by Nicole Knight
photography by Reina Santa Cruz
Six minutes before his 6 p.m. newscast, a young man, warm brown eyes wide open, is focused on his computer screen. His head bounces from the computer to the mini television to the script rundown. The 25-year-old sports anchor reads his work, leans back and gently strokes his chin. He glances at the clock: 5:55 p.m. Moments later at the editing suites, he shadows the editor working on his clips. News 34 is now on the air, but his preparations continue. 6:05 p.m. He paces down the hallways, back and forth to his desk and editing suite. Co-workers pass, and he offers a genuine smile and a short friendly conversation in Spanish. 6:20 p.m. He opens the studio’s heavy gray doors and calmly takes his place at the news desk. Baked by the bright lights he reads over his work, still stroking his chin. 6:25 p.m. He perks up, responding from a cue from his hidden earpiece. He throws an internal switch, and the timid exterior disappears. He straightens up, shows an energetic smile, and the red recording light flashes.
Instantly, like an explosive roar of applause, he transforms into a vigorous, passionate, enthralled sports anchor, talking directly into the camera. He speaks to his audience with compassion and intelligence about the topic he loves most. His energy and stamina does not waver throughout the five-minute segment. 6:28 p.m. The lights dim on his face, and the camera turns to the neighboring news anchor. Delicately smiling, he stays anchored while the news show finishes. 6:30 p.m. He flips his internal switch back to his off-air personality, quiet and sincere; but a gleam of excitement and adrenaline still glimmers in his eyes as he steps off the platform.
Enrique Gutiérrez, 2002 University of La Verne Communications Department graduate, has finished his sports report on KMEX Channel 34, the No. 1 Spanish-speaking news station in Los Angeles and the nation. Enrique made a swift transition to the L.A. limelight, but has traveled a long road of determination and passion and is driven by a hard work ethic. A native of Chihuahua, Mexico, Enrique had big plans for his future the moment he came to the United States 10 years ago. Three years fresh out of the University of La Verne as a communications graduate, he received his “big break” a year ago when one of KMEX’s sports anchors moved to news, opening a new position for a fresh face.
Instead of following the typical interviewing process, KMEX made a November sweeps week game of the application process, running a commercial advertising a “reality” show in search of their next sports anchor. Enrique, a KMEX devotee, saw the promotion calling for the next “Amigo de Acción Deportiva” (“Friend of the Sports Action”). The online form called for a college degree and three years of media experience. Contestants were given a five-day window to show up at the Los Angeles station located off the 405 freeway at Howard Hughes Parkway. “I didn’t know what it was at first, so they didn’t promise anything; they just said show up and see what happens,” Enrique says. “So, I showed up and saw a lot of people there, but I thought I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” Turning in his application, he met with one of the producers for a standard interview. The producer asked him questions on his background, interests and experience.
The call came a week later; Enrique was one of the 20 finalists. He and the other finalists competed in broadcasted challenges, including an impromptu play-by-play announcement of a random sports game. “A lot of people compared it to American Idol, because they brought us into the studio, and it was all dark, and then we would face the judges; but I would compare it more to ESPN’s Dream Job,” Enrique says. He faced three judges, including a KMEX executive director, a local newspaper writer and a local radio station disk jockey. The writer interrogated the finalists on their sports knowledge, the executive producer inquired on their broadcasting experience, and the disk jockey evaluated delivery and on-camera presence.
Enrique emerged as one of five continuing finalists. “After they chose the five finalists, that’s when the real process began, and that’s when we had to go through the real interviewing process,” he says. “A lot of people think that it was the community that voted online, because that’s what they made it sound like it was on TV, but it actually was the final decision of the producers.” Enrique faced intense competition from his fellow finalists, most of whom had years of field experience. When the winner was announced, Enrique heard his name. On a live broadcast in KMEX’s studio, he humbly accepted the award, vigorously shaking the hands of his new co-workers. “I felt good,” Enrique says. “It opened many possibilities. I felt privileged and with a great responsibility on my shoulders.”
Starting December 2004, the contest brought a three-month contract. But Enrique has outlasted the contest contract more than a year. “After the three months, they liked what I was doing, so they kept me,” he says. “It’s a really good experience, and I like what I’m doing, so I’m happy.”
Enrique considers himself “privileged” vs. lucky for the opportunity to remain at KMEX. Even though he knows the public did not heavily impact the contest results, he still thanks fans who voted for him.
Always humble when talking about himself, blushing and turning away from kudos, Enrique has ULV professors who are quick to genuinely praise him. “He’s very humble and shy, and he wasn’t really marketing himself to anyone,” ULV Professor of Communications Mike Laponis says. “He was very quiet about the contest and didn’t say too much about it when I saw him a few times.” ULV Communications Professor Donald Pollock, who served as Enrique’s senior project adviser, professor and colleague, called his former student “ambitious” and fondly reminisced on Enrique’s time at La Verne. The professor could easily explain Enrique’s extended stay at KMEX. “He’s a very talented guy and always has been,” Pollock says. “And he’s a very hard worker, so if you mix that with a passion—that’s a recipe for success.”
