This is the Mexican Section of
The Broadcast Archive

Maintained by:
Barry Mishkind - The Eclectic Engineer
Last Update 7/5/00

Francisco Hernandez Lomeli
Departamento de Estudios de la Comunicaci˘n Social
Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico

Translated (with thanks) by: Joe Creason

After 1920, the dominant faction in the Mexican Revolution  focused attention, among other goals, on the institutionalization of the political and social ideals that were products of the armed movement. One of the most complicated problems that the dominant group had to confront was to reconcile the interests of  established cedillas strongmen) and military leaders throughout Mexico. The norm was that disagreements among them, which were products of differing interests, were resolved through the use of force. 

The presidential succession of 1928 was particularly contentious. General Obregon, the President-elect, was assassinated and his followers pointed to then President Plutarco Elias Calles as responsible for the assassination. (Calles) took a series of measures to prevent the political tensions from exploding and turning violent, including declining his own reelection and the creating the National Revolutionary Party (PNR). The solution to this emergency would give Calles power for years after the end of his presidential term to the extent that he was considered the “Jefe Maximo de la Revolution” (Maximum Leader of the Revolution). Hence, the period between 1929 and 1935 is referred to as the “Maximato”. (Meyer, 1981) 

The PNR arose as a coalition of all of the revolutionary sectors. The central preoccupation of the PNR leaders consisted of creating and maintaining a real consensus among the factions of the coalition through the conciliation of their demands and aspirations and in this way to stamp out violence as the method of solving conflicts among the elites. The later organization and incorporation of the workers and peasants into the party (PNR) and into the political process in general was of secondary importance at the time. (Meyer, Ibid). 

The PNR was born after the period of major armed conflict; it is a political  organization created a posteriori and this fact gives it a defensive institutional character. The PNR was created to maintain power, it was designed to fight for power. 

The historical references (CIRT 1991; Gonzalez 1989; Mejia Prieto 1972) point out the PNR as the first Mexican institution that acquired, between 1928 and 1929, a television system. The equipment was bought from the Western Corporation of Chicago and consisted of two cameras, a transmitter, various receptors and auxiliary apparatus. The installation of the equipment was left in the charge of Mexican engineer Francisco Javier (Stovoli ?) who in turn was aided by Manuel Cerrilo Valdivia and Walter C. Buchanan. The later came to head the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation of Mexico in the years 1959-1964. 

In 1931 the transmitting antenna, which consisted of a tower made up of two pyramids joined at their bases which were supported on an insulator by means of braces (struts). However, the transmitter produced undesirable oscillations and for this reason the Piezo Electric Laboratories of New York, manufacturer of the transmitting device, sent engineer Kellner to make technical adjustments necessary for the proper functioning of the system.

In this year, the engineer (Stovoli?), furnished with a portable camera, conducted field tests, where he was able to receive in Cuernavaca a video signal generated in Mexico City (50 Km away). The first image that was transmitted was a photograph of Amalia Fonseca, the wife of (Stovoli?). The project advanced and as a complementary part a closed circuit system was installed. (Herr n 1986; CIRT Ibid). 

But it wasn’t until the beginning of 1935 when Senator Angel Posada, head of the PNR’s Secretariat of Press and Propaganda, announced a restructuring of the radio stations XEO and XEFO, the later under the direct control of the PNR. The changes included the putting to use of the new transmission equipment and reception of electromagnetic signals with the sole aim of “increasing social services that, such as organization of class opinion, the Political Institute of the Revolution presents to the working masses.” (El Nacional 7-07-1935:1).

In effect, XEFO, considered by the PNR as “the social platform (pulpit) of Mexico in the service of the proletariat”, was provided with equipment with characteristics especially capable of generating and sending radio waves but also the signal generated by the recently purchased television system, “in such a way that everyone who has a television receptor and its sound receptor, will be able to see and hear the broadcast programs in the same manner as in movie theaters.” (El Nacional. Ibid). The broadcast station could generate a short wave (onda corta) signal of 1,000 watts, at the same time it was in conditions to radiate a television signal at 1,600 kilohertz (kilocycles).

