Calvin Goes to Cuba
Mizzou alumnus is first journalist to broadcast live from Havana in half a century.
Imagine boarding a time machine in South Florida and, 40 minutes later, stepping into the year 1960. That’s what it’s like to visit modern-day Havana, according to Calvin Hughes, news anchor for ABC’s WPLG-TV in Miami. Hughes, BJ ’00, was the first American journalist in 50 years to broadcast live from the grounds of the new U.S. Embassy in Cuba Aug. 14, 2015.
“The last time an American car was shipped over there was in the 1960s, before the embargo in 1961,” says Hughes, remarking on the time warp — and Cuban ingenuity. “They have found a way to keep those cars going all this time.”
For Americans of a certain age, Cuba conjures Cold War images of dictator Fidel Castro, the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. When President Barack Obama announced in December 2014 that the U.S. would begin to normalize relations with Cuba, Hughes already had made multiple trips to nearby Haiti to cover the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. The Emmy Award-winning journalist was a natural choice for the historic first.
“I remember saying to my boss, ‘but no hablo Español,’ ” Hughes says. “He said, ‘I’m sure you’ll find a way.’ ”
Hughes credits his former J-school mentors — including the late Ron Naeger, BA ’76, MA ’88, and Stacey Woelfel, BJ ’81, MA ’90, PhD ’06, current director of the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism — for instilling confidence. Born in Cleveland and raised in East St. Louis, Hughes got his start at KMIZ-TV, where he affixed script pages to the conveyor belt in the old-fashioned teleprompter.
As a TV anchor in Florida, home to more than 1.2 million Cuban-Americans, Hughes grasped the gravity of the historic broadcast. But you wouldn’t know it from his smooth delivery and charismatic on-camera presence.
“While we were in it, I wasn’t caught up in it,” Hughes says. “I once heard someone say people don’t fully capture a moment until it becomes a memory.”