A friend of mine sent me this link. I thought it would be good background reading for this discussion. Joe isn't mentioned, but Marty is quoted often...
Radio fades for baseball fans
By Dan Caesar
Of the Post-Dispatch
Baseball on the radio. In its heyday it was a true art form, a craft unlike any other, in which storytelling - weaved with crisp, eloquent descriptions of the games - transformed those announcers into an extended family member for many in their audience.
How many Cardinals' fans of a bygone era thought they knew Jack Buck or Harry Caray, even though they never met them? The same with Vin Scully in Los Angeles, Ernie Harwell in Detroit, Bob Prince in Pittsburgh and many others.
But the relationship is fading in this high-tech age. New, glitzier media have grabbed fans' interest and wooed many - even broadcasters - away from the medium. Baseball's golden age on radio has evolved into about as much a relic as a yellowing newspaper found in a crevice of grandma's attic.
"It's very clear that the dominant medium now is television," said Bob Costas, the lead baseball broadcaster for NBC before it lost the sport to Fox in 2001. "Radio's primary purpose is for when people are in cars or at the beach or on the move, that kind of thing. There may be some older people living in a town - where they have a particularly good or distinctive radio announcer - who might actually prefer to listen to the game on radio, even if it were available on television. But I think people are just so used to seeing the vast majority of their home team's games - let alone all the games they can see on cable - on television that that becomes the primary outlet."
The transformation began in the 1970s, when cable TV conquered the country with its superstations, making the Chicago Cubs (on WGN) and Atlanta Braves (on WTBS) available nationwide on nearly a daily basis. Before then, most teams - especially in smaller markets - televised few games. National exposure was limited to NBC's Saturday "Game of the Week." It was a treat, the rare chance for fans to see teams other than the one they followed, clubs they often knew only from newspapers and magazines, or hearing them discussed on radio.
"In the old days, the phone would start ringing at Channel 5 on Monday, 'Who's on the "Game of the Week" this Saturday?'" former KSDK (Channel 5) sports director Jay Randolph said. "That's all gone."
In the early 1970s, Cardinals chairman August A. Busch Jr. permitted only about two dozen games to be shown. This year, all but three games are scheduled to be televised.
"Radio's coverage has been diminished because there is so much on television," Randolph said. "If you're in the car, you're stuck with it, or if you're on a job where they don't allow you to have a television, you listen if you can. But I think it's lost a lot of its specialness."
The hook of TV
The loss of "specialness" has hit radio broadcasters, as television and its generally much better pay lures most young broadcasters. Joe Buck, 35, fits that mold. He formerly manned the Cardinals radio booth but now has abandoned that for the greener pastures of TV, in which he is the Fox network's lead play-by-play announcer for baseball and football.
"When you think back over the last 50 years, there are only a couple guys still going on radio who are truly known as the voice of the team," Buck said. "It's a different era."
Harry Caray played a major role in the transition. As immensely popular as he was throughout the Midwest, Mid-South and Southwest because of his work on Cardinals games, which were carried on the club's vast radio network, he didn't become a national icon until the final stages of his career. And that was because of TV, where he spent his latter years as the lead announcer for the Cubs on WGN. The legacy of Jack Buck, despite several forays into TV, is entrenched in radio.
"If he was coming along now, he would end up as having been known as one of the great TV voices," Joe Buck said. "But fans don't sit around and listen to the radio anymore. There now is a fast-paced lifestyle. I don't think people are willing to sit to listen to the radio. ... The radio guy just doesn't sit there with people in their living rooms night after night anymore."
Dan McLaughlin, 30, provides a case study in the radio vs. TV career path. In January 2002 he was in the unprecedented position of being offered a spot to broadcast Cardinals game on radio and television. His options were to work in one of the most prestigious radio booths in all of sports and broadcast all 162 Cards games, or do play-by-play of about 90 games on TV. He picked television.
"I was such a young guy, I felt I needed to establish myself in television," he said. "There are so many games on TV, it becomes the place where people go."
Wayne Hagin, who gained the Cards' radio job after Jack Buck's death, has been broadcasting baseball on the radio almost exclusively for more than a decade. He, too, was smitten by television early in his career - he even anchored ESPN's second "SportsCenter" telecast, in 1979. He also was involved in TV during his early baseball years before gaining the radio play-by-play job when the Colorado Rockies were born in 1993.
"There was a time I wanted to do both, but it never presented itself," he said.
But now he said he's satisfied as "a radio guy" and he doesn't like the cavalier attitude taken by some in the next generation.
"Jack (Buck) and I had more conversations about that subject than anything else in the years I knew him," Hagin said. "It bothered him that young announcers loved the position they were in more than the craft. They didn't love baseball on radio, they were using it as a steppingstone."
Marty Brennaman, the radio voice of the Cincinnati Reds for 31 years, concurred.
"It never ceases to surprise me, the great appeal of TV," he said. "There never has been a game invented more for radio than this one, but guys want to gravitate toward TV. This generation, if somebody spends 30 years in a booth, it will be an aberration."
Beyond money, there is more prestige associated with TV for the younger set.
"Joe Buck now is the voice of the playoffs and World Series, because he does them on national TV," McLaughlin said.
"Theater of the imagination"
The ubiquity of television has led to an erosion of fundamentals in many young radio broadcasters, some top announcers say.
"You can't stop the march of technology and the availability of all these games," Costas said. "When the primacy of television is so great and radio is relegated to secondary status, you lose that whole theater of the imagination (facet), you lose ... the storytelling ability of the announcer and the descriptive ability, and the ability to reflect by tone of voice, the drama of the situation. When those skills are less called upon, people don't develop those muscles.
