The Gay Latino Behind a Podcast Empire

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Hernan Lopez joined Fox in 1997 as a marketing executive and proceeded to work his way up to the C-suite, first being tapped to head Fox Latin American Channel in 2000, and then promoted to CEO of Fox International Channels in 2011. That move made him one of the most powerful gay Latinos in the television industry.

So, why would Lopez leave that cushy position and become an entrepreneur with a podcast startup? It depends on who you ask. According to Variety, Fox’s 2016 reorganization, which eliminated the Fox International Channels unit, prompted his departure. But Lopez says the real impetus was noticing a “gap in the marketplace” ripe for exploration: “We had many great movies, TV shows, and books — but not nearly enough great stories being told with sound.”

Sound is something the founder and CEO of podcast network Wondery is passionate about. It can be a more powerful element in our daily lives than we realize. Take film, where sound plays a critical role in triggering us to expect romance, comedy, or horror. Sound stimuli is perceived by the brain faster than touch, and sight. For those who aren’t hearing impaired, removing the sound of a creepy thriller can completely alter the fear factor.

According to a 2017 nationally representative telephone survey of Americans’ media habits by Edison Research, four in 10 people in the U.S. listen to podcasts. Another Edison Research study — which interviewed nearly 29,000 podcast listeners and compared the results with those from the earlier telephone survey — showed podcast listeners take action upon what they hear more often than other media audiences. Within this attentive demographic, a sub-group emerged. Researchers dubbed them “super-listeners” — highly engaged consumers of informative digital audio content.

A podcast can be created with very little to no money or fancy equipment. It can simply be a recording of a riveting conversation. Because of this, podcasting (much like social media) is putting power into the hands of creators who are marginalized, including LGBT folks.

“Visibility leads to acceptance,” says Lopez, a former GLAAD board member. “And there isn’t a better place to advocate for visibility than within the entertainment industry.”

Lopez adds that podcasts are an essential tool in “expanding the frontiers of storytelling, creating a medium that’s immersive and intimate.”

Marissa Jones, host of the podcast The Vanished, agrees.

“I started my show in 2016 with the hope of spreading the word about under-covered missing persons cases in my free time,” says Jones. “Joining the Wondery network has given me the ability to move from doing this as a hobby, to working on the show full-time. Wondery has also helped me grow the size of my audience, which has helped these stories reach more people around the world.”

Lopez produces many of Wondery’s podcasts himself, including the recent critically acclaimed documentary Young Charlie, which chronicled infamous and murderous cult-leader Charles Manson’s childhood and adolescence. Some other hit podcasts produced by Lopez include the horror film docs Inside the Exorcist and Inside Psycho as well as Dirty John, the true-crime thriller (now being made into a TV movie) that was hosted by Christopher Goffard, the Los Angeles Times reporter who investigated the story.

“[Podcasts] give us a voice we don’t usually find in radio,” Lopez says. “From Ross Mathews, whose podcast Straight Talk is on Wondery, to RuPaul or The Husbands with Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo — there are so many LGBT voices with a story to tell who wouldn’t otherwise be heard if it weren’t for podcasts.”

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