The Romantic Aspects of Listening to Sports Broadcasts on the Radio
There was an essay in last week’s Wall Street Journal that piqued my interest and provoked me to write further on the subject.
It was penned by Jared Diamond and it was about the unique, often romantic aspects of listening to baseball broadcasts on radio.
Certainly, a way of life that existed decades and generations ago, that have taken a backseat to the television and streaming world of today.
This is not to say it doesn’t exist today, it does. But not like the days of yesteryear.
It was the way youngsters were attracted to what was once the most compelling sport which captivated so many of us, including myself, that still brings back memories of a time that makes us smile.
In the essay, the incomparable Vin Scully, the former Dodgers voice of 67 years, talks of taking a plate of crackers and a pillow into the living room of his family’s walk-up apartment in Manhattan, crawling underneath a huge four-legged radio console, putting his head down and letting the sound of a baseball game wash over him, like water rushing out from a shower head.
This was when he was growing up in the 1930’s.
Scully, who I have been honored to get to know, explained that “radio means freedom”.
With television, he said, it’s a commitment. With radio, you can have it on while you’re doing something else.
How poignant that is.
I grew up the same way.
Radio was my lifeline to the New York Giants, my favorite team until they moved to San Francisco.
When I turned the radio on, the noise of the crowd put me in another universe.
When Russ Hodges or Ernie Harwell, or Bob Delaney began talking, I was mesmerized. They would welcome the listeners and set the scene.
I would hang on every word, follow their descriptions, and ride the highs and lows.
Like books, radio is about imagination. You can picture what is said. The words you hear, take you there.
I remember two specific things when I sat on my bed and got ready for another Giants broadcast.
One, was the weather. If it was a sunny, beautiful day in my neighborhood in Queens, and Russ Hodges said it was raining and the field was covered, I was sad.
I never quite understood why the weather in St.Louis wasn’t the same as the weather in a borough in New York City.
Of course, if it was pouring where I lived, and learned it was bright in Cincinnati, I was overjoyed.
The other thing I remember, was listening to a game when the Giants were on the road.
There was a page in the Giants Yearbook with aerial photos of the other seven ballparks, besides the Polo Grounds, where the Giants played.
If they were in Philadelphia, I would stare at the picture of Shibe Park looking down from the sky.
If a ball was hit over the right field wall, I knew exactly where that was.
You see, it was all about imagination.
What, for heavens sake, is better than that?
While baseball was my first love, the radio was also my link to the other sports I followed.
In the New York area, the voice that brought pro football, and basketball, both college and pro, to life was Marty Glickman’s.
Glickman was a football and track and field star at Syracuse University.
He was a member of the 1936 U.S. team at the Summer Olympics in Berlin.
He was slated to run in the 400-meter relay, but was replaced along with Sam Stoller, by Jesse Owens, and Ralph Metcalfe, as an American effort to avoid offending the German Chancellor Adolph Hitler who was an emphatic proponent of anti-Jewish policies.
Owens, of the greatest track stars in American history, and Metcalfe won gold medals.
For Glickman, it was understandably, a bitter disappointment.
Glickman who hired me as a broadcaster in 1973 for the fledgling Home Box Office (now strictly referred to as HBO), was the commentator for the New York Football Giants, as well as the Knicks, and all of the college basketball games played at Madison Square Garden.
There was no way I would ever miss a Giants game with Marty Glickman at the mike.
His descriptive style was unmatched by any announcer I ever heard.
Not only in calling the plays, but in painting the picture of the entire scene.
He would talk of the Giants driving toward the “open end of Yankee Stadium”, or the Washington Redskins, getting to receive the opening kickoff in their “white road jerseys with burgundy numerals, gold pants, and brilliant gold helmets”.
He did the same when calling basketball.
With the sound of basketballs being dribbled during warmups, Glickman would describe the Cincinnati Royals in their “royal blue jerseys with white numerals and red trim”.
When a basket was successful, he would declare, “swish”.
Hockey was another sport that was brought to life by radio.
People talk of how difficult it is to see the puck on television, but it was fascinating to hear the lightning fast sport of hockey called on radio.
You followed the puck and the players moving up ice in your minds eye, and waited to hear the exclamation of “GOAL”, when the New York Rangers scored.
I’ll never forget getting into bed, waiting for the Rangers game on Sunday night, when they played a home game at the Garden most of the time.
The puck was to be dropped at 8:30pm, but the station that carried the games aired a 15-minute program from the Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan, beginning at the same time.
So I would listen to the last five minutes of choral music, waiting to have the Rangers game joined in progress.
When the church music had ended, and the station switched to the game, the action on the ice was already in progress, and the announcer Ward Wilson, would call the play going on at the time, then reporting the score and time remaining in the first period.
I didn’t care. The Rangers were finally on the air, and I was into the game.
Listening on radio also took some dexterity.
Especially if it involved out-of-town broadcasts.
I would try to find college basketball or hockey games that were impossible to hear in normal fashion.
So, I would slowly, carefully, and gently, move my fingers on the dial to try to discover a game being aired on stations far from the New York area.
And I was able to find them.
It would involve unbelievably loud static and noise to finally get through to hear Cawood Ledford, the legendary Kentucky voice, call the Wildcats game against Vanderbilt in Lexington.
Tie score bottom of the 9th
I would spend hours trying to listen to games on powerful far away stations.
One night, my mother, Terry, walked by as I was doing all of this, and said to my father, “Joe, what’s wrong with our son?”.
I don’t think she quite understood.
I would hear games on our household radio.
I would carry a transistor radio wherever I went to be able to be taken to a ballgame.
Things have changed as they have in practically every way of life. As they should.
But I relish the years I followed my teams, by hearing the sound of the crowd at a stadium or arena, and the announcer telling me what was happening.
And letting my mind do the rest.