Baseball and Radio

Baseball and Radio
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Baseball and radio have been an institution going on 102 years now. Every team in Major League Baseball has a flagship radio station that carries all their games. It has a history like no other, and that custom is still going strong. Like many baseball fans, your relationship with this great game was most likely discovered through the radio.

Some History

The first baseball game ever broadcast on the radio was a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies on August 5, 1921. The game was broadcast by KDKA radio out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Even the 1921 World Series was broadcast on KDKA and WJZ in New Jersey. It was only a matter of time before baseball broadcasts swept across the United States, capturing the imagination of an entire nation.

Owners Were Against Radio

Baseball and radio have become an important part of each other’s triumphs. Early on, however, owners did not want to broadcast home games. Their apprehension was high with the fear that fans would stay home, and listen on the radio rather than pay to watch the games at the ballpark.

They soon discovered that local broadcasts not only increased interest in the game, but they also significantly increased attendance. It turns out that people wanted to experience what they heard on the radio for themselves. Listeners described hearing the sounds of baseball on the radio, the crack of the bat as it hit the ball, the sound of vendors hawking hot dogs and peanuts, and umpires call of balls and strikes coming through loud and clear, etc. They wanted to experience that at the stadium for themselves, and bought tickets.

It also allowed for casual female fans to learn the game better. Games at the stadium were mainly attended by men, but with women experiencing the games via radio broadcast, that set of fans was widened. They too, wanted to experience their teams in action at the ballpark. Baseball could be a “family” event.

Advertising Helped

Advertising on radio helped to develop and grow the game. In the 1930’s, radio was the most important and leading media outlet. Companies took advantage of advertising on the radio. General Mills was considered an early entrant into this phenomenon. They used Wheaties’ advertising, on radio especially in connection with baseball. Wheaties initially sponsored baseball broadcasts in Minneapolis, Minnesota, covering the minor league Minneapolis Millers on station WCCO. Wheaties radio sponsorship of baseball games was covered by 95 other radio stations, and other professional teams throughout the United States.

Radio Popularity

With some owners still cautious, it wasn’t until 1939 that all 16 major league teams chose to broadcast their games on the radio. Baseball and radio popularity exploded in the 1940’s and 50’s. With television broadcasting, and its coverage of sports, still in its’ early stages, radio was still the main form of broadcasting baseball. Some radio stations could be tuned in for miles. St Louis’ KMOX nighttime signal, for example, could be heard in most of the central United States, and into Canada. That not only increased the popularity of the St Louis Cardinals, but of baseball overall.

Baseball broadcast pioneer station KDKA (Pittsburg, PA) was heard throughout the state of Pennsylvania, and much of the eastern United States, as well as eastern Canada at night. Their broadcasts assisted the growth of the Pirates’ popularity.

Joy of Listening

Since then, hundreds of thousands of games have been broadcast on AM and FM radio stations. Listening to a game is one of life’s simple pleasures during the summer, especially for a baseball fan. You can be at the lake, doing yard work, relaxing by the pool or even in the car doing errands or driving home from work and be listening to a baseball broadcast.

Better on Radio

Baseball is the only sport that is actually better when heard on the radio than viewed on TV, especially when you have a great play-by-play announcer. Baseball is the most listened to sport on the radio. With baseball on the radio, you can get up and do things. You won’t miss a beat when you return, because the announcer broadcaster keeps you updated. The sound of the broadcaster’s voice describing something you cannot see, gives you a silhouette that you can fill in with your imagination. That is what made fans fall in love with baseball in the first place. It is the magic of radio, a good announcer, and a sport that’s easy to follow even when you can’t see it.

Never Replace TV

Baseball on the radio is as popular as ever. However, the popularity of baseball on TV has taken over. Will radio ever exceed TV in popularity again? Most likely no, but listening on the radio is still an option now more than ever. For many people, baseball is an important part of their lives, and radio is still the best way to experience the game.

New Popularity

Baseball and radio have a new popularity as it continues to grow in the 21st century, especially with the new technology. Games are available via satellite radio, and via audio streams on the MLB website and app. With those advances, it’s a great time to be a fan of baseball on the radio. You now can listen to your local team or any other team anywhere you are. If you’ve moved from your favorite baseball team’s city, you can still listen to their games. You can also sample every team’s announcer(s), and compare them to your favorite broadcasting team(s). While all teams maintain a network of stations carrying their games in English, many teams also maintain a Spanish-language radio network as well.

There are also broadcasts in French in Canada. The Los Angeles Dodgers have selected home games in the Korean language. The Arizona Diamondbacks even had one of their games called in the Navajo language on KTNN, a Navajo-language AM station in northern Arizona.

Try it Out

There is something distinctive about listening to baseball on the radio. So, try it out. Listen to a game on the radio. Close your eyes and envision yourself at the ballpark. Let the broadcasters become your guide, as they paint a picture of the action happening. It’s the perfect way to relax and take in a game, and to take a break from your hectic daily routine.

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James Marshall

James Marshall

Jim Marshall has lived in Phoenix, AZ for 50 years. He is an avid baseball fan, but enjoys all of Arizona's local sports teams, including Diamondbacks, Suns, Cardinals and Coyotes. In addition to the four major sports, he closely follows the Phoenix Mercury, Arizona Rattlers and Arizona State Sun Devils. Jim's passion for baseball continues beyond the field as he is an avid collector of baseball memorabilia. His favorite athlete of all time is Baseball Hall of Fame member Harmon Killebrew. In addition to watching, reading and talking about sports, he takes time to travel and appreciate the great state of Arizona with his lovely wife, Patti.

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