This year’s MLB World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros, which starts tonight in Texas, marks the 100th year the Fall Classic has been broadcast on the radio.
The first World Series game broadcast on Oct. 5, 1921, between the New York Giants and New York Yankees, was made possible by a Newark Sunday Call reporter using a telegraph to relay the play-by-play action back to the newspaper office. From there, a sports editor passed the information by phone to WJZ (which would later become WABC New York), where announcer Thomas Cowan would repeat it to listeners. The Wall Street Journal reports that by the end of the game, Cowan didn’t even know what team won. The Yankees won that first game, but lost the best-of-nine series five games to three.
Now 100 years later, many fans still prefer the radio call of games over TV.
“Television takes your imagination away,” veteran radio and TV broadcaster Al Michaels tells the publication. “If you’re listening to a game on the radio, you can dream along with the game.”
The pace of the game allows announcers to paint the picture of what is happening on the field. Longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, is well-known for telling innings-long stories throughout the game. “If Vinny was telling a story, I would just stop in the driveway and let the car idle, because I had to hear the rest of the story,” Michaels explains.
“Radio means freedom. You have the radio on and you can paint the garage,” Scully says. “With television, it’s a commitment. Radio is your associate—you have it with you and you’re listening while you’re doing something else. Television, you’re saying, ‘You’re the boss. I can’t leave while you’re on.’”
The pace of the game that lends to radio’s effectiveness is what the league is trying to speed-up for its TV broadcasts. The average time of a regular-season baseball game is three hours and 11 minutes.
“Long games hurt TV ratings, which bring in revenue in a way that radio never could,” WSJ’s Jared Diamond writes. “In modern professional sports TV ratings are king, and baseball’s are declining, with fewer people willing to commit three hours to a sport played every day for six months.”
The Journal piece also points out MLB teams like the Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays forgoing radio, at least temporarily, in recent years. Diamond wonders if these recent developments will lead to more teams pulling away from traditional radio broadcasts.
“Baseball on radio has lasted 100 years, surviving the rise of TV and the internet,” he writes. “The practitioners of the craft—and millions of people who love the game—hope it lasts 100 more.”