Tag Archives: WGN

Cubs/White Sox Play First MLB Game on WGN-TV in 1948

This column first appeared on the blog All Funked Up, which is operated by David Funk, who describes himself as “a life-long sports fan [who] also [works] and travels for a living … or fun sometimes.” Sounds like a pretty good life, right?

David wrote the column below, and gave us permission to reprint it here.  The original column was posted here.

Enjoy!


 

CUBS/WHITE SOX PLAY FIRST MLB GAME ON WGN-TV IN 1948

On April 16, 1948, the very first MLB game on WGN-TV is played.  It was on this day that the Chicago Cubs hosted their crosstown rival Chicago White Sox in an exhibition game on WGN-TV at Wrigley Field.  It was the first sporting event held on the network as well.

The first ever MLB game to broadcast on television took place in August 1939 at Ebbets Field between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds as Red Barber called that game.  It was aired on W2XBS which was the same station that carried the first ever baseball game as Princeton played against Columbia in a collegiate match-up.

By the time the 1940s came around and World War II was over, television sets were selling as fast as they could be made.

In 1947, television attracted a new audience of baseball fans as they flocked to games in record numbers.  The casual baseball fans were the ones that began going to games due to television exposure.  That year, attendance at Major League Baseball games reached a record high of over 21 million fans.

The 1947 World Series between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers had an estimated 3.9 million viewers.  The Yankees won the series 4-3 over the Dodgers in what was also the first integrated team to play in the World Series with Jackie Robinson’s playing in his first Fall Classic.

Television had changed America and most baseball teams were getting on board by broadcasting televised games at the end of the decade.

In February 1948, WGN-TV(run by Jake Israel) began running text broadcasts before their first ever regular broadcast on April 5, 1948 with the WGN-TV Salute to Chicago two-hour special.  Originally, the station had affiliations with CBS and DuMont Television Network sharing with WBKB on Channel 4.  After CBS purchased a license to operate shows on Channel 4 in 1953, DuMont was left with Channel 9 and WGN-TV would be one of it’s best networks.  Originally, WGN-TV operated from the Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago before moving to North Bradley Place in the North Center neighborhood of the city in 1961.

After seeing the success of the 1947 World Series and the station launching just in time for baseball season, WGN-TV decided to air an exhibition game between the city’s two teams.  So eleven days after the station’s first broadcast, a baseball game was aired on its television network for the first time ever.

The first game on the television network was called by the legendary Jack Brickhouse, who would call baseball games for the station for the next 33 years.

The Cubs’ starting pitcher was Hank Borowy against White Sox starter Joe Haynes.

A little over 9,200 fans withstood chilly 45-degree temperatures to watch the game.  This was the fourth exhibition game between them that year as the Cubs won two of the first three.  It was the White Sox who would get the better of the “North Siders” at Wrigley Field on this day to even the series between them that year.

In the top half of the first inning, Borowy could hardly throw a strike and walked four White Sox batters.  An error by Cubs second baseman Henry Schenz also contributed to the White Sox taking advantage by scoring three runs in the opening inning.

Those three runs were all that Haynes needed for the White Sox as he pitched six innings for the “South Siders”.  He along with reliever Earl Harrist allowed five Cub hits and one run in the game.

Borowy would pitch seven innings and allowed four of the five White Sox hits in the game.  But it was his wildness in the first inning that allowed the White Sox an early lead and eventual 4-1 win over the Cubs.

The Cubs would finish the 1948 season in last place with a 64-90 record.  The White Sox were even worse finishing dead last with a 51-101 record that year.

Beginning in 1948, WGN-TV would broadcast all Cubs and White Sox home games.  In 1952, WGN-TV gained exclusive rights to broadcast Cubs games.  Brickhouse would call games for both Chicago teams until 1967.

Brickhouse’s legendary status reached beyond calling games on WGN-TV and it was said by his wife that he always felt more comfortable announcing baseball at Wrigley Field.  He was the Chicago Bears radio broadcaster in 1953 and first ever announcer for the Chicago Bulls in 1966.  He called five Major League Baseball All-Star Games and four World Series.  He also called the famous boxing match in 1949 between Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles, and the 1952 Rose Bowl with fellow legend Mel Allen.