The first public demonstration of this television system in Mexico was on the 16th of May, 1935 and took place on the premises of the building occupied by the headquarters of the PNR in Mexico City (Paseo de la Reforma 18). General Matias Ramos, then president of the PNR, and other functionaries of the PNR attended this presentation. The first image that was transmitted was a photograph of the primer leader of the nation, General Lazaro Cardenas [President Cardenas – who, by the way, is the father of one of the candidates for the July2, 2000 presidential elections in Mexico]. The attendees of the demonstration left “pleased with the effectiveness, safety, and precision” (El Nacional 17-05-1935:1-2) of the new apparatus.

 Days later, the equipment was reinstalled in the Superior School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, a center of studies under the direction of the Secretariat of Public Education. The selection of this place was due to its privileged location in the center of Mexico City (calle Allende). Also, it was hoped that an educational benefit would result, that it would give the students of that school “the opportunity to verify some practices (principles?) using the television equipment, [there is a font problem at this point in the Spanish  text…] given that the equipment has a special design that permits high frequency units, which lends itself to many laboratory experiments.” (El Nacional. Ibid). 

The leadership of the PNR had very concrete plans for its recently installed television system, it would not only have purely entertainment and educational functions, but it would be a vehicle that would contribute powerfully to the spreading of the party’s ideological principles. 

It is hard to imagine that one could transmit all of a page of a newspaper, for example, across any distance and its image could be photographed in the given receptor, eliminating the need to transmit word by word, as is the case with the method (telegraph) that we now use. (Meztli 1935).

 It [the PNR’s plans] had to do with a complete program of the PNR to cover all of the national territory through a modern communications network that included XEFO, the newspaper El Nacional, the Autonomous Department of Press and Propaganda and the nascent television station. According to Senator Posada, the reorganization of XEO and XEFO was to give to radio “its true function: education”. And the introduction of television in Mexico came to “powerfully widen the reach, already wide, of the activities of the PNR’s Secretariat of Press and Propaganda (El Nacional 1-06-1935:1).

In spite of the plans and the investment made, the television equipment acquired by the PNR never came to broadcast regularly. Mejia Prieto (1972) offers a vague explanation of the suspension of the project:

 bureaucratic designs were the cause of the initiation of video in Mexico…(but) they were just intentions. The costly equipment just ended up stowed away in the back rooms of the radio station. A great and long lasting joke. In opposition to this argument, I propose a possible explanation of the causes that impeded the continuity of the PNR’s television station. 

One possible cause of a technical nature, given that the aforementioned television equipment was based on an electromagnetic system that applied the principles of the scientists P. G. Kipkow y J. L. Baird. This system was very simple and operated in the following way:  a disc with tiny quadrangular holes arranged in a spiral spun at a rate of 20 or 30 revolutions per second; through the holes were projected light rays, each one of these projected points of light corresponded to a quantity of light that showed the according tonality. This light was projected on a battery of photoelectric cells made of Selenium (selenio), which due to the properties of this mineral, converted the light variations into electric impulses, of the same type which through a process of amplification are able to be transmitted in an ordinary way by a short wave (onda corta) radio station. The television receptor was the same as a radio receptor, except that in front it had a small frosted glass square on which appeared the image that was captured and transmitted by the battery of  photocells. The electromechanical system transmitted the generated signal in short wave (onda corta) and the quality of the reception was poor, but even though it was primitive, it was the only one to be found in the market and therefore was acquired by the PNR.    

