NORWALK — Local coaches like Richard Estrella.
He interviews them, broadcasts scores of high school and junior college games only a few thousand people attend and publicizes the triumphs of athletes who grew up in Norwalk wanting to play professional sports--and made it.
Estrella takes teams that rarely make big news and puts them in the limelight.
Estrella, who played football for Santa Fe High School until a knee injury cut his career short, is a broadcaster for Norwalk Community Cable. When his alma mater held the record for the longest losing streak of 500 schools in the CIF Southern Division this year (19 games in a row), Estrella broadcast that, too.
Estrella produces, writes and hosts Norwalk Community Cable's "Sports Wrap," a monthly interview and call-in show, and does the play-by-play commentary for the "Game of the Week," which features local teams. Until Community Cable's local news program was canceled, Estrella was sports anchor on that, too.
The show is seen only in Norwalk, which has 9,000 cable subscribers. Nobody knows how many of them watch "Sports Wrap," but once, when Estrella opened the lines to callers, he got 30 questions in an hour.
Show Costs Him Money
Estrella is unpaid. In fact, "Sports Wrap" costs him money. He buys Raider tickets and gives them away as prizes in his sports quiz. After work, he pays the seven-member crew in pizza.
In four years, Estrella figures he has logged 500 hours of air time, and put in another 2,000 preparing for shows. He persists because he, too, wants media attention.
Like hundreds of other cable television volunteers, Estrella wants into the "big time." If his big break were to come next week, Estrella figures 100 applicants would line up to take his job at Norwalk Community Cable. The field is that competitive.
At 26, Estrella isn't serious about much. He once went on the air in a Santa Claus hat to celebrate Christmas, and he tossed a pumpkin around the set for Halloween. But his antics make his intensity about broadcasting all the more striking. He goes on the air live "because that's the way the big boys do it." He wears a blue blazer and a tie to high school football games because, he says, "you've got to look the part." Even the Santa hat had a serious side.
"Sports guys are the clowns of broadcast," he said. "A little levity is expected."
"Sports Wrap," originally "Sports Talk," has gone through three incarnations and one programming hiatus in two years, due mostly to the vagaries of community-access cable television. The show started as "Sports Talk" on Falcon Cable Television. Norwalk Community Cable took over Falcon's community programming in July, 1985, and the show went on, first as "Sports Talk," and then, after an intermission of several months, under the name "Sports Wrap," said Julie Ragozzino, programming supervisor for Norwalk Community Cable.
Only Show of Its Kind
It is the longest-running live community-access show in Norwalk. To the best of Ragozzino's knowledge, it is also the only community sports interview program currently airing in the Los Angeles area.
Estrella and his mostly volunteer crew have have never missed a show for lack of preparation. "They call in sick if they can't make it," said director Larry Jones. "They're there on time, they're there to the end. They all want in to the big time."
One of the few members of the crew who actually earns a living in television, Jones produces commercials for Falcon Cable Television in Alhambra.
For four years that ended last month, Estrella also worked in TV--he dispatched repair trucks for Falcon Cable Television. (He is now training to be a real estate appraiser.)
"My absolute only reason for taking the (dispatching) job," he said, "was because I thought it might somehow get me into doing a show." Two months after he started as a dispatcher, Estrella got a break. Somebody called in sick two hours before Robert Vega, a local Olympic boxing hopeful, was scheduled to fight. Estrella was asked to do ringside commentary.
His first time on television, he went on live, without a script.
"Sure it was scary," he said. "But now I am totally relaxed. My set is my office."
Recent programs have featured interviews with Frank Mazzotta and Larry Anderson, head football coaches at Cerritos College and Lynwood High School, respectively. Both live outside Norwalk, and neither had seen the show before going on the air.
Last June, Estrella interviewed Anderson, a coach in the 605 All-Star Football Game, about the upcoming contest.
Being on the air with Estrella was just plain fun, Anderson said. It was also "a good way to get publicity for the game," Anderson said. The game attracted 4,000, one of largest crowds in years. Anderson credits Estrella, who promoted the game aggressively on the air, with increasing the turnout.