Radio: Chicago Cubs

Flagship: WGN (720 AM)

PxP: Pat Hughes (since 1996), Judd Sirott (since 2009)

Color: Keith Moreland (since 2011)

Reviewer: Bob Timmermann

Category: Play by Play
Grade: 55

Pat Hughes has a voice that is distinctly made for radio. He delivers a very steady, never over the top, sound on Cubs broadcasts. He mixes together some seriousness and drama about each game with a small dash of humor and a congenial Midwestern demeanor (despite that Hughes does not originally hail from the Midwest.) Hughes, at times, voice that makes him sound like a radio voice from the 1930s, but he is just another Baby Boomer in his mid 50s.. (Bob, I’m not clear on what this sentence is supposed to mean?)

Hughes does not speak as a Cubs fan, but you can definitely tell that he likes the fans, often referring to the “loyal fans at Wrigley Field.” He is not prone to histrionics when the Cubs get a big hit or make a great fielding play, although it’s also true that in 2013, those have been in short supply. But on those relatively rare occasions when the Cubs win, Hughes does sound genuinely excited.

Judd Sirott does play by play during the fifth inning, during which he works with little distinction, sounding like a guy who was told to kill time while the regular announcer went to the bathroom. Sirott’s voice is much different than Hughes and the game sounds far less “Cub-like” when he is behind the microphone. Sirott’s voice could best be described as “generic.”

In an attempt to liven up the broadcasts, it seems that Hughes has been given instructions to make more pop culture references during broadcasts, but he does not seem well-suited to that task. What Hughes does well is describe the game on the field.

Hughes is not overly talkative and well let the game flow naturally. As long as he sticks to the game at hand, he is at his best. If the game gets a little out of hand, Hughes’ voice sometimes betrays a bit of disinterest in the action.

Category: Color Commentary
Grade: 50

Keith Moreland was put in a tough spot when he chosen to replace the late Ron Santo, who was a Chicago institution. Santo was far more beloved, but was less polished.. (Bob, are you trying to say here that Santo was both more pokshed than Moreland and was beloved?)

Moreland himself is not overly polished, but he also does not have Santo’s years with the team to make him seem like a solid color commentator. Moreland had been working on radio broadcasts for the University of Texas (his alma mater and his home state) when he took over the Cubs job. His voice has only a small amount of a Texas twang, but his voice is also a sharp contrast from Hughes.

Moreland always sounds like he is very excited about everything. He speaks much more quickly than Hughes and he often can get a bit carried away with describing the action on the field.

Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
Grade: 45

Hughes and Moreland are not exactly a dynamic duo. They frequently lose focus on the game (with Moreland being the prime offender), although that may be a byproduct of the Cubs lackluster play. The broadcasts do tend to meander a bit.

It takes a very good pair of broadcasters to make a bad team’s radio broadcasts palatable and right now, Hughes and Moreland sound more like two guys who are just sort of hanging out at Wrigley Field because they have nothing else to do.

If the two broadcasters get into a pop culture discussion, it is painful to listen to. Neither one is adept at kind of topic and they just seem to be straining to say something relevant. In one game, Moreland started speaking about the history of ranch dressing in the ninth inning of a game still in doubt. It was one of the many things that the Cubs broadcasters bring up with very little reason. They can talk about baseball, but the rest of the world should be kept out of the booth by the Cubs team.

Since the Cubs have a uniquely and widely recognized personal appeal, the broadcast team also has to spend more than a fair amount of time wishing people happy birthday or anniversary.

Category: Charisma and Chemistry
Grade: 50

Hughes had worked with Santo for over a dozen years and had developed a good rapport with him, even when Santo’s health problems forced him to work from Arizona. However, even with Hughes and Moreland working side by side, the two men don’t seem to mesh together very well.

Moreland may exude more energy than Hughes, but it is to little effect. The two announcers do not seem to be able to set each other up for most situations. Often times, the two men just agree on some strategy used in the game and then just have little more to say about it.

Category: Analysis
Grade: 45

If you are hoping to hear some in depth discussion of the intricacies of baseball, the Cubs won’t be the broadcast to listen to. Although Moreland will speak of his time playing, he rarely explains any play beyond what a normal baseball fan would know.

Moreland will talk about pitch selection and left-right matchups, but that’s about the extent of it. Sometimes, the effects of the weather (wind or sun) make it into the analysis. Moreland and Hughes won’t say anything outrageously wrong, which is about the best that can be said about the analysis given.

Category: Production Values
Grade: 60

WGN has been broadcasting Cubs games since the 1930s and has been the exclusive broadcaster since the 1950s. WGN has a 50,000 watt “blow torch” signal that can be heard through most of the Midwest. So, there is a long history between the station and the Cubs. The Cubs are WGN’s flagship product, and they don’t skimp on the broadcast.

The sounds of Wrigley Field are always part of the broadcast and the production team does a good job of making the listener feel as though they are at the game.

Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
Grade: 55

Like most other broadcasts, there are a fair number of commercials read into the broadcast. Moreland reads more of them than Hughes, which seems surprising given Hughes professional broadcaster style.

There are occasional in-game interviews done with celebrities or former Cubs, but they are relatively rare as most of those guests end up on the TV side.

Category: Overall
Grade: 50

The Cubs broadcast team of Hughes and Moreland is still trying to establish whether or not it is going for a new style or just trying to replace Santo with Moreland. Because of this, the broadcast does not quite work as well as it did in the past. If you listen to a Cubs game, you will likely know what’s going on in the field, but you will not be hearing much that will draw you closely into the game.

 

About the author:

Bob Timmermann is a librarian from Los Angeles. He has given presentations at past SABR conventions on the life of Harry Kingman as well as Japanese baseball.

 

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this evaluation are solely those of the author.  As such, the views expressed by the author should not be interpreted as representing the opinions of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), its board, or anyone otherwise affiliated with SABR.  Likewise, the conclusions included in these evaluations are not to be viewed or interpreted as official endorsements (or lack thereof) by SABR, or of anyone affiliated with SABR, of any particular broadcasters or broadcast organizations.

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