His best known expression was saying “Hey-Hey!” after a big play for the home team.  He famously said that line when Cubs Hall of Fame player Ernie Banks hit his 500th career home run in 1970.

In 1981, Brickhouse retired and the Cubs’ replacement was another broadcasting legend by the name of Harry Caray.  Caray, who called games for the St. Louis Cardinals and White Sox(on WSNS-TV) previously, came over at the right time as WGN-TV was nationally broadcasting games then.

Caray’s style was different from Brickhouse, but the Cubs’ games on the network continued to draw well.  His most famous line was “Holy Cow!” after a big play from the Cubs.  Caray’s singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch began on White Sox broadcasts and carried over to the Cubs on WGN-TV.  Special guests would take part in the singing and it’s a tradition which has continued since his death in 1998.

As for the White Sox, the WGN-TV broadcast team would consist of former big league players Ken Harrelson and Tom Paciorek beginning in 1990 until 1999.  These days, Harrelson is joined in the booth by former AL Cy Young award winner Steve Stone, who was once part of the Cubs broadcast team on the network.  They’ve been together as a broadcast team since 2009.

WGN-TV also began broadcasting games for the Bulls as well as Blackhawks.  However, due to affiliation contracts, they are limited to the amount of games shown for all Chicago teams.

In 2013, the Cubs terminated an existing deal with WGN that was set to expire in 2022.  However, a new deal was reached in January 2015 that will allow 45 games to be shown in the Chicago market only.  All other remaining Cubs games would be aired on Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WLS-TV.  The deal expires after the 2019 season.

These days, the station is referred to as WGN America to satellite and cable providers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

This day in 1948 marked the beginning of not only baseball to be broadcast on WGN-TV, but all of its sports.  During a time when television gripped America, it was WGN-TV that took advantage of that by bringing Cubs and White Sox games to the network. Legendary broadcasters such as Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray contributed heavily to Major League Baseball as well as WGN to make the network what it is today.

“Chicago’s Very Own” WGN network is a pioneering super-station that has left a lasting impression on television as well as Major League Baseball and other sports.

One Option for Cubs in Post-WGN-TV World: Run Their Own Multicast Channel

Ed Sherman has written a couple of pretty good articles, both at his website and in the Chicago Tribune, about what the Cubs might do if they opt out of their agreement WGN-TV to carry 70-75 games per year: operate their own multicast channel.

(To be clear, this is a different deal than the WGN radio situation, in which the Cubs dumped ‘GN for WBBM-AM and the CBS promotional muscle behind it.)

A multicast channel is what “over the air” (OTA) TV has become in the wake of the move to all digital television for US stations in 2009.  Now the main TV channels are all “dash ones” (e.g., 2-1, 5-1, 7-1, etc.), and many of these channels carry subchannels (e.g., 5-2, 5-3, etc.) that feature additional programming, usually old TV shows and movies, cooking shows, or infomercials.

With options for OTA relatively scant—the Cubs can’t move the games over to Comcast SportsNet Chicago (CSN) because, frankly, CSN doesn’t want ’em, and no channel that’s a network affiliate can be expected to take them on—the Cubs would either have to go to a another local channel with less reach (such as WCIU-TV 26 or WPWR-TV 50); go crawling back to WGN and accept their newly suggested arrangement with less guaranteed money and more revenue sharing; or, again, start their own multicast channel, which sounds cool at first thought but would have the potential problem of not getting sufficient carriage by satellite and cable providers to warrant the startup and operational expense.

The Cubs have seemed to put themselves in a fairly bad bind, and the underlying reason for the bind is that, to be blunt, the Cubs suck (or at least they are perceived to suck), sporting one of the worst records in the majors this year.  Add to that the huge gamble being taken by the club to allow the big league club to flounder while relying on certain recent draft picks to take them to the Promised Land, a gamble that have led a lot of longtime Cubs fans to cool their ardor toward the team, and the prospects for the Cubs to generate significant TV revenue looks a lot more iffy now than it did when they presumably sketched out the idea on a bar napkin at a quarter to two in the morning one night some years ago.

