Thursday, December 1, 2005
Los Caballeros Negros games broadcast in Spanish
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- When Army lines up to play archrival Navy, Clemson Smith Muniz will be in the broadcast booth at Lincoln Financial Field, and he'll likely greet his listeners with these words: "Bienvenido a los Caballeros Negros del Hudson."
That's Spanish for "Welcome to the Black Knights of the Hudson," and this fall it's become a familiar refrain on New York City AM radio station WKDM-1380.
Smith Muniz and color analysts Roberto Abramowitz and Kenny Garry have called every Army home game at Michie Stadium in Spanish on WKDM, setting a precedent among the three service academies that
Army hopes to continue beyond this year.
The idea was the brainchild of Army athletic director Kevin
Anderson, who did the same thing when he was at Oregon State.
"We see this as more than promoting Army football," Anderson
said. "We look at it as a partnership with everybody, putting the
Army out there and getting into more homes and educating the rest
of the people."
WKDM is a multicultural radio station that broadcasts to a
region that is home to a burgeoning Spanish-speaking population.
Nearly 30 percent of the 15 million people who live in the
metropolitan New York City area speak the language, and the station
broadcasts New York Yankees baseball games and Mexican soccer in
But Army football?
Amazingly, station general manager Gene Heinemeyer really didn't
"Wow! I thought this was very interesting," Heinemeyer said.
"I've been managing Spanish stations for almost 20 years now, and
I knew that this had never happened before. If I were programming
an old station, I probably would have said no. It was easy to say
"It isn't a big budget that we're talking about, and it had a positive image," Heinemeyer said. "The Dallas Cowboys always were
America's team. For the military academy to come on and be
America's team, I'm glad we were able to be a little part of
history to broadcast a military sporting event in Spanish. I had
that realization in the back of my mind. We are in a war, and it
seemed like a good thing to do."
Broadcasting football games in Spanish has a tradition in this
country, albeit a limited one. Cowboys games have aired in the
language for three decades and about a third of the NFL's 32 teams
do it, according to Smith Muniz, who has broadcast New York Jets
games for the past three seasons.
And Smith Muniz was the logical choice for the lead voice on
Army games. Smith Muniz, who began working for ESPN International
in 1991, helped launch St. John's and New York Knicks basketball
broadcasts in Spanish in 1994 and still is the Spanish voice of the
Knicks. He also does New York Mets games, and has broadcast Monday
Night Football en Espanol since 2002 for Westwood One.
"We argue when people say, 'Why football?' We say, 'Why not?' " said Smith Muniz, who grew up in Puerto Rico and is one of the
driving forces behind Spanish language sports in the New York City area. "There is a tradition for American football. They've been playing football in Mexico since the 1920s, and we saw how many
people went to see the first regular-season NFL game in Mexico City (103,467 in October). You can make the argument that Hispanics are
sports fans and they like football. Now, we have to get the word
out, and that's what we've done."
Feedback has been limited so far -- WKDM does not subscribe to a
ratings service -- but there has been some, and it's been good.
"I've had people listening who are really surprised by the fact
that we're actually doing it, and they like it, they really like
the rhythm and passion that we have," said Abramowitz, who learned
Spanish when his father, a diamond cutter, moved the family from
New York to Mexico for a decade when he was a youngster.
"The feedback has been very positive, not only with individuals
but all of our partners," said Michael Pirolo, associate athletic
director for broadcast, marketing and sales at West Point. "It was
kind of like a surprise that we did it. I think it fits right in
with us trying to diversify our outreach."
Although Navy officials say they have no plans, the Air Force
Academy intends to pursue Spanish language broadcasts next year.
"The guys who work at the station were more proud of doing that [Army home games] than a whole season of Yankee baseball," Heinemeyer said. "There's this panache or feeling of pride of
doing the games for the military academy. I think the timing, being
at war, is heightened in a patriotic way. It did to me. What a good
time to be able to do it.
"Are there Army fans in the Hispanic community? Not yet. But
these guys are positioned as America's team."