can accomplish what you want if you just continue to stay focused on your dream,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez served three years in the Army. When he came home from Vietnam, he was determined to get into the media industry and pay his dues.

“I said, ‘I’ll do anything -- sweep the floors or whatever,’” he told us.

He went from radio to promotions to production and voiceovers before getting his first break as an on-air television reporter. The Hispanic community immediately embraced Hernandez, finally seeing someone who looked like them on TV, sounded like them, and was able to spotlight stories and the voices of a culture that were not being given the microphone.

“Back then, it was a void. And I was one of the very first, very few voices for that community,” Hernandez said.

He saw things others maybe didn’t understand or weren’t looking for. He produced a documentary on the rich culture in Cuba and traveled to Mexico for the historic first visit by Pope John Paull II in 1979.

“‘El papa de la juventud, ' everyone kept calling him, and I told my producers, ‘They’re saying that he’s the Pope of the youth, the younger generation.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ We then shifted the focus of the story to talk about that,” Hernandez said.

His team went to an orphanage to interview people about the hope and promise of the pope to cover the greater significance of his visit beyond the event of his arrival.

Jesus put his heart into his storytelling and quickly catapulted to anchor CBS News in Los Angeles. He came back to his roots in the Valley for family.

“When I got into the industry, I used to take my boys and say, ‘Come on, you got to help me,” Hernandez said.

Both of his boys have worked for nearly three decades behind the scenes here at Arizona’s Family 3TV & CBS 5. His oldest, Caesar, is a newscast director. And his youngest, Serjio, is our chief photojournalist.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of what they’ve done,” Hernandez said.

That pride -- in his family, his culture, and his community -- is at the core of everything he does. Telling stories for more than 50 years now, his work is more of a passion than a profession. And it started with a dream.

“Never be less than the dream and continue to push for that dream. But never be less than that dream,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez has come full circle, profiling fellow Valley veterans with the Veterans Business Journey Project.

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