"Although there are still some very, very good radio announcers - I think it has subtly affected even the way radio is done. Except for the oldest of the oldest-timers, all of the radio announcers grew up watching baseball on television. Listen to how infrequently most radio announces position the fielders, tell you if the sun is behind a cloud or the shadows are creeping over the field, how infrequently they describe a pitcher's windup if it is distinctive or the quirkiness of a guy's stance, tell you what number a guy wears. ... Just the ability to tell an anecdote well is less in evidence than it used to be."
Jon Miller, the radio voice of the World Series who also works on ESPN's Sunday telecasts and San Francisco Giants broadcasts, agrees.
"I hear a lot of young guys doing minor league ball who are doing more television-type calls on the radio," he said. "But on radio, the accurate vivid description is everything - and on television it's irrelevant.
"When I hear a game on the radio ... and a guy hits a line drive base hit into left-center field, I need to hear 'base hit.' When you see the ball go out there and you see it hit the ground, and at that point it's a base hit, I need to hear that on the radio, I need to hear that established. A lot of times you'll hear, 'line drive into left-center field, here comes one run in, here comes ...' and it's like, 'Wait a minute - I haven't even heard it's a base hit yet.'"
The slow pace of baseball makes it a fertile ground, unlike any other sport, for storytelling. And there's nothing that interrupts the flow more than the so-called "drop-ins," the seemingly incessant commercial plugs that have infiltrated broadcasts. From sponsoring pitching changes to having ads tied to the listing of the umpires, no recent development has seemed to cause more grumbling. To those who consider broadcasting baseball on the radio an art, it's akin to plastering a Band-Aid adorned with an ad on Mona Lisa's forehead.
"That's the bane of our existence," said Cincinnati's Brennaman, who added he has gone as far as not including the full allotment at times. "It's been an ongoing battle in my conversations with our station. I said, 'If you're going to add more, find somebody else to do this.'"
Mike Shannon, who is in his 33rd year in the Cardinals' radio booth, also dislikes the trend.
"It's all the bottom line," Shannon said. "I'd rather have it the other way because I think the fans would like it that way. What radio has going for it is that you can (make people think they can) smell the popcorn, taste the hot dogs and the Cracker Jack. I'm afraid that those things will be lost. You have to be careful you don't ruin that flavor."
Although there has been a general shift of power in baseball broadcasts at the local level from radio to television, such is not the case in St. Louis - at least not yet.
"It has affected St. Louis, but it hasn't affected it to the extent of other places," said Costas, who lives in the market. "Out of 30 teams, in 20 of those cities it's probably the TV guy who is more identified with the team. In the cases where it's the radio guy, it would be because the person is of long standing ... or in those handful of locations where the radio guy is just so remarkably good that he overcomes whatever obstacle there is to making an impression - he's just so damn good that people can't help but notice."
Key factors to the Cards' bucking the trend are a rich tradition on radio, plus the power of a radio network that has nearly 100 affiliates and the flagship station KMOX with its vast reach. There have been only three lead play-by-play announcers in more than half a century - Caray, Buck and Shannon.
"This is a special place," Shannon said. "There is so much tradition."
Shannon now is one of the longest-tenured broadcasters with one club.
"He has something in common with the distinctive radio announcers who preceded him, which is he has a truly original personality," Costas said. "Not like some guys now who have an attitude, and it's an assembly-line attitude. It always cracks me up when I hear something like, 'Same game, Fox attitude.' How can anyone have 'attitude' if it's standard-issue attitude? There's an ESPN attitude, there's a Fox attitude, but there's only one Mike Shannon attitude, because there's only one Mike Shannon. Not only is he quirky and therefore endearing and amusing, but he is what - especially since Jack's death - what the Cardinals sound like.
"And there's no overestimating the importance of that. Because (of the growth) of national television, and the Internet, and people reading USA Today, as those things break down the kind of provincial feelings and the regional feelings, one of the few things that reinforces it is rooting for your team and listening to your announcer. And your announcer can't be just anybody. He's got to be somebody you've got some years invested in - and that's what he's got going."
McLaughlin says radio remains the focal point locally - but hints that won't last forever.
"This town is different, because of Mike and Jack," he said. "They enhanced it. Maybe we're just catching up later than elsewhere."
As times change, ESPN's Miller says he has adapted - and actually improved his radio broadcasts because of television.
"There's a chance for a radio broadcast to be better than it's ever been because of television," he said. "When I do a game on radio, there's always a TV monitor where I have access to all the pitches from the center-field camera, to the replays, to give a more thorough view of what every pitch was. ... I describe every pitch off the center-field camera.
"On television, I learned right away the fans have already seen it. And if you (as the announcer) are waiting for the umpire to call it, the whole country is saying, what are you blind? So I realized early on with the ESPN telecasts I needed to see what they were seeing so I didn't sound like the only guy in America who didn't know if the ball was caught or a home run. It's really helped make my radio broadcast better."
But the overall direction of baseball on the radio seems to frustrate Costas, a wordsmith and craftsman.
"I get tapes from some guy who is a real baseball fan," Costas said. "He's like I was when I was a kid, and he wants to be a baseball announcer and he's doing the Richmond Braves or the Chattanooga Lookouts and he's not trying to be some modern TV guy, he's trying to be Jack Buck, he's trying to be Ernie Harwell. And you wonder if there's as much of a spot for guys like that as there used to be."
Cincinnati's Brennaman sums things up from the perspective of a baseball radio broadcaster whose career began in the era before TV saturation.
"To me, the ultimate job in broadcasting still is to be the voice of a major league baseball team," he said. "And it's unfortunate so many don't feel that way anymore."
Reporter Dan Caesar