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San Diego TV journalist Jesse Macias, one of the first Latinos on local news, dies

Jesse Macias smiles with daughter Mariana Palmer.
San Diego journalist Jesse Macias with his daughter, Mariana Palmer.
(Mariana Palmer)

Veteran journalist Jesse Macias, who for decades delivered news to San Diego television audiences while breaking barriers as a Latino reporter, has died at 73.

Macias, who died June 4 after battling kidney disease, worked as a news reporter at CBS 8 San Diego and other local stations from the 1970s until his retirement in 2009.

He was one of the first Latino television reporters in the area and primarily covered breaking news stories, including the PSA Flight 182 crash in 1978 that killed 144 people, one of the deadliest air disasters in California history.

Macias earned an Emmy for his investigative reporting on labor conditions for migrant farmworkers. He won other awards from such organizations as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Radio & Television News Assn. of Southern California and the California Chicano News Media Assn.

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“I was a small girl when he was with KFMB, and I just remember seeing him on TV,” said his daughter, Mariana Palmer. “It was so exciting.”

Macias was born in San Bernardino on Sept. 25, 1947. When he was 2 his family moved to San Diego County, where he grew up in Chula Vista and Old Town.

As a boy, Macias took an early interest in journalism, said Maria Velasquez, a former colleague from CBS 8-TV who recently interviewed him for a multimedia project, “San Diego Latino Legacy.” He told her that at age 10 he read newspapers, listened to broadcast news daily and read his family’s encyclopedia set from cover to cover.

Macias studied journalism at San Diego City College and then transferred to San Diego State University, majoring in journalism and Chicano studies, his daughter said.

He was hired at CBS 8, also known as KFMB, in 1974, where he worked in studio writing copy, said his former wife, Pamela Macias. In 1977, he had the opportunity to go on air, and was hired as a field reporter, she said.

“One of the stories he used to tell was that he was a writer at Channel 8 when he first got hired,” said his partner, Nancy Gangi. “Something happened, and they decided to give him a chance. He went on the air, and the fans loved him, so after that he was a reporter.”

Jesse Macias with his arms around two women, one on either side of him
Jesse Macias with his partner, Nancy Gangi, and Yolanda, wife of his first kidney donor.
(Mariana Palmer)

Macias recounted some of the top breaking stories he covered when he was honored as a “Silver Circle” member of the National Academy of Television Arts & and Sciences, recognizing his broadcast career.

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“During my time at News 8, I covered the 1978 PSA plane crash, the Brenda Spencer school shooting and her sentencing,” at KFMB, he stated in his speech for that event.

He switched to radio news in the late 1980s, working for KSDO and KUSI.

“I covered the Northridge earthquake, Heaven’s Gate suicide, Mother Teresa’s Mass in Tijuana and numerous other major news events,” he stated. “I finished up my career in TV news on the desk at KSWB and Fox 6. A good time was had by all! That’s a wrap.”

Macias’ bilingual abilities were useful when he covered stories such as the 1985 kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Agent Enrique Camarena by Mexican drug cartels. Macias traveled to Calexico, Calif., to interview Camarena‘s parents, and his Spanish-language interviews with the couple provided an intimate perspective on their grief, Velasquez said.

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But being one of the first Latino news reporters in the region wasn’t easy. Although he declined to describe any specific instances of discrimination, Macias said he had to make extra efforts to prove himself.

“Once he got the opportunity to work in a newsroom, he felt that he had to work twice as hard as anyone else, because he didn’t have the experience, but also because he was a reporter of Latino descent,” Velasquez said.

Macias had battled physical problems in his life. As a child he contracted polio, which left one leg weaker than the other.

Macias in a hospital bed with his young grandson standing next to him.
Macias with his grandson, Eli, after his second kidney transplant.
(Mariana Palmer)

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And in 1985, he was in an accident while riding in an ultralight plane with a pilot he was interviewing, Gangi said.

Later he was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease and had two kidney transplants. The first of those kidneys came from Gangi’s son-in-law, who died in an accident in 2000, she said.

That kidney eventually failed, and he received a second transplant in 2014, this one from a work colleague, Susan Woolley. Although his new kidney remained healthy, Macias suffered a stroke in January 2020, Gangi said.

Macias is survived by his daughter, and grandson and his partner Gangi.


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