For months, veteran radio broadcaster Marco Antonio Garcia thought the 2014 NFL season would be his last one calling Saints games in Spanish. He now knows it will not be.
Beginning Sunday, when the Saints host Tampa Bay, Garcia will be narrating “Santos” play-by-play on Spanish-language audio broadcasts that will be available for streaming on the team’s website and its mobile app, several people involved with the project said Friday.
The news means the Saints will offer Spanish-language listeners an option at a time when the area’s Hispanic population has grown nearly 80 percent since 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And the main voice those listeners will hear — Garcia’s — will be the same one that has described the Saints’ ups and downs for two decades.
Neither of those things was a guarantee.
The two radio stations that over the years had carried Garcia’s broadcasts — first one, then the other — each got new owners relatively recently. Only one of those, WFNO-830 AM, is still transmitting programs in Spanish.
This offseason, the group that purchased WFNO in May — Ernesto Schweikert III’s Crocodile Broadcasting Corp. — and the Saints talked about the possibility of the radio station carrying the team’s games.
But they couldn’t cement a deal.
And, even if they had, there was no guarantee WFNO’s new management would hire Garcia to call the games for them, especially considering that since 2012 they’ve had other personnel call LSU football games in Spanish on other stations they run.
In late August, however, Saints Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development Ben Hales said the team was working on producing its own Spanish-language broadcasts and offering them via online streaming.
The Saints weren’t able to get the operation up in time for the team’s season-opening loss at Arizona. But they’re ready to unveil it when the Saints face the Buccaneers in their home opener, Hales indicated Friday.
Nobody is more grateful than Garcia, whom the Saints tapped to call the play-by-play alongside analyst Juan Carlos Ramos, a longtime colleague.
“I had accepted that it could be over because all good things come to an end,” Garcia said Friday.
“Thankfully, this lets me keep doing what I love.”
Ramos added, “The important thing is (the Saints) told us they were committed to our community and didn’t want to lose it. This is going to be a marvelous thing.”
Garcia had called every Saints game since 1996, winning over fans with his cross-sport touchdown call, “Goooool-tooochdownnn, Santos!”
He didn’t even take time off when his son, Luis, died from cancer at age 23 less than a month before the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV, choosing to call the games leading up to the championship in honor of his son.
Although circumstances caused him to miss this year’s preseason contests as well as the Saints’ game in Arizona, he said he followed all of the games, finding himself narrating the play-by-play in his head.
“I was thinking about what I’d be saying on the air the entire time,” said Garcia, 66, who was born in Honduras and is now a resident of Westwego. “I imagined myself narrating to not lose my flow.”
The Saints’ website is NewOrleansSaints.com. The team’s mobile app can be downloaded for Apple, Android and Kindle devices.