Phonathon takes place each semester and provides an opportunity for La Verne students to speak with alumni about the latest highlights around campus.
At age 26, Diana Castillo ’09 is the youngest — and first female — news director at KLDO-TV in Laredo, Texas.
Diana Castillo had just finished delivering her news block on Univision 27 KLDO-TV’s evening broadcast and the cameras focused on the sports anchor for the next couple of minutes. Per usual, she used the off-camera time to jot down notes on her iPad and touch up her hair and makeup.
Only this time, the cameras turned back to her a little sooner than she had anticipated.
“I looked up at the monitor and saw I was back on the air,” Castillo said. Being the professional that she is, it only took a second for her to recover and continue with the program. But that was enough time for dozens of Laredo, Texas, viewers to log onto Univision’s Facebook page and leave comments about the incident.
It was a big deal, in a good way. Because it was 10:35 p.m. on a Friday night and people in Laredo were watching and engaging online, this was a clear indication that KLDO-TV, the top-rated Univision affiliate, was gaining serious momentum.
And, Univision’s success is Castillo’s success. In April 2013, Castillo became the first female news director for both Entravision-owned Univision affiliate KLDO, and FOX affiliate KXOF. At 26, she is also the station’s youngest news director and one of the busiest.
She anchors Fox News in English at 9 p.m., followed by Univision News in Spanish at 10 p.m. Sister stations, both news program sets are located in the same studio.
Castillo began working in Laredo in 2012 and was promoted to news director for both stations a few weeks after her one-year anniversary. Now, she is in charge, particularly when it comes to Fox. As a key player in helping launch the Fox newscast last year, she has run the station with a staff of four, which includes herself as news director and anchor, plus a general reporter, a weather reporter and sports reporter. There are no producers. She is in charge of the story budget, assigning Univision-affiliated reporters and photographers to locations, researching, and even writing her own copy for the teleprompter.
“We just started last year and we have taken the majority of viewers from our competitors,” Castillo said. “It’s happening in such little time. My general manager said she never expected this to happen that fast.”
There is huge responsibility, but Castillo has been preparing for this career since she was 7.
It was 1994 and the Northridge earthquake had just shaken Southern California to its core. Instead of watching cartoons, Castillo was glued to the news. It was the sense of urgency and excitement that drew her attention. Back then, John Beard and Christine Devine on Los Angeles’ KTTV Fox 11 News were her inspiration.
“I would get my hair brush and pretend that I was on TV giving the news,” Castillo said. “My stuffed animals were my audience.”
Like most kids, as Castillo grew older she developed other passions. She loved basketball, she loved homework and she loved tutoring other kids. While going through middle school, she actually thought about becoming a teacher. But her passion for news, her first love, crept back into her life in high school.
She was taking a graphic arts class at Upland High School in California, and noticed unused video equipment in the classroom.
“I asked my teacher if I could maybe take the camera and interview the principal and other students about upcoming events, and they let me,” Castillo said.
Her initiative and drive to go above the call of duty back then inspired her teachers to open up a class called Campus News, which consisted of interested students filling the roles of a news crew. The student-run news station covered happenings around the city of Upland and was eventually broadcast on the local Upland community news channel.
“After that experience, I decided this is what I wanted to do,” Castillo said.
It was during this time, while a junior in high school, that Castillo reached out to Professor of Communications Mike Laponis at the University of La Verne via email. She asked if she could come and sit in on one of his classes.
“I went and saw everything they did,” Castillo said. “I liked that it was small enough that I would get to do a little bit of everything. I saw that there would be so many opportunities and it seemed like the perfect fit for me.”
A short time later, Castillo found herself working toward her dream as a broadcast journalism major at La Verne. Small class sizes and a lot of hands-on learning provided the perfect environment for the self-proclaimed workaholic to develop the on-camera and off-camera skills she would need to thrive in her career.
She learned from the best that La Verne’s Communications Department has to offer: Mike Laponis, Don Pollock and George Keeler.
