Baseball & Radio: Two American Staples

For the first time in 50 years, all 30 Major League Baseball teams will be opening on the same day, March 29. This also happens to be the earliest opening day in MLB history. It must be an omen that a good season is upon us.  

Baseball has acquired the catch-phrase as America’s pastime. But would it be what it is today without the effect of radio? Baseball was one of the first sports to be broadcast on the radio.  Although the first MLB broadcast aired in August of 1921, there was no plan to make this a long term commitment.  

Many teams conflicted with the idea of broadcasting baseball games, as they feared this free game coverage would hurt ticket sales. While some teams strictly refused to broadcast games, other teams saw radio as vehicle to grow both ticket sales and their fan base.

“Radio quickly became a crucial arm of sports in America, spreading the gospel of baseball in the 1920s to 1950s.” – Gerald Nachman, from Raised on Radio

The National Pastime Museum outlines the rich history and connection of baseball and radio. This association would  not be what it is today without these teams who recognized the power and ability of radio to positively benefit their sport.  

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates were the first MLB team to have a live play-by-play radio broadcast. This occurred on August 5, 1921 in Pittsburgh and the coverage was aired on KDKA. The Pirates took home the W with an 8-5 lead against the Philadelphia Phillies. While this broadcast was only an experiment to test if broadcasting baseball was a viable task, its success set a foundation for the future of baseball broadcasts.  

KDKA 93.7 FM still remains as the home for Pirates sports updates, listen via NextRadio

Chicago Cubs

The start of this strong, nearly 100 year relationship between baseball and radio, can be attributed to the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs owner, Phil Wrigley saw the capabilities that radio could offer, claiming radio to be, “a vehicle for selling the Cubs as a regional franchise.” While many other teams thought radio would hurt ticket sales, Wrigley thought just the opposite and hoped it would increase his fan base by exposing and teaching more people about the game. He conducted a trial offering free coverage of Cubs games, and by the end, received a tremendous amount of positive feedback and requests for it to continue.

Therefore, on June 1925, a deal was made with WMAQ, and every home Cubs game would be covered live on the radio. This station had a powerful reach, with signals extending throughout the Midwest and even the East Coast.

Sportswriter John Carmichael noted, “The middle as well as the country at large was becoming Cub-conscious. The team was on its way to fame and fortune.”

The outcome Wrigley hoped for soon became a reality; from 1925-1931 Cubs ticket sales increased by 119% whereas  other teams only saw  27% increase. The success of the Cubs still reigns true today, as their fan club remains large and loyal to the team, regardless of Wins or Losses.

Listen to the Chicago Cubs on WBMX 104.3 HD2 via NextRadio. 

Cincinnati Reds

In 1929, the Cincinnati Reds were the second team to have all of their home games broadcast on the radio. Notably, this decision was made despite the start of the Great Depression, where many others continued to fear  that ticket sales would drop. The Reds ignored this fear, and in 1934 the Reds were bought by Powel Crosely, the world’s largest radio manufacturer at the time.

Listen to the Cincinnati Reds on WKFS 94.5 FM via NextRadio. 

Brooklyn Dodgers

Three New York Teams (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and New York Giants) created a strict five year pact in 1934 banning all radio broadcasts of their games. The Dodgers were the first to break this contract, and their games aired live on WOR. Legendary sports broadcasters Red Barber and Vin Scully were staple voices of the team. Scully, who recently retired in 2016 after 66 years with the Dodgers, holds a record for the longest term a broadcaster has spent with a professional sports team.

This rich  relationship between radio and baseball is still a thriving tradition today. With your NextRadio app, you can follow your local MLB team on your phone wherever you are. Listen to sports talk, score updates, and local game coverage with your FM enabled device on NextRadio and support your favorite team throughout their season. The time has finally come, play ball!

Listen to the LA Dodgers on ESPN KKU 103.9 FM via NextRadio. 

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Topics: Baseball, MLB, Sports Broadcast