Francina Walker female announcer, new voice of Isotopes.
The first time Francina Walker sat in the chair occupied by her late husband, she gained the kind of perspective she’d lacked when he was alive and well as a faceless icon of Albuquerque-area sports.
For decades, Stu Walker was known as the voice of the Albuquerque Isotopes and University of New Mexico basketball and football. He spent much of his later years serving as the public address announcer in all three venues, even lending his voice to a handful of commercials and community events.
His death from cancer in 2015 left a void that seemed impossible to fill. As it turns out, his successor was the person he spent most of his time with.
Francina takes over as the full-time PA voice for the Isotopes this season and it will be her voice welcoming fans to the ballpark for Thursday night’s opener against Salt Lake.
“I’ve got a love for baseball just like Stu did,” she said. “This is it for me. This is all I want to do.”
Her first shot at the big chair came for a single game late last summer after she and team general manager John Traub struck up a conversation during an on-field ceremony.
“We thought it would be a neat, full-circle kind of a deal to have her come in for a game, sit in his chair and do it for a night,” Traub said. “Once she started speaking over the PA system it was just so natural. Her voice was the type of voice we wanted in this ballpark so we asked her if it was something she’d want to do full time and she was excited about it.”
Isotopes game production manager Kris Shepard approached Walker over the winter and pitched the idea of her making it full time. She jumped at the chance.
A former radio personality on KRST-FM in Albuquerque in the ’80s, Walker prepped for her first attempt last summer by shadowing Santa Fe native Joe Gonzales in the Isotopes Park press box. Gonzales occasionally filled in last season, giving Walker a chance to learn the tricks of the trade that came so naturally to her late husband.
“I didn’t fully grasp it until I did it,” she said. “Then I went, ‘OK I get it, I get it.’ It’s a really unique experience and it was a lot of fun and you get to take in the whole experience of the game.”
Traub grew up in Southern California and spent many a night sitting through baseball games in Chavez Ravine and an hour south in Anaheim, not to mention football in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The common denominator in all of them was the male voice echoing through the stadium.
It wasn’t until the San Francisco Giants hired the first full-time female announcer in the ’90s that the old guard started to change. To date, three women have served on a full-time basis at big league ballparks, including the second female to work for the Giants, Renel Brooks-Moon.
“That voice has become synonymous with being in that ballpark and I think that’s pretty awesome,” Traub said.
Walker doesn’t see herself as a trend-setter, but she does see herself enjoying a kinship to the legacy of her late husband.
“I was really excited to do it last year and I had a lot of fun because I was able to relate on that level with Stu,” she said. “I thought if I ever get invited back for a couple of nights here or there, I’d be happy.”
She said the biggest challenge is common sense: Getting names right, nailing the timing and being upbeat from start to finish.
Her boss has full confidence. He sees the potential Francina brings to the press box and understands that Albuquerque is ready for the next great voice to emanate from the Walker home.
“I think having that consistent continuity of a voice, it resonates with you,” Traub said. “Maybe their voices are different but the Walker name will certainly live on here in the ballpark. A good announcer has that skill. It can probably be learned but I think it’s something that’s in you. You know now to deliver a show.”