Jackie Nespral remembers a street festival in Miami when she was a child. Someone stuck a microphone in her face and asked who she wanted to be like when she grew up.
"I said, 'Barbara Walters.' I must have been, like, 7 years old."
Ms. Nespral is 26 now. Just a few weeks ago, she was vacationing with her family in the Florida Keys when her agent called her.
NBC had announced that Ms. Nespral will join the network as co-anchor of the Saturday and Sunday editions of "Today."
Ms. Nespral, a Miami native, will be the first Hispanic-American anchor of the 40-year-old show. And after Jane Pauley, who joined the daily "Today" show when she was 25, Ms. Nespral also will be "Today's" youngest anchor, an NBC spokeswoman says.
Ms. Nespral starts on Saturday, with co-anchor and veteran reporter Scott Simon, who has worked for National Public Radio since 1977 and is host of NPR's Saturday "Weekend Edition."
"This has been a dream of mine for a long time," says Ms. Nespral, sitting at a conference table in Miami at Univision, a Spanish-language TV network. For the past year,she has anchored Univision's popular newscast "Noticias y Mas" ("News and More"), a one-hour show that airs daily at 5 p.m. and is carried nationally and in 18 other countries.
She left the show a few weeks ago, despite a contract with Univision through December. Univision kindly let her out of the agreement, she says.
"How often does an opportunity to be a hostess on a network show come along at a salary probably triple what she's making here?" asks Guillermo Martinez, senior vice president for news and sports at Univision and one of Ms. Nespral's mentors.
Ms. Nespral isn't disclosing the six-figure salary waiting for her at NBC. "But they're making me a very nice offer in order for me to maintain my house, my home, here in Miami and an apartment in New York. So we'll be comfortable."
She is married to a physician and has a 4-year-old daughter. Her husband, Armando Hassun, will stay in Miami for his anesthesiology residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital, and Ms. Nespral will take their daughter, Frances,to New York City and commute to Miami when she can.
A former Orange Bowl queen, Ms. Nespral started her TV career in 1987 as a spokesmodel on Univision's outrageously successful Saturday night variety talk show "Sabado Gigante" ("Big Saturday"). Also, she was the spokeswoman in Estrella insurance company commercials.
Mention modeling and "Sabado Gigante," and Ms. Nespral reacts quickly. "I was able to use my salary to pay for my school and my husband's medical school, also."
She is a 1989 graduate of the University of Miami with a bachelor's degree in psychology and a minor in communications. She has two years of post-graduate studies in print and broadcast journalism at Florida International University.
But beauty can be a beast in the broadcast news business, Jackie Nespral says.
"I feel that it has worked to my disadvantage. I have had to work three times as hard to get into my position because of my looks. Because people look at me and they think, well, here's a beautiful woman who doesn't have any type of intelligence. So I've had to work and bust my butt to prove to them, hey, OK,I'm a beautiful woman. But I'm also a smart one," she says.
Today, Diane Sawyer is Ms. Nespral's favorite network journalist.
"I read an article about her and she was a beauty queen also. She had to face all of the same problems that I face," Ms. Nespral says. "I think she's wonderful. She's very credible. She's a great journalist."
Ms. Nespral worked as a reporter and anchor in Miami for Dynamic Cablevision and Television Marti. In 1989, Univision hired her to anchor "T.V. Mujer," a national variety talk show. Then Guillermo Martinez hired her to co-anchor "Noticias y Mas," despite strong objections at the network, he says.
"You're not going to get any credibility from someone who has been a beauty contestant and a model," he recalls honchos telling him.
But Mr. Martinez knew Ms. Nespral had what he calls "it."
"She sparkles. She literally fills up the screen."
Ms. Nespral credits not only hard work but also her close-knit family with her success.
"Coming . . . from an Hispanic background and being born and raised in America, I think I have the best of both worlds. Because I have that inner feeling of unity with my family," she says. "I also have the independence and the ambition of the American people."