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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Baseball on the Radio, 100 Years Later

It’s been almost a century since the first major league baseball game was broadcast over the radio: an early-August game between the Pirates and the Phillies in 1921. Despite resistance from both traditional print media and team ownership, the popularity of such broadcasts took off, sparking a conflict that would fundamentally change the revenue structure of major league baseball. In his book Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio, James R. Walker writes about the forces that changed the attitudes of baseball higher-ups towards the broadcasting of baseball on the radio. Declining attendance was at first, and stubbornly, blamed on radio broadcasting, leading team ownership to call for bans on such broadcasts. But with the growing influence and financial power of advertising in broadcasting and the realization that radio was a boon to developing geographically-displaced fandom (especially in the western United States, where many people lived far from a major-league team), fewer and fewer teams held out against the practice.,

There was, at the same time, a fundamental shift in what the purpose of such broadcasts was. As Walker writes, the World Series, from 1921 until 1933, was broadcast on the radio — not because it was lucrative to do so, but as a service to the country’s interested public. In 1934, though, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis sold the rights to the World Series broadcast to the Ford Motor Company. Within a few years, a federal judge would hand down a decision naming baseball broadcasts on the radio as the property of the teams involved, and New York, the last holdout of broadcast bans, embraced this new revenue stream.

The rest, as they say, was history: MLB and the radio became entwined in each other’s myths. From the way baseball on the radio has become the stuff of legend, you might never have known that the two were once enemies, seemingly at cross-purposes with each other. Within the history of baseball on the radio is so much of what we discuss about baseball today: the persistence of broadcast blackouts; MLB’s slowness to embrace the dissemination of content in new media formats, even when that dissemination would likely be beneficial in building and sustaining new audiences for the sport; and the proportion of teams’ value and revenue that is tied up in the sale of broadcast rights.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 10, 2021 at 09:31 AM | 24 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: radio

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   1. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: March 10, 2021 at 01:34 PM (#6008106)
"We can't let people read about ballgames in the paper! It'll hurt attendance!"
"We can't let them put ballgames on the radio! It'll hurt attendance!"
"We can't let them put ballgames on TV! It'll hurt attendance!"
"We can't let them put ballgames on the internet! It'll hurt attendance!"
   2. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: March 10, 2021 at 01:52 PM (#6008109)
Baseball on the radio remains one of life's great joys.
   3. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: March 10, 2021 at 02:31 PM (#6008122)
"We can't let them put ballgames on TV! It'll hurt attendance!"

Actually for some teams it did hurt attendance, in the early days of TV. But it wasn't televising per se that did it. It was that many teams televised their home games only, because the cost of televising road games was thought to be prohibitive.

The NFL conducted an unintentional experiment on the effects of TV on attendance in the early 1950's. The L.A. Rams were in three straight championship games between 1949 and 1951, featuring a roster with two HoF quarterbacks and many other stars. It was the glamor team of pro football. In 1949 they didn't televise at all, and averaged 44,043, first in the NFL. In 1950, they televised all their home games, and their average attendance plunged to 26,341, sixth in the NFL and below the overall league average.

In 1951 the Rams did a 180, and televised nothing but their road games. Their average attendance rebounded to 44,196, once again first in the NFL. Within a couple of years, the NFL made that a league wide policy, and it kept setting new attendance records every year. By the time that the home blackout policies were outlawed in 1973, pro football had become so popular that it didn't need blackouts to entice people to buy tickets.
   4. Tom Nawrocki Posted: March 10, 2021 at 02:45 PM (#6008125)
Baseball on the radio remains one of life's great joys.


Preferably driving around on a summer night with the windows down.
   5. Walt Davis Posted: March 10, 2021 at 03:30 PM (#6008131)
As a kid, the Blackhawks and Bulls didn't televise home games at all, only road games. Then when pay TV** came in, they put the home games on pay TV ... I think the White Sox did too but maybe that was only partial. The Hawks quickly moved road games to pay TV too (they weren't big ratings winners anyway) but I'm pretty sure Bulls road games remained free on WGN for several years.

