It takes just a moment upon meeting and sharing a few words with Carlos Cesar Rivera to realize that the veteran radio man’s voice was made for the airwaves.
The 61-year-old’s lustrous and buttery baritone has graced the radio for almost 44 years and has allowed him to work in various countries. He has also been the voice of international campaigns of brands like Chevron and Honda and reached thousands of ears over his career both on the radio and in packed stadiums.
It takes only a few more seconds after that, though, to realize that the real star of the show is Rivera’s immense heart that allows him to connect, understand and empathize with the daily life and plight of his Spanish-speaking audience.
Rivera is now in his 15th consecutive year doing Spanish play-by-play for the San Jose Earthquakes and in his 38th year on 1370 La Kaliente. His voice—warm and ever-present like that of a favorite uncle—and his familiarity within the Latinx community in the Bay Area is a vital component in the Earthquakes effort to engage Latinx fans and make them lifelong supporters of the Quakes.
If Rivera knows something of the lives of the Latinx immigrant here in the Bay Area, it’s because he is one himself.
A native of Sonsonate, El Salvador, he had a different life and career path laid out before he found his calling in radio, and eventually his way to the United States.
“I studied and graduated to be an industrial mechanic,” said Rivera. “The richest man in my town, called Veneno was one and he would always invite everyone over to his house to drink because he earned well. He had money to spare, so my mother told me to study to be an industrial mechanic.”
Rivera worked part-time at the local radio station while in mechanic school. Since his teacher knew this, Rivera was placed in charge of picking the music during final exams to help students concentrate and finish more quickly. The end result would be that Rivera himself would not finish.
“I never worked, not for a second, as an industrial mechanic,” he said. “No matter how much your intention is to be a doctor or lawyer, if the desire isn’t born inside you, you won’t do them.”
After dedicating himself full-time to radio and finding success in El Salvador, Rivera moved and started working at Radio Mundial in Panama. Well known for the vigorous work ethic that forces him to rise everyday 4:30 a.m.—even on his days off—Rivera quickly became disillusioned with his colleague’s culture of drinking hard and preparing little. Rivera quit and returned to El Salvador without options.
It was while there that all signs started to point to the United States.
Rivera’s wife, friends, and his mentor in radio Rolando Orellana all told him he had the talent to make it in the United States. Orellana, whom Rivera counts as his first teacher, went so far as to offer him a spot on the radio in San Francisco.
What Orellana could not offer Rivera was a visa, airfare to San Francisco, or a permanent job contract.
“He asked if I was still good. I said, ‘I’m even better,’” said Rivera. “He gave me a week to decide. I knew that if I went and failed, I would have no options.”
It was a week that would change Rivera’s life.
In those moments that he doubted himself, Rivera credits his wife Celia Rosa for helping him realize his rightful place and worth. He made the decision to try thanks to her.
After securing a visa and a friend buying his plane ticket, he set off for the United States.
“I arrived on a Friday in 1981. I was on the air by Saturday. And then I never left,” he said.
Rivera is such a mainstay of Bay Area radio that he is now working with the children of former colleagues.
Monti Rossetti, communications coordinator for the San Jose Earthquakes, is now the second person in the Rossetti Family (after his father) to work with Rivera.
The 28-year-old Bay Area native and first-generation Argentinian stressed how lucky the San Jose Earthquakes are to have Rivera, calling him, “one of the best,” and “one of the Latinx pillars of the team.”
When asked if it was Rivera’s experience, talent or preparation that sets him apart in radio, Rosetti was emphatic:
“I think it’s a whole lot of passion, and maybe passion has all three of those in there.”
Rivera’s consistent presence and infectious passion create an accessible organic platform in which the Latinx community in the Bay Area can become interested in the Earthquakes and then become fans of their local team.
It is easy for a soccer-hungry Latinx community to buy into Rivera’s passion because after all, he has a shared experience and is one of them.
Rivera now reaches a much wider audience thanks to internet radio and receives calls daily from listeners as far away as Australia and parts of South America. He always makes sure to keep the Latinx immigrant audience in his mind though.
“Don’t lose heart. Where you are, I was. I know how hard it is. With hard work and love of family, you can get ahead,” Rivera said.
The opportunity to reach these audiences and do what he loves is what gives Rivera satisfaction at the end of a long day.
“I would choose satisfaction over money any day,” Rivera said, before going on live Telemundo to call the game between the Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids. San Jose prevailed a 3-1.