BALTIMORE (AP) — As the Ravens finished their 42-21 trouncing of the New York Jets at M&T Bank Stadium to clinch the AFC North title, a pair of bundled-up Spanish radio broadcasters a hundred feet above the field hollered into their headsets.
“VIIIIIC-TORIAAAAA!" shouted David Andrade, play-by-play announcer for WDCN La Nueva 87.7 FM in Washington.
“KING OF THE NORTH! KING OF THE NORTH!" cried color commentator Gustavo Salazar, repeating a popular “Game of Thrones” reference.
The victory calls went out to more than 150,000 Hispanic listeners in Central Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia — and even more internationally — who tuned in to the official Ravens “Thursday Night Football” broadcast on the radio or online, via the station’s or the team’s mobile apps.
The Ravens are among 17 NFL teams that have partnered with local Spanish radio stations in recent years, an integral part of a league-wide effort to broaden the sport’s fan base in the U.S. and abroad.
“Partnering with La Nueva has allowed us to build a unique bond with the Latino and Hispanic community, which is a burgeoning segment of our fan base,” said Patrick Gleason, a Ravens spokesman.
In their first year covering the Ravens together for La Nueva, Andrade, Salazar and producer/reporter Ximena Lugo Latorre have introduced — to new and longtime football fans alike — a soccer-style Spanish broadcast as energetic and captivating as the on-field highlights of quarterback and breakout star Lamar Jackson.
“That trio is always upbeat,” Gleason added. “They do a terrific job of calling games and expressing the excitement that is Ravens football in 2019.”
The crew members have backgrounds in sports radio, but they can hardly believe their luck in getting the chance to cover the NFL — and the league’s most entertaining and dominating team, no less. Andrade’s offseason efforts alone kept the Ravens’ Spanish radio broadcast on the air after it was canceled by his former station in 2018. Fans say they’ve loved listening along.
“We’re having fun, man,” Andrade said.
‘ARRANCA EL PARTIDOOOO!'
Andrade and Salazar could hardly stay in their seats as Jackson and company put on a record-breaking show against the Jets.
Despite the freezing temperature, they kept the booth’s windows open the whole game for a better feel for the crowd. One fan in the section below turned around for a celebratory fist bump after a touchdown.
A drawn-out “ARRANCA EL PARTIDOOOO!" (“start the match!") is their kickoff call every game — in part to help viewers streaming or watching on a delay make sure the radio broadcast is synced with the action.
But the broadcast isn’t entirely in Spanish. The crew mixes in English words, opting for “TOUUUUCH-DOOOOWN," (always dragged out for several seconds) for instance, over “puntuación," Spanish for “score.” The word “blitz” sounded better to Andrade than the Spanish version, “carga."
Andrade said he recently got roasted back home in Ecuador for comparing the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner’s unmatched speed and elusiveness to that of soccer legend Lionel Messi, who is considered by many international fans as something of a god.
They’ve nicknamed running back Mark Ingram II “Toro de Pamplona,” a nod to his Spanish bull-like tendency to run through opposing defenders as often as he runs around them.
Star kicker Justin Tucker is always referred to in English as “automatic," and “best in the game.” A last-second game-winning field goal against the San Francisco 49ers gave them a chance to shout the well-known soccer broadcasting call, “GOOOOOOOOAL!”
While the broadcasters are calling the game, Latorre is responsible for just about everything else. She narrates the introduction, produces the show, adjusts the sound levels, and plays clips of player interviews she’s gathered at practices and news conferences after they make a big play.
Latorre also reminds Andrade and Salazar to explain the more complex plays, terms and football concepts.
“I make sure our Latino, Hispanic audience has the best quality of our broadcast," she said.
‘My dream come true’
Salazar, who broadcast the Eagles’ February 2018 Super Bowl win for a Philadelphia station, was born in Bolivia with “radio in my blood,” he said. In 1927, his grandfather established Radio Chuquisaca, one of the first radio stations in the country and all of South America, Salazar said.