** Chicago somewhat infamously was quite late to get actual cable TV due to the infrastructure costs, lack of political agreement and that the Feds were keeping a very close eye assuming, since it was Chicago, there would be bribes and kickbacks. This was done, at least in part, as a scrambled on-air channel.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: March 10, 2021 at 03:36 PM (#6008133)
Further to #3, I think the Hollywood Stars and maybe one of the other PCL teams also televised their games and saw similar attendance drops. But this is difficult to untangle as the minors were nearly wiped out everywhere in the 50s as attendance plummeted and, outside Milwaukee of all places, MLB wasn't doing too well either.

TV's effect might not have been so much due to game broadcasting as in providing competition for leisure time by providing people entertainment without leaving home. Suburbanization also likely decreased attendance. The big movie palaces, dance halls, the big bands also collapsed badly in the 50s and early 60s.
   7. Traderdave Posted: March 10, 2021 at 03:40 PM (#6008134)
Radio has been about 90% of my lifetime baseball experience.
   8. SoSH U at work Posted: March 10, 2021 at 03:40 PM (#6008135)
As a kid, the Blackhawks and Bulls didn't televise home games at all, only road games.


The Blackhawks continued that policy until 2007, or the day after Old Man Wirtz finally kicked the bucket.
   9. Lowry Seasoning Salt Posted: March 10, 2021 at 03:53 PM (#6008138)
"We can't let them put ballgames on the internet! It'll hurt attendance!"


There are plenty of things MLB has done that are worthy of criticism. MLBAM is not one of them.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: March 10, 2021 at 04:27 PM (#6008141)
MLBAM is not one of them.

But out of market games only.
   11. Lowry Seasoning Salt Posted: March 10, 2021 at 05:24 PM (#6008146)
But out of market games only.


I won't defend that policy, but it certainly doesn't "hurt attendance."
   12. Walt Davis Posted: March 10, 2021 at 07:45 PM (#6008165)
I won't defend that policy

So perhaps MLBAM is worthy of criticism ... :-)

#1 was being facetious. But nobody was worried about internet hurting attendance, they were worried about internet drawing local eyeballs away from local lucrative cable contracts and, hence, MLBAM adopted the blackout policy.
   13. depletion Posted: March 10, 2021 at 09:42 PM (#6008181)
#2 and #4 absolutely agree. Working on the car? Roll the windows down and put the ballgame on the radio.
A real treat is driving at night and getting reception from a fairly distant city due to upper atmospheric bounce. Listening to announcers from another city gives a new perspective on the game. I even like hearing the ads for local beer and car dealers.
   14. depletion Posted: March 10, 2021 at 09:45 PM (#6008182)
By the way, 1921 was about 2 years after the first radio broadcast of any type. That didn't take long. Music and sports were the killer app.
   15. gef the talking mongoose, peppery hostile Posted: March 11, 2021 at 10:32 AM (#6008229)
The L.A. Rams were in three straight championship games between 1949 and 1951,


Let's see, "between 1949 and 1951" would be 1950. Must've been a bizarre season, what with no fewer than 3 championship games being played.

Grammatical pet peeve alert!
   16. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: March 11, 2021 at 10:41 AM (#6008230)
By the time that the home blackout policies were outlawed in 1973


The blackout policy was in effect until 2014, and even today is technically 'suspended' rather than nonexistent.
   17. jingoist Posted: March 11, 2021 at 03:20 PM (#6008271)
#13 depletion
Spot on my friend.
Growing up in the Pittsburgh area it was KDKA, 1020 on your AM dial.
50,000 watts of clear channel broadcasting my Buccos all over eastern America.
I regularly listened to the Cards games on KMOX, another 50,000 watt station.
We’d get “the bounce” of AM frequency stations with frequent atmospheric interruptions, but that was half the fun.
I grew up in the ‘50’s listening to Bob Prince, the ultimate “homer” broadcaster rooting his Bucs to make a late inning comeback.
Baseball is truly a game for life; been a fan for 65+ years and will til day I die.
   18. pikepredator Posted: March 11, 2021 at 04:40 PM (#6008285)
Baseball on the radio is my favorite way to consume my favorite sport (outside of actually being there, of course). we all know this but much of the magic is the stories that can be told between pitches (infinitely better than watching batter and pitching stalling on tv) and the ability to turn a routine fly ball into the outfield into something that just . . . might . . . make it . . . would've been a dream career for me. I love baseball, traveling, and talking.

