On The Dial: The Game is On The Radio

Monument Park 3
All photos by Randy Stern

Sports on the radio has one of the deepest histories attached to it. Before television, radio and the local newspaper were the only ways to know what was going on with your favorite team and sport. They also help inspire the imagination of generations of sportscasters.

Vin Scully tells the story of how he discovered his passion for sportscasting with a vision of an eight-year-old laying down underneath the big radio set. Through the radio console, all he could hear – and feel – is the “roar of the crowd.”

Scully was a lucky man. Through he would feign the use of the word “lucky” when anyone describes him and his legacy. Still, to have his first professional sportscasting job alongside the great Red Barber in the Brooklyn Dodgers radio booth was indeed something to behold in 1950.

For a full season, the nation’s radio has not heard the golden voice of Scully. We have been a year deprived of his stories, his anecdotes, and his catchphrases. Every time you tuned into the Dodgers on the radio – wherever it is somewhere in Southern California or on SiriusXM radio – he would tell us one thing: “it’s time for Dodger Baseball!”

I, too, was lucky. I grew up on Vin Scully on both radio and television. In Reseda, you tuned in on Sundays when the Dodgers were on the road and the first face and voice you see/hear in Scully on KTTV Channel 11. His voice was also captured on almost every day of the week on KABC Radio AM 790.

Scully came with the Dodgers out west in 1958, even though there were some calls for a Los Angeles-based play-by-play announcer. The owner Walter O’Malley ensured Southern Californians that Scully was their voice for Dodger baseball. This assurance kept fans informed and entertained until last season.

Back home in Reseda, we were blessed with great voices giving us the play-by-play for our sports franchises. The Lakers had the late Chick Hearn. He was the voice for Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Bob Miller taught Losangelinos the game of hockey. The voice of the Kings got us through the tough times, even though they had the Triple Crown Line. He was there when Wayne Gretzky arrived after the most important player transaction in National Hockey League history. Then, came the two Stanley Cups. It took Miller a very long time until he would call his beloved Kings Stanley Cup Champions. And, he did this twice!

Down in Anaheim, I grew up with the former Dodger pitcher as the voice of the Angels – the late Don Drysdale. There were moments when I couldn’t stand Scully because Drysdale was so smooth and flawless behind the microphone. A listen to AM 710 KMPC gave us Drysdale’s description of a team trying to string division titles towards an eventual date with destiny. By the mid-1980s, Drysdale jumped over to work with Scully on Dodgers broadcasts.

These sports voices helped frame a love for play-by-play broadcasts. In particular, my family’s beloved game of baseball. As Major League Baseball runs through its Postseason, I find myself trying to catch as many games through SiriusXM to keep up-to-date with the game itself.

Yet, I am always flushed with memories of voices from my past who carried the game and made it their own. Not just Scully and Drysdale, but many others beyond the Los Angeles market. There was the late ex-Yankee and World War II Veteran Jerry Coleman who was the longtime voice of the San Diego Padres. There were nights when he would find himself in my desktop radio in Reseda as KFMB’s signal would wind its way north. From the other direction, were those hated San Francisco Giants. You had to admit how powerful the signal was from KNBR and the voice of Lindsey Nelson would give you that night game from Candlestick Park. I had to admit that I blame Mr. Nelson for making me a Giants fan through the 1980s.

Scully, Drysdale, Coleman, and Nelson were also a reminder of baseball’s past through radio broadcasting. Names, such as Mel Allen (Yankees), Ernie Harwell (Detroit Tigers), Harry Kalas (Philadelphia Phillies), Jack Buck (St. Louis Cardinals), Dave Niehaus (Seattle Mariners)…and so forth…were the core of what this game meant to its fans through this vehicle called radio.

My connection to baseball broadcasts on the radio waned through the 1990s and 2000s. Perhaps I did not vibe with the Baltimore Orioles when I lived in the Washington, DC area. Nor did I get the full effect of a Bob Uecker broadcast of the Milwaukee Brewers when I lived in Madison. Once I got to the Twin Cities in 2004, I began to pay attention to the Minnesota Twins. It was the radio broadcasts that I paid attention. It was the television side with longtime play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer and Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven. Besides, “Circle Me Bert” does not work on radio.

Yet, I would always catch the play-by-play of other teams through SiriusXM. Some of them are “homers,” announcers who had an oral investment with the local ballclub. Others are pretty darn good. Heck, a lot of them were great to listen to.

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A good radio broadcast team is Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer, covering the Chicago Cubs on AM 670 The Score. Baseball fans of any team simply love listening to these two guys as they are an extension of the Cubs themselves. In markets like Chicago, you can find the deep reverence for their broadcasters. This goes back to the days of Jack Brickhouse commanded the Cubs’ microphone and when Ron Santo was the color commentator until his death.

Baseball fans enjoy listening to the longtime voices of their respective teams. The Cleveland Indians has Tom Hamilton who was the play-by-play voice for that team since 1990. Joe Castiglione had been the Red Sox’ primary radio voice since 1983. He had the privilege of seeing an old curse end in 2004. I would also include on this list the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jerry Howarth, the Houston Astros’ Robert Ford, the Padres’ Ted Leitner and the Angels’ Steve Physioc.

If I wanted some laughs along my drive, the Tampa Bay Rays duo of Andy Freed and Dave Willis does the trick. They make listening to the Rays – and baseball – fun.

Want a broadcast team I can’t stand? John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman of the New York Yankees. Enough said…

To a point, I like the Giants’ Jon Miller. Yet, he just happens to be working for those Giants…those rivalries never die.

The beauty of satellite radio is the fact you can get all of the games live into your car or SiriusXM receiver. If I had a few more coin, I would also have them streamed to my laptop or mobile device. The point is how we no longer can isolate the game when broadcasted by the local broadcast team anymore.

So much has changed from the early days on Vin Scully. Yet, a lot has not. Maybe there’s too much sponsorship with every pitch today. If you think about radio prior to the rise of television, they, too, had to survive on a lot of sponsorship – from tobacco, alcohol, and advertisers which we might deem unsavory today. I suppose we’re OK with a home run sponsored by a hospital or a pitch count sponsored by a hot dog maker.

If you are used to watching sports on television, turn on the radio sometime. The voices, the stories, and the calls might inspire you again.

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