Even his good friend Augustin Avalos, production coordinator for LVTV, the University’s student-run television station, knew very little about the KMEX contest and was surprised to turn to Univision one day and see his old classmate. Avalos graduated from ULV in 2003. He worked side-by-side with Enrique in school assignments and projects after they graduated. “He’s very secretive in that way,” Avalos says. “He doesn’t pull attention to himself.”
Enrique’s success reaches beyond the chance of the “big break.” “I think his knowledge of sports and his desire to work—his heart—has kept him there,” says Shane Rodrigues, operations manager for KULV, the University’s student-run radio station, and LVTV.
Pollock suspected “the romance” of Enrique has kept him consistently popular in the airwaves, especially with his female audience. Enrique, who has consistently been referred to as a “good-looking guy,” gives the KMEX line-up a youthful, energetic presence.
Alejandro Luna, who has been a sports anchor at KMEX for five years, called Enrique a “youthful” and “creative” presence at the station. “First of all, he had a very good vocabulary, and he seemed very knowledgeable about sports compared to other guys,” Luna says. “One of the skills that we remarked most was that he could manage the pressure, and that’s a very important point I think.” Ingrid Luquetta, a KMEX executive producer, says, “He’s the most organized sports guy I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s always on time, cooperative and on top of things—he’s a very proactive person.” One of the key aspects of Enrique’s success is his connective communication with his audience. His fellow sports anchor Luna describes his style as “youthful, fresh and strong projection.” Luquetta adds, “He’s a team player and to be in this business you have to be a team player. He instantly became part of the KMEX family; it’s like he was already there and a part of us.”
Success in the contest flip-flopped Enrique’s life, thrusting him into the Los Angeles limelight. He has always taken full advantage of opportunities, and his time at KMEX has been no exception. He owns a prime spot on the weekday lineup, anchoring sports on Mondays and Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. The weekends are slightly more laid back as he reports and works on packages, Saturdays and Sundays at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Enrique also anchors on KMEX on Sunday at 10 a.m.
The root of Enrique’s character begins with his cultural background. Chihuahua is a middle-class city, but Enrique grew up with friends from less fortunate backgrounds. He was a typical child and played many sports, especially his favorite sport: soccer. “In Latin America, it seems you are closer to the people who live around you,” Enrique says. “When you’re a kid, you play on the streets, and soccer rules the streets; cars will move for you.” He attended school in Mexico until he reached the equivalent of his sophomore year in high school. Then, Enrique joined his mother, Silvia Castillo, who had found a new life in the United States as a cosmologist in Brea. His father separated years earlier from his mother and remained in Mexico with his sister. New to the United States at 15, Enrique set objectives to pursue an education and learn English. He enrolled in Brea Olinda High School in Brea and continued to play sports, including soccer, baseball and basketball. He then sought a college education. He would be a first-generation student.
His soccer talents earned him a scholarship to Chapman University in Orange, but an injury at the end of his high school senior year changed his plans. A high school counselor introduced him to ULV on a field trip, and he applied. “I like La Verne; I like the people of La Verne,” Enrique says. “I like the small type of community setting. You know almost everybody there.”
His life goal shifted toward a career. “I wanted to be a professional athlete growing up but since that didn’t work out, I wanted to do the next best thing and be involved—as a coach or journalist—that’s what I wanted to do, and I always knew that.” Enrique has a deeply-rooted passion for sports. The emotions behind the game spark his faithfulness, not the sport politics. “Sports, in their essence, are the most beautiful thing to me,” Enrique says. His friends and professors were quick to recognize his love. “He has this immense passion for sports,” his friend Avalos says.
Enrique applied this passion into his study for a communications degree with an emphasis in broadcast journalism at La Verne. “Since I knew him, he knew what he wanted to do,” Avalos says. At the University, Enrique took full advantage of every learning opportunity the Communications Department offered. “He was one of those students who was very passionate about the work, and he kind of did everything,” Pollock says. “He wrote for the Campus Times, three semesters, did stuff on radio, did sports broadcasting, and he did some really wonderful video productions. He was one of the best students we’ve ever had in the program as a TV broadcast student.”
Enrique remained intensely involved in television production and broadcast, grasping every outlet the Department offered. Not only did he accomplish the required number of shoots for his classes, but volunteered for extra. He did heavy work for LVTV behind the camera directing and editing. He went beyond typical students and volunteered to announce sports on games covered for LVTV.
