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Thursday, December 1, 2005
Los Caballeros Negros games broadcast in Spanish

Associated Press

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 Spanish.

But Army football?

Amazingly, station general manager Gene Heinemeyer really didn't hesitate.

"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 yes.

"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."