Yesterday we posted a 1932 article published by the Sporting News revealing the results of a poll the paper took of their readers as to the latter’s feelings about broadcasting games live on the radio. Almost 260,000 votes were cast, with the Sporting News concluding that public opinion in favor of live broadcasts was “practically unanimous”.
This overwhelming fan sentiment did not prevent eight of the sixteen teams from banning broadcasts of their games by local radio stations the following season. (In fact, the Indians ended up dropping radio in 1933 before picking it up again for the 1934 campaign.) But eventually the teams and the leagues did come to see the light, and that light led them to enter into the Major League Broadcasting Agreement just prior to the 1939 season.
So, what did this Major League Broadcasting Agreement actually look like? What were its provisions, and what practices did it allow and forbid? Fortunately for us, this is something we can see for ourselves, thanks to the miracle that is the Internet. Goldin Auctions, a company that conducts auctions of sports memorabilia, had conducted one consisting specifically of baseball documents this past August, and which included a signed copy of this 1939 broadcasting agreement, complete with original signatures from representatives of all 16 clubs, including many club presidents who are still well-known today.
However, the best part about all of this is that there are .JPG files for each page of the document on that web page. You can go there and peruse the entire agreement if you like—or you can simply click on the images below to see and read the document.
Having read the agreement myself, I am struck by how short and simple it is by today’s standards. Even allowing for names of the participating parties and for definition of terms, it looks like they were able to bring in the entire agreement under 2,000 words. By contrast, the iTunes Store terms and Conditions yawns on interminably for over 20,000 words.
Secondly, there are several interesting aspects to the agreement that I think are worth mentioning here:
The agreement prevented a team from broadcasting its games on any radio stations located within fifty miles of any other team’s stadium.
In two-team cities, the agreement prevented one team from broadcasting any of its games as long as the other team was playing a home game, at least until that other team’s game had concluded.
The New York Giants and New York Yankees together constituted a two-team territory, but the Brooklyn Dodgers, only about a dozen miles away and even then technically located within New York City for the prior 40 years, constituted its own one-team territory. So, if the Giants were away and the Yankees were at home, the Giants could not broadcast its away game (and vice versa, of course). However, if the Giants and the Yankees were both away, the Giants could broadcast its away game even if the Dodgers were playing a home game.
The agreement specified that ball clubs could broadcast only between 550 and 1600 on the AM band, but specifically forbade broadcasting on shortwave or other “high frequency” stations. (FM was not contemplated because the first FM station in a major league city did not sign on until that November.)
The agreement defined “broadcasting” as including not only radio, but telephone.
After this agreement was signed onto, no baseball team ever again refused to broadcast its games live for any reason other than financial. (As it happens, both the Giants and Yankees did not air their games during the 1941 and 1943 seasons due to inability to sell broadcasting rights for what they deemed to be their minimum asking price).
Click on any of the images below to open them in a new tab. Enjoy!
Very few of us reading this article ever heard an actual re-created baseball game on the radio, but game re-creation was the norm for away games for nearly every team broadcasting their games on radio from the dawn of broadcasting well into the 1950s. Almost all of us knew that already, but if you didn’t, you know now.
But even though we know, intellectually, that this was the state of the baseball broadcast art, probably very few of us have thought very deeply about how this art was executed. We perhaps don’t often close our eyes and imagine what a re-created baseball game would sound like, and the effort that went into making it sound like a real, live baseball game.
Committee member Bob Barrier has, and he wrote a nice little piece a few years ago about, as he terms it, the aesthetics of re-creating a road ball game on the radio for a team’s fans to enjoy at home. While the whole idea of re-creating a baseball game from a telegraph wire might sound a bit like a silly exercise to undergo, sending broadcast equipment and an announcer on the road was prohibitively expensive at the time, and besides, teams usually had room to house only one broadcast team, obviously for the home team’s broadcast (which probably explains why the Brooklyn Dodgers re-created road games even at the New York Giants’ Polo Grounds, less than 15 miles away). But the fans still wanted and needed to hear their own team play even when they were playing on the road, and thus: the re-creation.