Enrique added his sports knowledge to KULV, Rodrigues says. He took several air shifts and showed his ability to act under pressure with active participation in play-by-play sport segments on KULV radio. Enrique stretched his creativity and drive when he proposed a new show idea for KULV. “He really wanted to do a show that was alternative rock, but in Spanish,” Laponis says. “He pitched it to us, and he actually got to do it, so he had a Spanish rock show on KULV for a couple weeks.” Enrique’s senior project combined all of his passion for the broadcast profession, sports and his heritage when he created an award-winning documentary on the Olympic boxer Christian Bejarano. Enrique traveled to Mexico to interview Bejarano, who is from his hometown of Chihuahua, Mexico, and went to Las Vegas to film one of his fights. He also created two versions of his documentary in Spanish and English. In 2002, Enrique’s project entitled, “Christian Bejarano, The Bronze Warrior: A Legend in the Making,” won Best Documentary Profile in the Western Access Video Excellence awards.
Open-ended opportunities did not stop for Enrique after his ULV graduation, spring 2002. He worked in a variety of positions, such as editor, news and promo editor, news photographer, camera operator, audio operator, floor manager, master control operator, production assistant and field producer. He also started his own production company, creating public relations videos.
One of Enrique’s most valuable experiences came from his work on a weekly sports show he self-produced called “Contra Golpe” (“counter punch or attack”). For help on the project, he sought the aid of his former professor Pollock and Avalos. Needing the resources to shoot his show, Enrique became a community producer for LVTV, allowing him access to the equipment and studio.
His creativity and entrepreneurial spirit emerged again as he became a one-man show, producing, writing, hosting, editing and distributing his show to other stations. Enrique bought time on KNLA Channel 27 to air his shows and to bring in commercial money. Pollock was amazed at Enrique’s determination to take on the heavy workload. “‘Enrique,’ I said, ‘How are you going to do this? You have to make the videos, and you have to sell the time to make money.’ We helped him by contributing the studio time for his productions, so he could shoot in exchange for him giving us a version of his show without commercials because LVTV is a non-commercial station. And he actually did this weekly show that he shot, edited and hosted. It was really quite impossible, but that didn’t stop him.”
“Contra Golpe” covered local and regional sports games and feature stories. Avalos, who occasionally helped shoot segments, reminisced on a particular piece the duo worked on that, in retrospect, showed Enrique’s promising future. They traveled to shoot a package on Oscar De La Hoya in East L.A., where the popular Hispanic boxer was handing out Christmas gifts at a local elementary school. After shooting a few video pictures, the time came to hunt down De La Hoya for an interview. Dozens of media outlets swarmed around the boxer; one ironically caught De La Hoya’s attention: Univision. “To get to Oscar De La Hoya, it was crazy because there was this crowd of people around him, and you had to move your way around to get to him,” Avalos says. “Finally, Enrique, who’s really good at this stuff, just gets in there and puts the mic in front of Oscar De La Hoya and starts interviewing him.” However, Avalos pressed the wrong button and failed to record the interview. Enrique was upset, but the duo followed the boxer around and got him again. Avalos says he was very impressed with Enrique’s determination to get the story. “And that day, I noticed that this guy knew what he was doing, and that he could easily talk to big personalities,” Avalos says. “He had a mission to accomplish, and he accomplished it, and that is what you have to do everyday when you interview people in broadcast.” His time in between ULV and KMEX gave Enrique more than real world experience or contacts; it helped him mature in his life’s objectives. “I learned you need to listen to your heart, but you don’t have to do everything your heart tells you,” Enrique says. “So I learned the more you listen to it, the more you know; and the more you know, the better decisions you can make; and when to do what it tells you and when to not.” Enrique’s work on his sports show developed his strong determination. “That show taught me that when it gets really hard, it’s real easy to quit.”
With so many eyes watching him, Enrique has felt the pressure of staying true to himself. “It’s very easy to lose your ground, and that’s one of the dangers of this profession. I try not to forget what my goals are, what my dreams are, who I am, and where I came from.” Enrique remains conscious of other people and recognizes how temporary his position can be. He understands the competition in the business, and that opportunities like these come only once. His classmate Avalos has complete confidence in Enrique’s character strength. “Some people change, some people don’t change—Enrique will not change, he’s just one of those persons.”
Enrique’s ability to seize an opportunity has left lasting impressions on his professors, friends and objectives. “It all comes down to luck,” Pollock says. “It all comes down to getting the breaks, and I imagine there’re people out there who are very talented who may not have gotten the opportunity; so when the opportunity comes, you have to be prepared to do what it takes to grab it and hold on, and it seems to me that Enrique’s done that, and he has the ability and the work ethic to keep doing that.”
Although Enrique is very happy with his position at KMEX, he is open to seizing opportunities as they come. Some of his goals include working on a national network, covering the World Cup in soccer and Olympics, becoming a play-by-play announcer and perhaps playing soccer again. “I like what I do; I’m privileged to have the job that I have because not a lot of people do what they really want to do. Not a lot of people have that opportunity, and I don’t think a lot of people even get the opportunity to try it.”
Stepping into the bright hallway from the studio doors, he removes his earpiece and walks toward the door, relaxed but still quick in his steps. Enrique slightly loosens his gray patterned necktie as he heads for his cubicle. Another successful broadcast down, and hopefully many more to come for this young, humble, driven sports fan at heart.