Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Telling broadcasters to shut up

This is a broadcasting story and amusing anecdote, not a baseball story – although it involves broadcasting baseball. Does that make sense?  (It is also dedicated to the passing of Yogi Berra.  Number 8 will always be number one.)

Broadcast conditions for minor league announcers are rarely ideal. Especially in older stadiums. You’re in a little shack up on the roof, often in tin afterthoughts. You’re trying to call a game during a lightening storm in a metal box surrounded by electronic equipment. Or a tornado.  Or blizzard.  Or swarm of bees.  Or fireworks night when the guy has bad aim. 

Sometimes you have no roof at all so good luck in the rain. And blazing sun. 

On the other hand, at the old Toledo stadium we were completely enclosed in Plexiglas. On the air it sounded like we were in an echo chamber. And if the air conditioning stopped working, we were in a George Foreman grill.

At old Sec Taylor Stadium in Des Moines, whenever a home team player hit a home run a deafening siren would blast. You could hear it all the way to Ottumwa. The speaker was right underneath the visiting broadcasters. Every time a ball sailed over the fence it practically knocked us out of the booth. My ears are still ringing and this was 1988.

That same year I was broadcasting Syracuse Chiefs games with Dan Hoard. We went into Denver to play the dreaded Zephyrs. Most minor league parks are intimate and seat maybe 10,000. That’s one of the beauties of going to minor league games – the intimacy; you’re close to the players and close to the action. The Zephyrs played in Mile High Stadium, which sat 70 or 80 or 150,000 (I forget which). Even if attendance was 15,000, which normally would mean S.R.O., it looked like maybe six people were there scattered about.

They had no dedicated baseball pressbox per se. They just converted a few of the luxury suites behind the home plate area. At first I thought, “this is great!” The booth was roomy. We had a counter, good view, air conditioning, running distance to a bathroom. The only quirk was that there were two rows of seats behind us accommodating maybe fifteen spectators.

We thought nothing of it until people started filing into our booth. Apparently those were paid seats. Okay. A little weird – I’m not used to calling games with a studio audience -- but what the hell?

The game begins, we call the action, and we can hear in the background people telling us to shut up. At the half inning mark we turned back to them and said, “Hey, we’re broadcasting here!” They said, “We don’t care. We paid primo money for these seats and we don’t want to hear two idiots announcing all night.”

We had to go to one of the team executives to straighten things out. I think they moved them.  It's not like there were no other seats.  There was room in the dugouts. 

The next night the seats in our booth were sold again, but this was a good crowd. They enjoyed our broadcast and even offered to buy us some beers. We graciously declined, explaining how we only drank beer before games.

I thought things would improve drastically when I got to the majors, and they did – mostly. Spring Training facilities in the ‘90s were not as spiffy as they are today. The Angels still played in an old ballpark in Palm Springs. There were only two broadcast booths and if the Angels were televising as well as doing radio then the visiting broadcasters were put into the stands.

A counter was set up in one of the back rows. My first year with Seattle we had to do a game from that location. I sat on the aisle, Kevin the engineer to my left, and to his left was my partner, the great Dave Niehaus. If anyone stood up in front of us we were screwed.

I’m on the air, it’s the seventh inning, I feel a tapping on my shoulder. It’s a vendor with malts. Would I pass them down the row to the skeesix ten seats over? I did, while calling the game. Suddenly there is a big play. Runners scampering around the bases, the ball going every which way. Kevin hands me the money for the malt that had been passed from hand to hand. I give it to the vendor, all the while continuing to call this goofy play.  I feel another tap. The vendor.  Would I pass the change back? This on a fifty station radio network.

But I don’t feel bad. Vin Scully of the Dodgers recalls that when the team first moved out west with the Giants in 1958, the Giants played at a minor league park, Seal Stadium.  Scully and his partner, Jerry Doggett, were banished to broadcast from the stands like us. Even in those early days, Giant fans hated anything Dodgers. Scully had to do live commercials between innings for some beer. For the rest of the game fans around him were shouting the names of competing beer brands while he was doing the play-by-play.   All of this got on the air.  

Hey, maybe I should put a few rows of seats in my office and charge people to watch me write. “Shut up! We can’t sleep with that incessant keyboard clacking!”


Bill Avena said...

"It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much."

Matt said...

Yogi Berra passed away last night. Did you know him and have any stories involving him?

japanjohnny said...

Great post Ken. Love the anecdotes. Somehow I can see Dave turning to you somewhat off-mic and saying "Is this s**t really f***ing happening?