His family immigrated to the United States and settled near Silver Spring when he was 5, and Salazar became a San Diego Chargers fan growing up because he liked the lightning bolt logo. He played lots of pickup football as a kid, but his father wouldn’t let him play in pee-wee or middle school.
“Are you crazy?” his father asked him. “The kids break each other’s necks.”
He returned to Bolivia before graduating from high school to finish his degree in his home country. Instead, he became a teenage karaoke phenomenon.
Salazar’s rendition of Beck’s 1990s hit “Loser” won acclaim at competitions hosted by local radio stations, he said. His ability to sing the song’s quick lyrics foreshadowed a radio delivery that can reach lightning speed, allowing him to pepper his color commentary with brief explanations of punts, first downs and various football rules for new listeners.
Salazar returned to the U.S. at age 19 and worked various jobs — construction, FedEx, a pizzeria, a cable company — before breaking into the radio industry.
Salazar was laid off from a Philadelphia station in 2009, moved back to Silver Spring and took a three-year break from radio before joining La Nueva, which had the Spanish radio rights for Major League Soccer’s D.C. United. Listening to the animated Hispanic soccer announcers gave him an idea.
“I could take this style and fuse it to American football,” he said.
It wasn’t a completely new concept. The Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals had Spanish broadcasts at the time. Broadcasters Rickie Ricardo and Ariel Palacios, who he’d worked with in Philadelphia, were announcing Eagles games for another station, and they invited him to join them for a 2013 game.
He explained formations, provided background stories for them to tell on air, and generally flexed the football knowledge he’d picked up from watching the sport and playing “Madden” video games. They were so impressed, they handed him a headset.
The following season, he took over as the main color commentator.
“It was my dream come true," he said.
‘Falling in love with this’
Andrade launched the Ravens’ first Spanish radio broadcast last year with a different station — and enjoyed it so much he was nearly ready to do it for free when the company discontinued it at the end of the season.
“I was about to cry,” Andrade said. “I was falling in love with this thing. I was already in love.”
Most Ecuadorian aspiring sports broadcasters like Andrade head to Argentina with hopes of covering soccer, he said, but an uncle who works as a camera operator for Univision in Washington persuaded him to come to the U.S. at age 20 to launch his career.
He landed his first radio production job the same year as Salazar, in 2005, at Radio Latina 950 AM in Potomac, contributing to sports radio shows and eventually getting his own hourlong soccer show.
Last season, Kansas City-based Tico Productions, which has local Spanish radio rights for the Chiefs and Raiders, hired him to lead the Ravens’ first Spanish radio broadcast. When the company discontinued the broadcast at the end of the season, he reached out to the Ravens, desperate to continue it somehow. Team officials said they would have him back, if he could find a radio station to put him on air.
He called La Nueva, and they agreed.
‘You feel more emotion’
Gressia Flores, a lifelong Ravens fan, woke up at 5:30 a.m. on a recent day to enter a La Nueva radio contest and win a pair of tickets to the Jets game with her father, Joel, a 41-year-old truck driver.
Flores, 20, a bilingual veterinary assistant in Calvert County, said they both love watching the Ravens but that it’s easier for her dad to understand the Spanish broadcast. Being able to listen along to the hyped-up La Nueva commentary this year has sweetened Jackson’s breakout success and the team’s stellar season for them.
“You feel more emotion," she said. “When you hear that ‘GOOOOOAL!’ you feel the emotion of making that score. It’s much more animated. You get excited. You don’t know how to act."
Anthony Cruz’s wife, Reina Marquez, was confused when she first saw him wearing headphones while watching the Ravens on TV. “Aren’t you watching the game?” she asked.
Cruz, a 32-year-old welder in Frederick, had begun rooting for the Ravens after the 2013 Super Bowl win. This year, Andrade, Salazar and Lorre haven’t just announced the games in Spanish, he said. They’ve created an engaging, exciting, high-quality broadcast. It’s been a “big factor” in Marquez now following the team with him.
“She’s into it,” he said. “She’s still in the process of understanding how football works, but the broadcast team is making it easy.”
For the broadcasters, there’s no higher praise.
“That’s the most rewarding type of comment we can get,” Salazar said. “We’re teaching it to them.”