Here are links to Sherman’s articles:

Cubs exploring multicast TV outlets for games

Multicast station? Cubs could leave WGN TV for highly unconventional outlet

Chicago Broadcast Update: And the Hits Just Keep Coming?

This morning’s Chicago Tribune has a front page story on the potential for the Cubs moving their broadcast (i.e., over-the-air) games, currently on WGN-TV, to another station in the market beginning with 2015.  Possible other TV affiliates, according to the article, might include WPWR-TV (channel 50) and WCIU-TV (channel 26), the latter of which already carries eight overflow Cubs games on behalf of WGN-TV.

I don’t believe the article is breaking any news here, since last year the Cubs exercise their right to pull out of the current WGN-TV deal after the 2014 season, given the current rash of ever-escalating rights deal being signed by teams.  But given the events of the last few days, the paper saw fit to make hay on the story and resurrect to take advantage of exquisite timing.

That said, it is valid to bring up, and the article points out why: for a supposedly big market team that is the darling of so many fans across the country, let alone the city and the state, the Cubs make far less per game on TV rights than other teams of its size.  For example, the article points out that the Los Angeles Dodgers make about $2 million per game in TV rights on their new deal, while the Cubs make just $500,000 per game that runs on Comcast SportsNet, their RSN partner, and about half that for games running on WGN and WCIU, which makes up about half the schedule.

Read all about it here:

Chicago Cubs seeking new TV home, may leave WGN-TV

Big Changes for Chicago Team Broadcasts

Two big stories have broken in the past week regarding the broadcast of games for Chicago baseball teams.

First, WGN America announced that they were dropping Cubs and White Sox broadcasts entirely, terminating with the end of the 2014 season.  WGN is the superstation that so many of us watched Cubs games on when we first got cable two or three decades ago.  WGN Superstation signed onto the a … or, cable … in 1978, and Cubs games were a staple of the schedule.  Lots of people between the ages of 30 and 45 remember coming home from school, flipping on the Superstation and hearing Harry Caray and Steve Stone (and sometimes Milo Hamilton, Thom Brennaman or DeWayne Staats) regaling viewers and seeing beauty shots of historic Wrigley Field.  It’s the sole reason many out of towners became Cubs fans in the first place.  In 1990 WGN started running the White Sox as well, and although many fewer non-Chicagoans became Sox fans as a result, it did provide them a national platform few other teams could claim.

But in the brave new world of new media, with MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV at our easy disposal, WGN America has slipped into irrelevancy when considering on which channel to watch Cubs and White Sox games.   Despite that WGN America is running 71 Cubs game and 32 White Sox in 2014, the decision comes down to ratings.  That is, neither the Cubs nor Sox generate sufficient ratings to justify continuing to air them.  And so WGN America-slash-Superstation is focusing their efforts on another general audience basic cable network because, you know, we need another one of those.

Read more about this here:

WGN America to drop Chicago sports

Report: WGN America To Drop Cubs, Chicago Sports Programming

On the radio front, it’s the Cubs doing the dropping as they have informed WGN radio that they no longer wish to continue their 90-year marriage, with the Cubs moving to WBBM-AM starting in 2015. Itself a 50,000 watt station with multiple state coverage, in theory the Cubs should not lose anything in the way of listenership with the move.  But again, in this age of online radio coverage (especially through MLB’s super popular At Bat app) coupled with baseball games broadcast on satellite radio giant SiriusXM, it may not be an altogether relevant change.  Don’t feel too bad for WGN for getting shut out by the Cubs, though: they precipitated the move by exercising their contractual option to re-do the deal to keep the team on, because of low ratings brought on by a frankly terrible team that locals are losing interest in, in droves.

Read more about this move here:

Cubs dropping WGN Radio for WBBM-AM

One unintended effect of these two moves is that it completely screws up the Cubs anthem played in the ballpark whenever the team wins.  The song, “Go Cubs Go” by Steve , mentions WGN explicitly in the title, although to be fair, this anthem is already fouled up since it suggests that you can “catch [all the action] on WGN”, which hasn’t been true on the TV side of the house for twenty years now.

Radio move from WGN fouls up ‘Go, Cubs, Go’ anthem