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Published February 9, 2021

 

The View from my Seat

Boyhood memories of when radio was king of baseball

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

“What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Hank Aaron.”

Those were the words of legendary Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully on April 8, 1972, the night Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record with home run No. 715.

Scully’s call was replayed recently after Hammerin’ Hank’s death. Hearing that voice again brought back memories of my boyhood and a simpler time.

Like many baseball fans, my love for the game was forged through the radio.

No matter if the announcer was Jack Buck or Harry Caray in St. Louis, Ernie Harwell in Detroit, Russ Hodges in San Francisco, Phil Rizzuto in New York or Gene Elston and Loel (“hot ziggety dog”) Passe in Houston, they all described something you cannot see, giving you the outline that you can use your imagination to fill in.

For this youngster growing up in suburban Los Angeles, nobody did it better than Scully, who retired in 2016 after broadcasting 67 years of Dodgers baseball.

I remember summer nights sitting in the backyard with my dad and brother listening to Scully call Dodgers games on the radio. He was almost part of the family.

At bedtime on school nights, I would turn the volume down and slide the radio under my pillow so my parents would not catch me listening to Scully when I was supposed to be sleeping or doing homework.

I listened to him call Sandy Koufax’s no-hitters, Maury Wills’ stolen bases and Wally Moon’s “Moonshots” over the short left-field screen in the L.A. Coliseum.

I remember going to Dodger games and, along with thousands of other fans, bringing the radio. Scully was so revered we all wanted to hear him describe what we had seen with our own eyes.

Once, Scully spontaneously asked those in the stadium to sing happy birthday to an umpire. It was a risky move that would fall flat if there weren’t many fans listening on the radio. The sellout crowd burst into song.

Baseball was made for radio. And Scully was made for baseball. The game has its own rhythm. Amid a society with information overload, baseball is easy listening. You can go about doing other things and not miss a play.

Nobody filled the time between pitches, hitters or innings better than Scully. He always had a topic. On a Friday the 13th, it would be ballplayer superstitions. The next night it might be about dirt on the diamond, where it came from and why it was special. Scully announced many major moments, but as baseball writer Richard Justice wrote, ”the real joy of Vin Scully will always be found in the day-to-day work, the regular games where no history was made, no record shattered.“

This year will mark 100 years of baseball being on the radio. The first game was broadcast on Aug. 5, 1921. The game was broadcast by KDKA of Pittsburgh, and the Pirates defeated the Phillies 8-5.

That year KDKA and WJZ in Newark broadcast the first World Series on radio. The broadcasters, however, weren’t at the game between the New York Giants and New York Yankees. They were simply reading reports from telegraph wire.

Ronald Reagan, “The Great Communicator,” broadcast games that way on an Iowa radio station in the 1930s.
Who knows what the future holds for baseball on the radio? Do people still buy radios?

The Oakland A’s made a bold choice last winter to enter the 2020 season without a traditional Bay Area radio station. For the first time, Oakland fans would not be able to tune in on their traditional radio dials for audio broadcasts. They were asked to stream the games.

It was a strange business decision. Research from 2017 by Nielsen Scarborough found that baseball was the most listened-to sport on radio. When baseball broadcasts come on the air, ratings for radio stations that carry them can triple.

There was immediate backlash. The streaming service was free, but fans feared that some day it would be subscription.

Many fans still preferred using radios, including commuters. One criticism was the need to fiddle with your phone to access the streams while driving. The A’s gave in with 54 games left in the season. The organization kept the streaming but added a radio broadcast.

That will provide a lot of happy memories for sons and dads.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)