Many young sports often dream of somehow being involved with their favorite team in some aspect. Some dream of playing, others may consider coaching and there are those who, listening to the radio play-by-play or watching on television think, “I want to do that.”
Such was the case of prominent Colorado sportscaster and the Denver Broncos play-by-play announcer in Spanish, Luis Canela.
“Living up in the mountains it was kind of secluded, so I had the radio to listen to the games,” Canela said of his weekends spent listening to the Broncos from his childhood home in Vail. “I would listen to (Bob) Martin calling the games on KOA and I would imagine how great it would be to see one of these games up close.”
Raised by his aunt and uncle – whom he calls mom and dad – in Vail, both passionate Broncos fans in their own rights, it did not take long for Canela to get that opportunity when at age 11 he found himself putting in commercial spots during the Broncos’ radiocasts for Vail’s KVMT radio station.
“I had a dream at that time to call the Broncos, but I never knew that I would have the opportunity several times over,” Canela said.
By 1982, 10 years removed from his initial stint at KVMT, Canela had emerged as one of the most popular air talents for KBNO Radio in Denver, all of which led to his emergence in 1993 when he became a recognized face around the state for his on-air presence at Univision Colorado Television as a lead news anchor, sports anchor and director of the station’s promotions and special events.
Meeting heroes and interviewing Elway
“When I came up to the Broncos when I was working at KBNO to call the games, I was starstruck,” Canela said. “I saw these guys like (Karl) Mecklenburg, who was a real big guy, but a true gentleman. He was the nicest guy and so easy to talk to.”
That same day, Canela had the opportunity to meet the most recognized John Elway and – for Canela – it led to a career altering moment.
“Right after he retired, I asked him if he would mind doing a Spanish interview,” Canela said. “I thought, ‘he’s gonna say no,’ but he looked at me with that John Elway smile and he says, ‘of course. Yes. I would love to do it.’”
Elway’s Spanish was not that great, Canela continued, so he was going to need some assistance from his staff. Canela obliged by sending about 20 questions to Elway’s staff, which then translated the answers. As the day of the interview approached, Elway let Canela know that he was in for a big surprise.
“He told me, ‘Luis I have a surprise for you,’” Canela said of his pre-interview encounter with Elway. “He said, ‘my Spanish has become perfecto.’”
As the interview took place, Canela said he was astounded by how well the face of one of the most popular franchises in the NFL had managed to master Spanish in the span of a few weeks.
“I was like, ‘John what’s going on, I thought you said you had problems with Spanish’” Canela recollected. “And he said, ‘Luis take a look behind you.’ I took a look behind and his staff had every one of his answers phonetically written in Spanish. So he just read the answers and this interview went around the world.”
Though Elway had a team to translate and write out Spanish phonetically, Canela did not have that luxury and for him, initially, going on air both in radio and television in Spanish was a challenge.
“Spanish was calling me, I have no idea why, but I took the opportunity of doing my best,” he said. “When I was 11-years-old I hardly even spoke Spanish, so I listened to the songs themselves and that’s how I grabbed a couple of words here and there and put them together and kind of taught myself a little bit.”
He added that a tight job market in the early 1980s and an opening at KBNO for a bilingual disc jockey cemented his path towards broadcast media in Spanish.
“I tried out and got the opportunity,” he said. “Before I knew it, I was playing Michael Jackson next to Vicente Fernandez and people could relate.”
Luis Canela is now the sports anchor for KDEN Telemundo Denver.