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The powerful role AM ​​radio has played in MLB history

NEW YORK – Growing up in the Boston suburbs, Suzyn Waldman fell madly in love with two things: baseball and Broadway shows.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the long arm of AM radio brought both home.

“I can still hear Ned Martin of the Red Sox reciting poems about the mountains in Anaheim,” said Waldman, a pioneering announcer and former star of the music scene who called New York Yankees games for decades. “I can still hear Curt Gowdy with that Wyoming twang.

“Not everyone remembers who the first television broadcasters were, but everyone knows who the radio team was. Everyone.”

Like many fans, especially older ones, Waldman was caught up in the fun of listening to the games over America’s AM signal. In fact, next month will mark the 100th anniversary of the first World Series broadcast to national radio audiences, with Graham McNamee and Ford Frick among the callers to the 1923 Fall Classic between the Giants and Yankees on NBC.

But a century later, some view AM stations as a dying medium in the age of modern digital technology. Many major automakers are removing AM radio broadcasting from new models; That’s prompting lawmakers on Capitol Hill to propose legislation that would block the practice for security and other reasons.

The “AM for Every Vehicle Act,” a bill with bipartisan support, is moving through Congress.

“Not all change is progress,” Waldman said.

Of course, from satellite radio and streaming services to FM stations and cell phone apps, baseball fans now have all kinds of options to tune in to their favorite teams (or even all 30 teams) whether or not their car has an AM radio.

But these options are not necessarily free. And it’s not that simple.

Because for generations of fans, the warm memory of climbing into the family car on a hot summer night and finding the game on the dashboard dial, leaning in with mom or dad to listen in stride over the persistent static of the crackling AM airwaves, the kind that evokes “Field of Dreams.” nostalgia for the age of innocence.

“I still love baseball on the radio,” John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, said in an email. “I suspect it is a stop-action sport, not only because it is my favorite game, but also because its rhythms lend themselves well to pauses, visualization by the listener, and the wonder of being ‘there’ in a moment.” It’s a distant game.”

Even though the future of AM radio is uncertain, its impact on the growth and popularity of baseball is undeniable.

The marriage dates back to August 5, 1921, when Harold Arlin’s first play-by-play of a major league game between the Phillies and Pirates at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh was broadcast on KDKA.

“He joined from the hip,” said Howie Rose, 69, a longtime New York Mets announcer. “What radio is to baseball and what radio is to baseball is probably a complete symbiotic relationship.”

It’s also a romantic history, full of unmistakable voices and special calls, forever immortalized as the familiar soundtrack to those grainy old highlights of Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Ted Williams.

And beloved broadcasters, community icons, are still fiercely loyal to their teams, even generations later: Mel Allen (Yankees), Red Barber (Brooklyn Dodgers), Ernie Harwell (Detroit Tigers), Russ Hodges (New York Giants), Bob Prince (Pittsburgh Pirates). , Chuck Thompson (Baltimore Orioles), just to name a few.

Yankees announcer Mel Allen calls the game against the Orioles from the television box behind home plate at Yankee Stadium on May 11, 1956.
Russ Hodges, who has been broadcasting Giants games in New York and San Francisco for 18 years, interviews center fielder Willie Mays on August 30, 1966.

And fascinating stories, including a young Ronald Reagan who, long before he became the 40th president of the United States, announced Chicago Cubs games at Iowa in the 1930s by recreating play-by-play at Wrigley Field, originally transmitted in Morse code.

“Some clubs resisted the introduction of radio, believing it would discourage match attendance, just as the later introduction of television did,” said Thorn, 76. “But like the introduction of night baseball in 1935, radio had already brought major league games to the working class, especially women.”

In fact, AM radio provided an entry into the game for all kinds of people at a time when ballpark stands in America were mostly filled with white men.

Before the advent of cable television, it was long-range clear-channel AM stations that carried baseball to all parts of the country, giving fans living far from major league cities the chance to follow their favorite team.

“Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson, Atlanta Braves under the covers. My dad comes in, gets on top of me and then says, ‘What’s the score?’ he would ask. Mets manager Buck Showalter, 67, who grew up in Florida, said the Braves are the only thing he can understand. “I listen to Hank Aaron, Rico Carty. I can tell you the entire Braves roster.”

Hall of Fame broadcasters Harry Caray and Jack Buck chronicle the dazzling adventures of Stan Musial, Lou, and St. KMOX in St. Louis has spawned countless Cardinals fans from Minnesota to Mississippi and beyond, with its powerful signal reaching all parts of the central and southern United States. Brock, Bob Gibson and more.

Former Yankee baseball star Phil Rizzuto, who played games in cold weather, took no chances when broadcasting the Baltimore-New York game from the radio booth on April 18, 1962.

“Think about the teams that first started broadcasting on the radio, whether it was the Pirates, the Cardinals, the Reds, they absolutely grew the game on these tremendous open-channel stations,” said Gary, the 65-year-old Mets announcer. Cohen.

“This has definitely brought the game home for fans who are too far away to attend in person. At a time when most baseball was played during the day and many employees were unable to attend, they could listen on the radio. So yes, the connection between AM radio and baseball is not just in terms of entertaining fans, but in terms of creating fans.”

One of them was Rick Rizzs, a longtime Seattle Mariners broadcaster who spent his childhood on Chicago’s South Side.

“With that little magic transistor radio, that AM radio, you can pick up not only your teams, but maybe four or five other teams, wherever you are,” said Rizzs, who turns 70 in November.

“So your baseball horizons expanded to not only the Cubs and the White Sox, but also the Milwaukee Braves, then or maybe St. Louis when the weather was right. You could take the St. Louis Cardinals or the Detroit Tigers or whoever. He was playing somewhere nearby. But with AM radio, you have a better chance of hearing all the stars in your mind.”


AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed.

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