Barrier’s piece is reproduced in full below, having first appeared in the tome entitled Baseball/Literature/Culture: Essays, 2006-2007. Especially illuminating is his interview with Nat Allbright, little known today but widely considered the “king of the baseball re-creators” throughout the Fifties, having worked some 1,500 Brooklyn Dodger road games for the Mutual Network from his studio in, of all places, Washington D.C. During the interview, Barrier asked Allbright to simulate a baseball re-creation for him, and … well, I invite you to just read it, below.
Only the Game Was Real
The Aesthetics and Significance of Re-created Baseball Broadcasting
Robert G. Barrier
The huge success of XM Satellite Radio’s Major League Baseball broadcasts the past two years has highlighted a truth almost forgotten. Even in these days of high-definition television, streaming Internet video, and play-by-play graphical Web sites, baseball on the radio still remains the most compelling, imaginative, nostalgic, and personal way to participate as a “spectator” from a distance. Indeed, radio announcers maintain the seams of nostalgia, and in their different ways make the listener a daily participant in the game. But for some of these listeners, particularly those who lived in the rural South and Midwest from the 1930s to the 1950s, the imaginary stadiums constructed for them came from announcers re-creating the actual games from Western Union tickers miles away from the actual game. The re-created games, which often relied on recorded crowd noises, audio clips of bats hitting the ball or the ball hitting the glove, were also embellished by the imaginative patter of word artists, such as Red Barber or Graham McNamee, who created broadcasts in many instances under the illusion that listeners were hearing a real game from a real stadium.
Early on, electronics connected the nation of fans with largely factual accounts devoid of creative imagination. The earliest commercial radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, broadcast scores during the summer of 1921 and carried the first live broadcast on August 5. The
following year, RCA-Westinghouse broadcast the 1922 Series from the Polo Grounds, arranging for famous sportswriter Grantland Rice to report to an audience, which was called by the New York Tribune “the greatest audience ever assembled to listen to one man” (qtd. in Tygiel 65). Even competing stations in New York went silent so that listeners could hear the broadcasts. But for all of Rice’s brilliant poetry, the creator of the famous image “the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” failed in on-air reporting. He simply described what happened in “a little flat, atonal voice somewhat awkwardly modulated and unmistakably Southern.” Of this experience he would later report, “The broadcast officials wanted me to keep talking. But I didn’t know what to say” (qtd. in Tygiel 68).
The tradition of the personalized broadcast began in 1923 with Graham McNamee’s conveying the atmosphere and the imagination of on-air baseball. A singer brought to New York to develop his talent, he “understood pacing, style, and performing for an audience, even one he could not see” (Tygiel 69). Whereas the Western Union operator was expected to remain, “perfectly cool and collected, no matter what happens … and would be chided by the manager if he did bring in personality,” McNamee recognized that the new medium required a different approach: “to avoid dead silence, I found myself more than ever falling back on general description. And that is where the imagination comes in” (qtd. in Tygiel 69).
Though sportswriters groused and criticized the showmanship, McNamee successfully made every listener a spectator, enabling them “to use their eyes” by “paint[ing) word pictures that other minds could feast upon…. Very little imagination was required … especially when the announcer turned his microphone on the roaring, booing and cheering crowd” (Tygiel 71). Very soon teams in the Midwest began regular season broadcasts, especially in Chicago, but not in the eastern cities where there were larger population centers as well as many more major newspapers. In more scattered areas of the Midwest, broadcasts could extend the drawing area to 100 miles or more. Even the Sporting News, self-described as “baseball’s bible,” criticized broadcasts because of economics—fans wouldn’t pay for what they got free. Essentially, radio coverage democratized Major League Baseball, making it more accessible and intimate to those far away from the stadiums; as Jules Tygiel observes, “the process had become more familial or individualistic, replacing the communal experience with a more isolated one” (72).
As the listening audience expanded, so too did the need for announcers like McNamee who approached the game with a showman’s view. Many of the most popular announcers of the 1940s and 1950s were southerners, including industry legends like Red Barber, Mel Allen, Arch McDonald, Ernie Harwell, and Russ Hodges, all of whom made famous peculiar southern expressions and maintained a narrative rhythm reminiscent of the southern oral traditions of local color and humor. Perhaps it is this storytelling tradition—and their professionalism—that enabled so many of these broadcasters to approach baseball games as story, humor, and spectacle while maintaining the reportage narrative that was their main duty. Harwell, recently retired after 56 years of broadcasting, accounts for the distinctive southern voice as a natural result of the southern oral tradition, so many stories told at evenings on the porch or in the kitchen (Kaufman).
