A Classic Slice of Americana

By Ken Reed

I love baseball but I rarely sit down and watch a full baseball game on TV. Even when I’m in the stands at a baseball game, I don’t watch the whole game. Between checking my phone, chatting with friends or family members and roaming the concourse looking for the perfect baseball snack (it changes from game to game), I might actually see only three-fourths of the game.

When it comes to basketball or football, I’m much more likely to sit down and watch an entire game on television. The same holds true for the four majors in golf and tennis. I’ve quite often watched the entire last round of a major golf tournament, or the championship match of a tennis major. And when attending those sports in person, I’m much more focused on the events taking place on the field or court than I am while attending a baseball game.

But I love baseball on the radio. When it comes to football and basketball games on the radio, I only listen long enough to hear the score. I don’t find those sports entertaining to follow on the radio.

But baseball radio broadcasts are different. I don’t need to follow every pitch to enjoy the game. I like having a baseball broadcast on while I mow the yard, work in the garage, cook on the backyard barbecue, or zip around town running errands.

Jared Diamond recently captured my love of baseball on the radio perfectly in a piece for The Wall Street Journal. “Understanding basketball or football on the radio takes active listening,” writes Diamond. “Baseball can be listened to passively, the excitement in the broadcaster’s voice dictating the level of attention needed at that moment.”

“Television takes your imagination away,” adds long-time sportscaster Al Michaels in Diamond’s article. “If you’re listening to a game on the radio, you can dream along with the game.”

Baseball radio broadcasts seem more personalized and intimate than radio broadcasts of other sports. For many fans, local baseball radio broadcasters become like friends, people you can have a chat with on an almost daily basis. This is especially true for those isolated due to health issues or other reasons. These folks lack interaction with other people on a regular basis and baseball broadcasters become a big part of their social network. As a college student, I had a summer job delivering pharmaceutical drugs to nursing homes. It always amazed me how many residents had the local baseball game on the radio while they knitted or read a book or simply tilted their heads back on a pillow with their eyes closed.

Great baseball announcers are as much storytellers as they are conduits to the action on the field. Listening to a baseball game on the radio is like being part of a conversation.

“[B]aseball has no clock to anchor the events on the field, allowing radio announcers to tell extended stories between pitches, a hallmark trait of a great announcer,” writes Diamond.

The marriage of baseball and radio celebrates its 100th anniversary with this year’s World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros. The first baseball broadcast on radio took place in 1921 on radio station WJZ in New York. A reporter from the Newark Sunday Call would pass World Series game reports from the Polo Grounds by telegraph to WJZ radio announcer Thomas Cowan, who would then recreate the action for his listening audience.

Today, fans can follow baseball in many ways, including television, streaming, social media, internet websites, etc. Traditional baseball radio broadcasts might not survive to celebrate a 200-year anniversary. Baseball itself might not still be around in its current form. But for many of today’s fans, baseball on the radio is one of life’s simplest pleasures.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


Comments are closed.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.