When Francisco X. Rivera decided to leave his native Mexico City and pursue a career in sports broadcasting, completing a liberal arts degree at Long Beach State was an important step in that process.
The journey continues at Staples Center on Saturday, when the 36-year-old ascends to the press box to do Spanish-language play-by-play of the Kings’ NHL game against Vancouver.
It is the second of a 10-game experiment this season for the ESPN Deportes’ KWKW-AM (1330) radio station as it re-introduces the language to pro hockey fans in Southern California after a 20-year absence.
It’s a sport, by the way, that not only loses little in translation from English to Spanish, but as Rivera’s initial, Nov. 1 broadcast shows, may actually benefit in the exchange.
Rivera explains how he has come to this place in his career and having Long Beach as an important pivot point:
Long Beach Post: Coming from Mexico City, with Spanish as your primary language, what made you want to pursue sports and broadcasting here?
Rivera: My goal was to be a professional soccer player and join MLS, and I saw how to get a college scholarship and get drafted was a way to do that. I spent my senior year of high school with some relatives in L.A. and attended Wilson High, but my problem was that while I may have had talent, I wasn’t a team player and had attitude issues. I went back to Mexico City and got into music – my next passion. Eventually, I got an international student visa and enrolled at El Camino College in Torrance, living in the South Bay, but realized what a challenge it was to pay more for tuition as a foreign student. I studied classes in communication, but in Spanish, ‘communication’ didn’t include print, radio, public relations … just broadcasting. I felt stuck. I thought about going to USC but I wanted to give the Cal State system a try. I got into Long Beach State for my final two years and got my degree with a concentration on TV broadcasting.
LBP: How did you navigate Long Beach State while working on your broadcasting?
Rivera: I don’t think it worked the way it might usually for others. I got an unpaid internship at Fox Sports Net in 2005 because I applied for a job at the campus bookstore, but I didn’t have a social security number. I would go down to the social security office on Long Beach Blvd. and Pacific Coast Highway six different trips and the people there got to know me and try to help me out because they felt sorry for me and my issues with documentation. By the time the social security number came through, I already had a job as a part-time production assistant at Fox Sports and didn’t need the bookstore job. It’s kind of funny how things might have been different if I didn’t have that social security card delay, I wouldn’t have got the Fox interview. It was probably the best thing that happened because from there, Fox Deportes gave me a shot at calling baseball games. I also had a job with DirecTV Latin America and would voice over soccer games. Their office was over near the 710 and 405 freeway, so sometimes, I’d leave a class, work over there on a game, then go back to class.I also got jobs at Channel 57 KJLA doing a Dodgers’ TV show. In my last semester, I missed a week and a half to do World Series games – the Cardinals and Tigers. Some teachers were very supportive, but it was funny how others didn’t understand why I needed the time off.
LBP: When you graduated in 2006, you were on your professional path. What’s your connection now to Long Beach State? What are your best memories of going there?
Rivera: I’m proud of what I did at Long Beach. It was a great experience even — I wasn’t in any dorms and worked a lot. I remember how much I learned from Barbara Kingsley’s print journalism classes. When my dad came to my graduation – he speaks mainly Spanish but he can get by with his English, but not a lot – Barbara told him: “Your son is great, he’s such a go-getter.” My dad had to ask me: “What does ‘go-getter’ mean?” Another great teacher was Judy Frutig and she interviewed me for an alumni magazine story, and the cover photo was of me interviewing Victoria Beckham at Dodger Stadium. One of the jobs I had after graduation, trying to get more reps calling baseball, was doing some games for the Long Beach Dirtbags. I don’t think my connections to Long Beach State will ever end.
LBP: What has been the take-away from your first Kings’ Spanish-language broadcast?
Rivera: The response was overwhelmingly positive, especially on social media with my goal call going viral. I know how Andres Cantor does his goal call for soccer in the U.S., and I wanted to try something different. But I ended up going loud because people kept asking me to do it that way. I’m comfortable knowing many of the listeners are bilingual. I hope maybe I help the fans enjoy the games better—the team hasn’t been playing as well as they could—and I’d love to call more goals.
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