One might trace this loquaciousness back to Mark Twain and the southwestern humor tradition, but there remains a significant difference. Whereas the point of a Simon Wheeler or a Eudora Welty character is to stray far afield from the initial conversational subject, southern baseball announcers restrained themselves to commentary between pitches (Harwell says he never told a story he could not finish within the inning and he insisted upon giving the score as often as possible). It was a studied but natural patter of talk, not an extended yarn. And also there was the distinctive southern accent:
Ernie Harwell still sounds like old radio…. His style is conversational, sure, but he’s not just talking. He’s broadcasting…. People talk about his Southern lilt, and you can hear it on the air if you’re listening for it, but more noticeable is the precise, clipped diction of a 1940s radio man who has to make himself understood through the static and noise of a distant Philco (Kaufman).
Likewise, southerners also played a significant role in the lost art of re-creating live baseball games for later broadcast. In the first radio recreated games, which date to 1921, a reporter telephoned details of the action to a radio announcer, who in turn dictated the game to a very limited audience. Many re-creators made no bones about the fact that they were re-creating but others went to great lengths for the illusion of reality. Willie Morris, in North Toward Home, praises McNamee for making each game an epic contest and recounts how he won money from his childhood acquaintances by predicting upcoming events in re-created games after he had heard the real games earlier via shortwave. And even though, according to Dodger re-creator Nat Allbright, the law required re-creator announcers to make a statement that the game was re-created at both the beginning and the end, most listeners thought the games were real. In the ’30s and ’40s, almost all teams—major and minor—re-created games,with most teams re-creating only away games to save money. Many older fans recalled how they preferred the created game to the actual, since the re-creator had a 10 to 30 minute lead time, except that occasionally the teletype would fail. Ronald Reagan, who did Cubs games throughout the Midwest, had to invent, on more than one occasion, marathon foul balls, fights, or power failures.
Perhaps the most popular of the studio broadcasters, Allbright led the second largest network (next to Mutual’s Game of the Day) –26 states and 117 stations—out of Virginia from 1950 to 63. Allbright
calls what he did a science, using both high and low technology. High-tech resources included tape recordings of “background roar” and “excited crowd” noises; a recording of each stadium’s separate singing of the national anthem; and having a colleague listen to the live game in the next room, or following it via Morse code. Low-tech tools included rapping a pencil against the table for the crack of the bat, crinkling a cigarette wrapper for thunder, or having someone in a nearby bathroom play the role of the echoing PA announcer (Allbright).
Although they had a lead-time from the actual games, the successful re-creators also had to follow the broadcast atmosphere created by McNamee and other live announcers. To Allbright and other re-creators, the artful process required pacing, pause, timing, and building to control the whole tempo of the broadcast. Having the extra time gave a re-creating announcer an opportunity to add the effective comments for his team. For example, broadcasting live, Russ Hodges is famous for screaming after Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard around the world” in the Giants -Dodgers playoff in 1951:”The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Allbright, the Dodger re-creating announcer, did it this way:
I announced that Clem Labine was coming in to pitch, then had to change it to Ralph Branca when that was corrected. Suddenly, my associate in the next room started waving his arms like the ball was gone. When he handed me a piece of paper confirming what had happened. I said, ‘A drive to left field—back, back, and that ball is gone! … Unbelievable! It’s out, and I’ll see you next season” (qtd. in Heller).
To further illustrate the pacing and process of re-created games, Allbright, during a personal interview, agreed to re-create a game from the ’50s, while sitting in the glass-enclosed office. While the action below likely only exists in his mind, one should notice how he still uses pacing, byplay, tempo, imagery, and building to make this imaginary game come alive:
Alright, Let’s see…. We’ll open it up in the top half of the ninth inning. The Dodgers lead 3-2. The Giants have the tying run at third and the go-ahead run is at first base with one down. Mueller is on at third and he’s talking now to Leo Durochcr. That’s the tying run and Dusty Rhodes at first for the New York Giants. Dusty came in and hit for Jorgenson here in the ninth and singled to right in front of Carl Flunk. And the batter will be Willie Mays—number 24. He has one for three, right-handed batter. He doubled in the fourth and drove in a run.