and yeah add me to the roster of kids who twiddled the radio dials at night trying to pick up cleveland broadcasts (or whatever city) in my northern VT home when the sox weren't on.
   19. AndrewJ Posted: March 11, 2021 at 05:44 PM (#6008299)
TV's effect might not have been so much due to game broadcasting as in providing competition for leisure time by providing people entertainment without leaving home. Suburbanization also likely decreased attendance. The big movie palaces, dance halls, the big bands also collapsed badly in the 50s and early 60s.

Which is why Hollywood went all in on Cinerama and even 3-D in the mid-1950s and rode the coattails of any megahit -- after The Robe and especially The Ten Commandments there was a resurgence of Biblical epics. The Sound of Music yielded a decade of bloated roadshow movie musicals. Around the World in 80 Days led to wacky movies with international stars in cameo roles.
   20. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 11, 2021 at 06:56 PM (#6008311)

The L.A. Rams were in three straight championship games between 1949 and 1951,


Wow, two decades!

A real treat is driving at night and getting reception from a fairly distant city due to upper atmospheric bounce. Listening to announcers from another city gives a new perspective on the game. I even like hearing the ads for local beer and car dealers.


I remember as a kid in Kansas City, stumbling upon a Cardinals game on KMOX, and I thought it was like I found a secret code or something.
   21. tonywagner Posted: March 11, 2021 at 07:08 PM (#6008318)
The blackout policy was in effect until 2014, and even today is technically 'suspended' rather than nonexistent.

That's a different blackout policy. Prior to 1973, *all* homes games were blacked out in the local market, including sold-out playoff games -- and even Super Bowls were blacked out in the host cities!
   22. AndrewJ Posted: March 11, 2021 at 07:43 PM (#6008326)
I understand that in the 1960s when the NFL blackout rules were at their height, Giants fans would drive up the parkway en masse to Connecticut and rent out entire motels on Sunday afternoons, watching the games on TV. Sometimes NYC police marching bands would even stop by and stage halftime shows in the parking lots.
   23. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: March 11, 2021 at 09:16 PM (#6008342)
Further to #3, I think the Hollywood Stars and maybe one of the other PCL teams also televised their games and saw similar attendance drops. But this is difficult to untangle as the minors were nearly wiped out everywhere in the 50s as attendance plummeted and, outside Milwaukee of all places, MLB wasn't doing too well either.

In 1949 the minors peaked with 59 leagues and attendance just shy of 42,000,000. Five years later they were down to 36 leagues and under 20,000,000 attendance. It's not coincidental that this was the five years during which TV went from a luxury item** to a near-universal appliance.

** Here's an ad for a 1949 13" TV whose price in current dollars would be $2,630. The average family income that year was $3,100.

------------------

and yeah add me to the roster of kids who twiddled the radio dials at night trying to pick up cleveland broadcasts (or whatever city) in my northern VT home when the sox weren't on.

On a clear night in Washington, in 1962 a good transistor radio could pick up the Senators, Orioles, Yankees, Mets,** Phillies, Dodgers***, Indians, White Sox and Cardinals. On a cloudy night it was just the Senators and the Dodgers. We could also get the Celtics broadcasts, but not the Red Sox.

** I still have a perfectly scored pitch-by-pitch Peterson scoresheet for the first game in Mets history, a road game against the Cardinals. Listened to it on WABC in New York on what must have been one of those clear nights.

*** Rebroadcast on a delayed basis to an Arlington, VA station.
   24. gef the talking mongoose, peppery hostile Posted: March 12, 2021 at 11:11 AM (#6008422)
Around the World in 80 Days led to wacky movies with international stars in cameo roles.


First movie I ever saw on a VCR, circa 1983 at an Arizona State faculty-esque (I was a history TA, my wife the English counterpart) party where the hosts rented a machine.

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