At the beginning of the 1930’s successful experimentation was done with an electronic television system that, thanks to the use of vacuum tubes, was capable of  “breaking down” images into points of light that were converted into electric impulses, which were transmitted to the receptor which recovered and “assembled” the broken down images. The coexistence of two systems – mechanical and electric – generated a debate over which was better which should be imposed as the model. The argument seemed to end in Germany when on March 22, 1935 the first regular television service in the world began with a mechanical system. But in the following year, the BBC began its broadcasting under a vacuum tube system. The quality and clarity of the broadcasts relegated the old mechanism of discs to the rooms of museums, putting an end to the debate. In this context of technological innovation, the system acquired by the PNR was obsolete before its debut. 

The other cause of the failure of early television in Mexico was of a political nature. Only one month had passed after the first public demonstration of television when the worst political crisis in Post-Revolutionary Mexico occured. President Lazaro Cardenas decided to put an end to the “Maximato” and, on June 15, 1935 the whole cabinet resigned at the request of Cardenas. On June 17 a new cabinet had been named with the key posts in the hands of followers of the President, including Silvano Barba Gonzales as the Secretary of the Government (Gobernacion); Luis Rodriguez as the Secretary of the Presidency (Presidencia); Francisco Mugica, who replaced the son of Calles (“Jefe Maximo”), as the Secretary of Communications and Transportation; and Saturino Cedillo as the Secretary of Agriculture. The leadership of the PNR was also changed and by December of 1935, President Cardenas had purged the followers of Calles from middle and lower levels of the party and of the government. With the elimination of Calles, the PNR itself stopped being a limit on the President’s ability to use the party for his own support. (Hamilton 1983; Meyer Ibid). The promoters of television , General Matias Ramos and Senator Angel Posada, were dismissed from their party positions and the television project was suspended.

The possibility of having a television station was taken up again by Cardenas’ government, but in contrast to the earlier project, it was at the initiative of and under the direction of the Secretariat of Communications, with the intention of removing it from the PNR. The planned “party” television was canceled in favor of a television “of the state”. 

Consistent with this new policy, President Cardenas supported the experiments that were being done by the Mexican technician, Guillermo Gonzales Camarena. Esquivel Puerto (1970:159) and the Encyclopedia of Mexico (1989, T. VI:3426) sustain that from 1934 Gonzales Camarena had constructed  a television camera from “scrap materials” but this information can be put in doubt if one considers that the young technician was only 17 years old at the time. What is highly probable is that Gonzales Camarena was knowledgeable about and had improved the equipment acquired by the PNR, given that President Cardenas ordered that the studies of Gonzales Camarena of the radio station  XEFO be facilitated so that he could work with them.      


  • CIRT (1991) La industria de la radio y la televisi˘n en Mexico. Mexico: Camara de la Industria de la Radio yla Televisi˘n.

  • EZQUIVEL PUERTO, Emilio (1970) Anecdotario de radio y televisi˘n Mexico: Publicidad Latina.

  • GONZALEZ Y GONZALEZ, Fernando (coord.)(1989) Historia de la televisi˘n mexicana 1950-1985. Mexico:edici˘n del coordinador. 

  • HAMILTON, Nora (1983) Mexico: los lˇmites de la autonomˇa del Estado. Mexico: Editorial Era.

  • HERRAN DE LA, Jos‚ (1986) "Mexico: Televisi˘n en 1931", en Revista de Revistas 21-02-1986.

  • MEJIA BARQUERA, Fernando(1985) "50 ańos de televisi˘n comercial en Mexico (1934-1984). Cronologˇa", en R. Trejo (coord.) Televisa el quinto poder. Mexico: Claves Latino-americanas.

  • MEJIA PRIETO, Jorge (1972) Historia de la radio y la televisi˘n en Mexico. Mexico: Octavio Colmenares.

  • MEZTLI (1935) "El ojo electr˘nico", en El Nacional p.3 2¦ secci˘n.

  • MEYER, Lorenzo (1981) "El primer tramo del camino", en D. Cosˇo (coord.) Historia General de Mexico. Mexico : El Colegio de Mexico.