Don Newcombe on the mound for the Dodgers, pulls off his cap, walks over now, picks up the rosin bag, looks toward third.
Gil Hodges with the go-ahead run at first base will play close to the bag. He will play the runner Rhodes. He will not be in back of him. Andy Palko back in deep left. Duke Snider, left center. Carl Furillo in right-center field. With Don Hoak third. Pee Wee Reese at shortstop and … Jackie Robinson at second and Gil Hodges at first.
Campanella, in front of the plate, holds up one finger now. Runners on the corners as Willie Mays moves into the batter’s box. Don Newcombe cannot pitch around Willie Mays because the on-deck hitter is Bobby Thompson.
Mays swinging his club back and forth. Newcombe stretches. Looks back to first. Now takes his foot off the rubber. Wipes … pitching hand across DODGERS on the front of the uniform.
Game time tomorrow evening. Friday, will be at seven. Saturday afternoon at one and Sunday at one. And that will finish up the four game set.
The Dodgers lead the National League by four games over these Giants. Newcombe ready, comes in with the pitch … and it’s … inside, close for a ball.
Mays steps out of the batter’s box … goes down for a handful of dirt. It’s a bright sunny day with a temperature of about 84 degrees … at Ebbets Field and the wind is blowing … toward right. [Three second delay.]
Newcombe ready on the mound, looks in for the sign, set and delivers. And a SWING and a MISS for a strike.
It’s one and one for Willie Mays. We’re in the bottom half of the ninth inning. Bobby Thompson on deck and it’s a 3-2 ball game. The Dodgers lead by one. Tying run is at third.
Newcombe … on the mound. This guy can let it go. He can make that ball look like an aspirin tablet.
Don Newcombe. Ready. Set. Comes down with the pitch. There’s a GROUND ball past the mound, going to Reese. Reese up with it, over to Robinson. THERE’S ONE. Back to first: A DOUBLE PLAY AND THE DODGERS GET OUT OF IT IN THE NINTH and WIN THE BALL GAME by a score of 3 to 2 over the New York Giants.
So they win the first game of this four game set. And Newcombe and Roy Campanella down below celebrating. There’s Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Gil Hodges. And it’s the HATED Giants GO DOWN in the first game of this four game set.
This is Nat Allbright at … Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. Re-created and … tomorrow game time will be at seven.
I’ll be back right after these words from … YOUR local … beer dealer.
Without the constant noise level of the imaginary crowd, the hum and buzz of excitement, note how Allbright moves in a controlled tempo, with few breaks in the delivery and only one mistake (calling the Giants’ inning the bottom half though the game was at Ebbets Field—perhaps unconsciously thinking of the infamous Thompson home run?). In fact, Allbright’s abilities to convey the color and tension of a real game by his delivery stand out even more without the canned noise. Notice also that Allbright makes the event and his “telling of it” personal without intervening in the game: ‘It’s a bright sunny day with a temperature of about 84 degrees … at Ebbets Field and the wind is blowing … toward right,” hesitating, as if he were actually checking the pennants blowing in the outfield. Another aspect of the “personal” in Allbright’s above sample that differs from some earlier broadcasters and many current ones is that he functions first as a reporter, rather than a fan. Though obviously a “homer” he refrains from pulling directly for the Dodgers, an element many modern team network broadcasters bypass.
