The Art of Baseball Radio Broadcasting

The art of radio broadcasting is almost a century old. And even though the first attempt at an Internet broadcast of a baseball game came in 1995, it could be argued that Internet broadcasting is still in its infancy (or toddler-hood, at most). So when we at Gameday Radio decided to use the Internet to bring our radio broadcasting to youth baseball, we thought we would end up having to create an entirely new set of rules and procedures for baseball play-by-play. It ends up, however, that many of our ideas weren't so new after all.

One of the old procedures that has proved very useful is the art of re-creation in which an announcer who was not actually present at the game would receive information from the ballpark and then create his own play-by-play version of the events.  Gameday Radio CEO and Founder, David Soderna, has written a comprehensive piece on re-creation that you can find here

In the very early days of radio broadcasting, whether it was a live call or a re-creation, there was typically only one man, a solitary voice in the booth or in the stands, who described all of the game action. This is the style Gameday Radio chose to emulate.  Some of these broadcasters were also required to serve as the ballpark’s public address announcer.  In fact, during many old broadcasts, you can hear the announcer grab another microphone and announce a substitution or pitching change to the crowd. Announcers usually didn't mute their radio broadcast microphone or cut to a commercial while they delivered the PA announcement. Radio audiences heard everything. On top of that, most of the advertisements were read live by the announcer; he never even got a bathroom break during the game! This was true 'Iron Man Baseball' stuff.  These pioneers also delivered some of the purest, most real commentary of baseball you would ever hear. Their broadcasts would transport you to the game. They didn't just call the plays; they told the story of the game. It really is magical the feelings and emotions that great broadcasters can evoke in their listeners. This is what Gameday Radio is all about. We are trying to re-create the action on the field with all of the enthusiasm, dedication, and love of the game that the old-timers put into every play.

Many people have heard an audio recording from early days of radio and the first thing they think of is the high-pitched, almost nasally, clipped tone with which the announcers spoke.  This was intentional for a few reasons. First, this dialect is called Transatlantic Speech and its purpose is to allow announcers to be easily understood, regardless of their linguistic background.  Utilizing Transatlantic Speech allowed these announcers to neutralize their own regional accent, so their voice would appeal to a wider audience.

Graham McNamee

Graham McNamee

The second reason was because of the technology of the day. Most radio speakers were small and did not provide for low-end bass like modern sub-woofers; instead, tinny, high-pitched voices populated the early airwaves.  This fact did not prevent radio pioneers from choosing deep-voiced talent, however. Harold Arlin, a Westinghouse foreman, was chosen as the announcer for the for first ever baseball broadcast in 1921 because of his deep voice, and then there was Graham McNamee, who was discovered after wandering into a New York City radio studio while on a lunch break from jury duty.  He became a baseball radio pioneer who worked on 12 World Series, and his rich, velvety baritone was instantly appealing to all listeners.

Finally, baseball executives didn't want any announcer to gain such notoriety that he would become too powerful or expensive. In addition to speaking in the accent-free transatlantic style, many early broadcasters were not even allowed to identify themselves by name. This was really not a huge controversy since the greatest announcers would always put the game first and just let their personalities shine through.

That’s the intent of Gameday Radio. It’s not about the technology or smartphone or the voice.  It’s about the kids and their game, it is there for them, their family and friends.

Jon Miller

Jon Miller

“Our job is to cover the game fairly and accurately, and to keep the audience informed and entertained. This is especially true when broadcasting at a local level since the audience is primarily made up of people who are interested in the hometown team,” said San Francisco Giants and ESPN play-by-play man Jon Miller.

Miller adds: “The most important aspect of being a play-by-play commentator is to develop credibility with your audience. You have to always tell the truth so the audience has confidence and trust in you. That is the beauty of it for us: each event has a specific set of circumstances and a limited number of phrases that can be used to describe that event, sometimes just one phrase. But those few phrases are connected to that particular circumstance and describe, as closely and honestly as possible, that particular event.”

              Lou Boudreau

              Lou Boudreau

Using a limited number of phrases to truthfully describe a certain set of circumstances is exactly how Gameday Radio will go about its mission to bring play-by-play radio to youth baseball. Every time a player on your team strikes out a batter, makes a great catch in the outfield, or drives in a run, the call will be -- needs to be -- epic in nature.  Big plays create big memories in young ballplayers and we want to communicate that excitement most of all.  When I’m watching my sons’ games and they are involved in a play, I construct the call in my head, and on many occasions even say it out loud. But in my ‘mind’s ear’, I almost always hear the call as one of the great Chicago sports broadcasting voices like Pat Hughes, or Jack Brickhouse, or Harry Caray, or even Lou Boudreau, who I remember calling Chicago Cubs games on WGN when I was a young boy growing up on the family farm in Northwest Illinois.  But it is always absolutely epic.

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There is something about the power of radio that enables us to expand the scope and beauty of baseball in our mind’s eye.  Sure, today you can see any Major League game on television and crystal clear, super slo-mo hi-def images are captured from every angle possible, but it’s the great radio broadcasters that can put you there at the plate, or on the mound, places even the best HDTV cameras cannot go.  Television is powered by images, but radio is powered by imagination.  Red Barber explained it in his book, Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat: “On TV it’s the director's show, and the broadcaster is an instrument of his, like a camera. On radio, it's my show, where my knowledge and experience and taste and judgment decide what goes and what doesn't. On radio, you're an artist. On TV, you're a servant.”

And artists they were, and are, but not with names like da Vinci or Rembrandt.  No, these artists have names like Harwell, Allen, Hodges, Kalas, Uecker, Rizzuto.  I could go on.  They don’t use brushes or chisels, and their medium is not something that can be touched, nothing tangible, but when we are witness to their masterpieces, we are moved just the same.

Vin Scully says it best about the transcendent power of sports radio broadcasting: "I would come home to listen to a football game — there weren't other sports on — and I would get a pillow and I would crawl under the radio, so that the loudspeaker and the roar of the crowd would wash all over me, and I would just get goose bumps like you can't believe."

And that’s what we plan to deliver at Gameday Radio: memorable, quality broadcasting that will keep you excited, at the edge of your seat, and, most of all, move you.

 

 

 

 

Citations:

The Play-by-Play Announcer, Article by Jon Miller http://www.americansportscastersonline.com/playbyplay.html

Vin Scully quote:  http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/vin_scully_quotes.shtml

Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat. Red Barber and Robert W. Creamer, authors.  Published by Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, NY, 1968.

Why Did Old-Time Announcers Talk That Way? Article by Glenn McDonald http://news.discovery.com/history/us-history/old-time-baseball-players-talk-130404.htm