When I was a kid in the 1970s, I would tune in out-of-town baseball broadcasts on my trusty AM transistor radio. From our home in eastern Wisconsin, it was easy to catch Merle Harmon and Bob Uecker covering the hapless Brewers on WTMJ in Milwaukee, but when the Brewers fell behind the Orioles 7-2 in the 4th inning, my mind would wander.

I found the alternatives; I also listened to Vince Lloyd covering the Cubs on WGN in Chicago, but only if the Cubs were on the road, and on other nights I might catch the White Sox with Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall on WMAQ. If I were feeling more ambitious, I could catch the gentlemanly Ernie Harwell on WJR in Detroit, or feisty Jack Buck on KMOX out of St. Louis. Sometimes, but not always, I could catch Herb Carneal on WCCO.

It’s difficult to explain to younger people, but on weeknights you couldn’t watch a game unless you lived in a big city. Writing for the Athletic (paywall, unfortunately), Jon Greenberg and Stephen J. Nesbitt detail what’s been a pastime for 100 years now:

The beauty of baseball on the radio is in its simplicity. It’s theatre of the mind. Even younger broadcasters, who were raised in the TV age, say radio was the sound of their summers, conjuring images of car rides, sifting through static, and listening from a fishing boat in the middle of a lake.

It was the sound of discovery, in the same way that postwar Brits looking for the new sounds would tune in Radio Luxembourg. Those faraway voices suggested there was something more out there, beyond the city limits of wherever you happened to be. If you have an IP today, you can see the world and hear every voice imaginable. While I appreciate the choices arrayed before me, I do miss the thrill of listening to Ernie Harwell through the static on a still August evening. 

23 thoughts on “Storytellers

  1. As luck would have it, I have something on the same subject coming up next week.

    And for me, while summers meant listening to Carneal on WDAY (networked from ‘CCO) and Bob Richardson and Jim Robb calling Jamestown games on KEYJ, to me it was about tuning in music from the big world – first KFYR in Bismark, where I’d listen to the top 20 as I did my homework, grabbing a guitar when a song I wanted to learn came up; later, WGN and WLW on the skip, and finally KQWB-FM in Fargo, which played everything from punk to metal – in my memory, the perfect radio station.

    Yeah, more to come.

  2. Baseball on the radio trained your imagination. It demanded a much more active level of participation from the audience. If you watch it on TV(or streaming) its a passive experience, you are not expected to think, only consume.

  3. I was never a fan of pro sportsball, and never much of a fan of Tom Mischke, but I did always tune in when he announced SP Saints games on KSTP from Midway field. I was usually wrenching on someone’s bike in the garage.

    I get that summertime vibe you’re describing.

  4. Grandma always had the Twins game playing quietly on the AM radio, the one with the glowing tubes in the back and the insanely sensitive tuner – Don’t Touch That Knob, you’ll knock it out of kilter and we’ll miss the rest of the game.

    Couldn’t just sit and listen to the game, though. That was background noise which filtered through the rest of the conversation. Only stop talking to really listen when something important happens.

    So, what grade are you in?
    Here’s the windup
    I’m in fifth grade
    and the pitch
    what’s your favorite subject
    I like reading
    low and to the inside, ball two
    that’s so nice. Your grandpa was a good reader

  5. For those of a certain age, the sound of a summer Saturday was the purr of lawnmowers and voice of Halsey Hall calling the ball games.

  6. For those of a certain age, the sound of a summer Saturday was the purr of lawnmowers and voice of Halsey Hall calling the ball games.

    Halsey died right around time I started listening to the games, so I don’t have a strong memory of him. I understand he was a bit excitable.

  7. If I remember correctly, he got in trouble for the following.

    “He’s on the 40!”

    “He’s on the 30!”

    He’s on the 10!”

    “Oh SH*T, he dropped the ball!!”

  8. I remember taking my trusty transistor radio to school with me to listen to WDGY, where my favorite DJ was Johnnie Canton and later, KDWB, listening to Tack Hammer, then finally KQRS. I also got yelled at more than once for listening in bed, too. On clear nights, I could occasionally tune into a Chicago rock station, which, I think, was WGN.

  9. Someone, I thought it was Halsey, was famous for commenting on a couple who were kissing in the stands to the effect that “he’s kissin’ her on the strikes, and she’s kissin’ him on the balls”.

  10. Halsey Hall also broadcast U o M Gophers football for a time. On one Saturday when the Gophs were playing the Michigan Wolverines, he uttered the following:

    “Michigan comes onto the field in blue jerseys and maize pants. And how they got into Mae’s pants, I’ll never know.”

  11. That’s what the station was; not WGN.

    WLS played solid gold. We would play “Name That Tune” on long trips through the Midwest.

  12. Back in 1964-65, I had friends that were going to college in Mankato. I would drive down there from St Paul in my 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible to attend parties on the weekend. Driving back late on Sunday night, WLS was the only station that I could get on my am radio. Damn, that was a long time ago.

  13. Ack! I forgot, there was another station that I could get, WCCO, but they didn’t play cool rock and roll music.

  14. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 08.06.21 : The Other McCain

  15. Funny enough, when we would visit family friends in Two Harbors in the late 60s, their boys, my brother and I would get WLS better than any other station, after 8 p.m.

  16. My main station to listen to now, is WDGY. Unfortunately, I can’t hear the station after it starts to get kinda dark outside.

  17. Listening to KAAY Little Rock, on the skip, after 10:00 p.m., laying in bed with my earphone plugged into the AM radio so Mom wouldn’t hear it.

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