The Allbright re-creation transcribed above reveals how “reportage” can be made vivid by rhythm, figurative language (Newcombe “can make that ball look like an aspirin tablet”), pauses, and pacing. As an indication of the difference in engagement between re-created baseball by Nat Allbright and on-site baseball broadcasting, one might compare the 1950s’ broadcasts of Mutual’s Game-of-the-Day (live) and Nat Allbright’s re-created Dodgers games. By that time, many major league teams were playing games at night during the week and so many weekday games came from Wrigley Field or from minor league venues. I recall coming home from school September afternoons to hear those Mutual games from Chicago and even sometimes from Yankee Stadium when the weather turned too cold for night games: those were long afternoons filled with leisurely and slow games, the action interspersed with banter, such as how announcer Bob Neal’s last name backwards seemed to spell “Lean,” a conversation I somehow recall from fifty years ago! Though I did not perceive of it until recently when I heard the Allbright re-creation, the re-created games from the Dodger network were far more appealing because of the constant hum and ebb and flow of canned background ”noise far louder than any real stadium could be, each inning rising to a climactic sound level, almost like eighteen horse races. In another indication of the ”reality” of the re-created broadcasts, Allbright recounted during the interview how some of the thousands of listeners from small towns of the South and the Midwest attending spring training games in Florida would seek out the Dodger’s broadcast booth and refuse to accept that Red Barber was the only on-site announcer. Indeed, I remember my own friends in 1957 ready to fight me for telling them that Nat Allbright’s broadcasts were re-created, a fact I had learned from the Sporting News.
Allbright remembers Mel Allen telling him that the baseball re-creator had the best of both worlds, broadcasting the games yet getting to remain at home and “sleep in (his) own bed at night.” In many similar ways, the lucky listeners of those re-created games also had the best circumstances possible: the ability to hear the results of the game, the opportunity to listen to a word artist’s re-creations, and the pleasures of the imagination to participate in the game itself in one’s mind’s eye—and ear.
Allbright. Nat. Personal Interview. 1 Match 2006.
Heller, Dick. “Nat Allbright was the Dodgers to many fans in the 50s.” The Washington Times 10 March 2003: A10.
I came across these recordings some years ago, having had them in my collection, and I finally got the bright idea to share them with you here. This game took place on June 4, 1957 with the Chicago Cubs visiting the Dodgers at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.
I especially like this recording because Vin Scully, himself in the early stages of his own Methuselean career, is marveling at the nascent transformation of a young (and frequently wild) fireballer, name of Sandy Koufax, into the next great strikeout artist.
Granted, this is not the Hall of Fame pitcher we gush about half a century after his rarefied peak. Koufax wasn’t even primarily a starter at this point: only 13 of his 34 appearances in 1957 were starts. In fact, this particular start was the last of five in a row for him; Koufax wouldn’t take the mound for Dem Bums for another three weeks, and only then in a relief capacity. By the time October rolled around, he’d ended this, his third season, at 5-4 with a rather pedestrian 3.88 ERA which, actually, he would not improve upon until 1961. So at this point he wasn’t close to being All-World Sandy Koufax. He was more like Adequate-at-Times Sandy Koufax.
But Scully saw the potential in Koufax and marveled in this broadcast at Sandy’s newfound strikeout rate. At one point Vin goes to the stat sheet (and, I presume, his pencil and paper) to determine how many strikeouts he’d registered against how many innings he’d pitched. These days we take the reporting of K/9 rates by game broadcasters for granted, but back then, comparing strikeouts to innings pitched was revolutionary stuff. That’s totally understandable when you realize that in the entire history of the game to that point, a qualifying pitcher’s strikeouts exceeded his innings pitched only twice: both by Herb Score, and only as recently as 1955 and 1956. So you can see just how new and mind-boggling the concept was.
Koufax ended the season with 10.5 K/9, but he was not a qualifying starter. He did, however, become the second qualifying starting pitcher to exceed a strikeout per inning in 1960, when he registered 10.1 K/9. By contrast, 14 different qualifying pitchers in 2014 exceeded 9 K/9, and this season, 23 different pitchers are on pace to do so as of today. Make your own judgments as you see fit–I merely present the facts without further comment.
This was a night game, starting at 8:00pm, and was recorded off WOKO-AM (1460) in upstate Albany. The Dodgers’ flagship station was WMGM-AM (1050), which had had the rights to Dodgers’ radio broadcasts since 1943 when they were WHN-AM. There are commercials, too, both live-read and recorded. Jerry Doggett takes over the mike from Vin in the 4th. We also hear a third voice in the person of Al Heifer in between innings giving out of town scores and exhorting listeners to tip back a Schaffer and light up a Lucky.
Here are the recordings of the game, in full, broken into four parts.
Part 1 (1st to bottom of 2nd—note: Scully comes into the broadcast just after the 6:45 mark):