Most Saints fans probably have never heard veteran broadcaster Marco Antonio Garcia call a football game on the radio. But for the metro area’s growing Hispanic community, Garcia has been the lone Spanish-language gridiron chronicler for nearly a generation, having called his first NFL season in 1996.
However, fans hoping to follow their beloved “Santos” through Garcia’s broadcasts once again this fall may be in for a disappointment. After almost 20 seasons in the booth, Garcia may be done narrating Saints games, and it’s not clear whether another Spanish broadcaster will be replacing him.
KXMG-107.5 FM and WFNO-830 AM, the radio stations that have carried Garcia’s broadcasts, each have new owners. Only WFNO is sticking with a Spanish-language format, and it does not appear to have a contract yet to transmit Saints games. Nor is it clear whether the station plans to negotiate one.
Neither the Saints nor the station’s new owner would comment for this story.
Garcia said that by this time of year, he usually has an arrangement in place to broadcast the next season. At age 66, and with no deal in the offing, he has begun to talk about his years covering the Saints in the past tense.
“It was a beautiful time,” said Garcia, a Westwego resident who knew little about American football when he first stepped up to the microphone. “Everybody won. The fans and I, we learned together, and it was great to serve my community.”
Ironically, Garcia may end his tenure announcing the games in Spanish just as the area’s Hispanic population is taking off — up nearly 80 percent since 2005, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
Not everyone is ready to see the end of Garcia’s broadcasts.
“Every community has those people whose voice it listens to while coming into its own,” said Juan Carlos Ramos, who has joined Garcia on the air and helped produce his broadcasts for several years. “Here, in the Hispanic community, Marco is one of those people. It’s sad this is happening.”
Garcia began his broadcasting career in Honduras, announcing soccer matches. He moved to New Orleans in 1975 and got a job reading Latin American soccer scores, calling local amateur matches and hosting a talk show on KGLA, the only Spanish-language radio station in town at the time.
About 21 years later, when WFNO obtained the rights to broadcast Saints games in Spanish, the station handed the play-by-play duties to Garcia. He got a quick tutorial on the game from one of his sons, Luis, and felt his way from there.
In the nearly two decades since — Garcia has called 157 Saints victories — Spanish-speaking fans have grown accustomed to his trademark touchdown call, a cross-cultural howl that goes, “Goooool-tooochdownnn Santos!”
He called every game of the 2009-10 season even though his son was ill with cancer. Luis, who died that January at age 23, had a feeling the Saints were headed for the Super Bowl and told his father not to miss their winning run.
“Losing Luis has been the hardest experience of my life,” Garcia said. “But I feel lucky to have called a Super Bowl in which the hometown team won.”
He had planned to embark on a third decade in the football announcing business this year, but it may not happen, the result of changes at WFNO that were unpopular with insiders.
In 2011, after it bought the AM station that carried Garcia’s broadcasts, Sunburst Media-Louisiana went to a new format geared more specifically toward a Mexican audience.
Ramos — Garcia’s colleague — and Emilio Peralta, a sports commentator for WFNO from 2006 to 2012, both said the move alienated fans from the rest of Latin America, especially Hondurans, who outnumber Mexicans in the New Orleans area. WFNO’s audience shrunk, and the station lost crucial business from advertisers, Ramos and Peralta said.
Sunburst, which could not be reached for comment, moved the Spanish-language Saints broadcasts to a sister FM station, KXMG, beginning in 2013. But Garcia and his most recent color analyst, Victor Quinonez, felt the pinch anyway. The two didn’t travel to any away games last year, calling them while watching a television in their studio. “We knew we were facing uncertainty,” Garcia said.
In March, Sunburst let its rights to transmit Saints games in Spanish expire and then agreed to sell KXMG for $3.2 million. The station now plays contemporary Christian music in English.
Presumably, Garcia’s broadcasts could have gone back to WFNO, but Ernesto Schweikert III’s Crocodile Broadcasting Corp. bought the station in the middle of May. He did not respond to inquiries about his plans for the station.
Garcia said he was aware that Schweikert has been broadcasting LSU football games in Spanish since 2012 on both KGLA-1540 AM/105.7 FM and a station he owns in Baton Rouge, KDDK-105.5 FM. But Garcia preferred not to speculate about what that might mean for his future.
“If this is it,” he said, “I’m thankful for my audience, my family who supported me, and the beautiful (things) I got to see.”