“Those three really guided me on my journey,” Castillo said.
But there was one adjunct faculty member in particular who made a tremendous impact on Castillo. She credits Rick Acosta, a part-time communications instructor, for helping her to polish her speaking skills.
“He really spent time with me and helped me control my voice, slow down while reading, pronounce words properly, and he showed me how not to ‘sing’ when I’m on the air,” Castillo said. “Even today, his words pop in my head when I go live.”
Acosta says Castillo’s passion was evident.
“When I first met Diana, all she ever talked about was being a news reporter,” Acosta said. “She sat in the front of my class and always asked questions. She had a rough start, with her voice inflections going up and down and her voice speeding up during a newscast, I would often tell Diana that it sounded like she was singing. She listened and worked harder on her presentations.”
Castillo says she was like a sponge, absorbing the advice and training she received, and she constantly worked to improve her skills throughout her four years at La Verne. She worked as anchor for La Verne’s LVTV -3 station and networked with industry professionals, who would present her with bigger opportunities.
During her senior year, she landed an internship with KZSW-TV in Temecula, an independently-owned station.
“They literally let me do everything,” Castillo said. “I felt like an employee. Reporters would give me stories to produce. I would cover stories, report and write. The news director/anchor, Bob Fields, was the most intimidating person you will ever know, and I would write stories for him.”
Two months after graduation, in July 2009, she got a call from the co-owner of the Temecula station who offered her a full-time job as a reporter. She accepted. Three weeks later, she was bumped up to anchor. She stayed with the station for a year, but had her sights set on the horizon. She knew that the next step forward in her career would require some real sacrifice, risk taking and, quite possibly, Spanish speaking.
Spanish was something her mom insisted she keep up. It was spoken in the house when she was a child and, as Castillo grew older, she knew that it would come in handy one day in her field. She was right.
After she made the decision to keep moving, she sent her newsreel 1,500 miles away, to Corpus Christi, Tex. Univision producers at KORO-TV were impressed with what they saw. After flying to Texas for an interview, Castillo got the job. It was Thanksgiving weekend 2010 when she received the news that Univision 28 hired her.
She spent her first Christmas away from her family, and her first day on air was December 20, her birthday. Though she said she felt it was a blessing, Castillo experienced a lot of change in a short period of time.
“It was a hard transition, moving away from friends and family and switching from English to complete Spanish,” Castillo said. “It was a whole different ballgame.”
She took the next step and, like a pro, adapted to her new environment and did the best job she could. It was a step in the right direction. She met new, important people and faced new challenges, particularly when it came to management.
“It was a blessing to work with my news director, Angel Covarrubias,” Castillo said. “I learned a lot of my leadership skills working with him. He taught me how to remain calm during stressful situations, how to manage a team and get the job done no matter what. He was so experienced and patient.”
She worked in Corpus Christi from December 2010 until April 2012. Then, opportunity came calling once again.
About 150 miles west of Corpus Christi, in Laredo, Tex., a plan was brewing to start a Fox English language newscast. The Laredo general manager was a friend of Castillo’s general manager and wanted her to help him launch the network.
For Castillo, it was a no-brainer. She wanted to get back into the English market. This new position would allow her to anchor two broadcasts for two networks, one in English, one in Spanish.
The experience has been a rollercoaster a ride over the last few years for Castillo, but she says she would not have had it any other way. She appears to have nailed down the recipe for success early in life: work hard, reap the rewards. She even worked as a sideline reporter at the NBA Finals.
“My proudest moment was last month, watching Diana at the NBA Finals, in the post-game news conference, asking Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs a question,” Acosta said. “I realized how far she had a come from that young student of mine to a professional journalist. I know that one day, down the road when she returns to L.A. as a news anchor, she will be sharing her experiences with my class. Yes, I am very proud of her!”
Castillo’s future aspirations include working for CNN, Good Morning America or coming home to work in the Los Angeles major market, of course.
Meanwhile, she is focused on the now, which is not too shabby.