Matt said...


By the time Ken teamed with Dave, Dave had been doing it for years and probably knew what was going to happen. I think it would be more likely that Ken would turn to Dave and ask that question?

Ken, did you ever relate what was happening over the air, especially in a boring game.

Matt Dawdy said...

Ken, I hope you got some enjoyment out of the Mariners-Royals game last night, because I didn't. I took my 7 year old son. Now, I love baseball, but when I was a kid I thought it was the most boring thing ever. To watch, I mean. I loved playing it. My son is like me in that way.

At every game we attend, he spends the first 3 innings eating, always concluding with cotton candy (disgusting -- even as a child, I thought the stuff was terrible -- so there's at least 1 difference between us).

Then we conclude at the Little K area, where he play on the playground equipment. You know, the same equipment we have at about 5 city parks located a half mile from our house.

Yay! Money well spent!

Diane D. said...

God, I love these stories! In my now second year of reading this blog daily, it's obvious that in your life, paraphrasing Yogi Berra, "When you came to a fork in the road, you took it." Apparently, it's finally over for that beloved baseball player. My favorite quote of his (besides the fork in the road) is, "So I'm ugly. I never saw anybody hit with his face." He could have given Carly Fiorina a great come back for Donald Trump.

I need to do some research and see if you have written a book about your radio or baseball broadcasting days.

John Hammes said...

Yogi Berra: "You can observe a lot by watching..."

Now, more than ever, that REALLY makes sense.

benson said...

Johnny Bench tweeted a picture of the telegram he got from Yogi Berra, when Bench broke Berra's home run record for a catcher.

"I always thought the record would stand until it was broken."

He went on to say "it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Good luck the rest of the season, but take it easy on Dale and the Pirates."

RIP, Yogi.

justsomeguy05 said...

Speaking of "telling broadcasters to shut-up" ...

Bill White & Phil Rizzuto broadcasting a Yankees game on the radio.

Phil spends an entire inning complaining/telling-a-story in ridiculous detail. He just goes on and on - seemingly endlessly.

At the end, Bill White calmly and quietly says "Of course Phil, there is more to life than baseball".

Phil's response ....

I believe it was the next season that Bill White was gone (became President of the National league).

RIP Yogi.

justsomeguy05 said...

hmm .. browser seems to have removed Phil's response from my post.

Let's try it this way ...


Mark P said...

I'd pay good money to watch the writing room for The Simpsons, Frasier, The Good Wife, or Big Bang Theory. Even if it's just an observation room like they have at teaching hospitals.

Pat Reeder said...

Radio announcers at a baseball game serve a valuable function since without them it would just be a lot of crowd noise punctuated by the occasional crack of a bat. But why it is necessary for every televised Olympic event to be talked over incessantly? You're trying to watch some carefully-choreographed ice dancing routine and instead of hearing the music and concentrating on the artistry, you have to listen to the announcers prattling on about how the guy pulled his hamstring six weeks ago and treated it with massages and diuretics, or whatever. It's like trying to enjoy a movie while sitting behind someone who just won't shut up.

Have the networks ever offered the Olympics on a special pay-per-view feed that promised no talking at all during the events? I can't imagine I'm the only person who would happily pay extra for that.

Mike said...

Passing food down the line...
"It's the final ball of the game. The champ's got one chance left to hit for a home win. Their pitcher's been on fire tonight... hot mustard... The champ's not been himself, no aggression, very defensive. What do you say, Ken?"
"That's right, Doug. It's the final ball of the game. The champ's got... no onions... "

Matt said...

@Pat Reeder,

Interestingly years ago one of the networks broadcasting the NFL decided to broadcast a game without announcers. There hope I am sure that it would still be watched and they could cut announcer salaries. It was a disaster. Most people enjoy and are used to good commentary.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

The Vancouver Canadians play at Nat Bailey Stadium and the total capacity is 6,013, and even total only increased recently. The Stadium was built in 1951. That was perfectly fine for a AAA franchise, but in the past few years, it only ranks as a Single A (short season), what has happened in the last 10 years?

Breadbaker said...

I have to admit to a chuckle over "Vin Scully of the Dodgers". It's like saying "Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church", except Vin has been broadcasting the Dodgers since Pius was Pope. And may outlast Pope Francis.

Stephen Marks said...

Ironic you would slip in "Ottumma" where Radar is from then 4 posts later talk about 3 percenters.

Amy said...

My mother's roommate in NY was Mel Allen's assistant. Whenever they had a free afternoon they were at the game, right above the dugout. They loved the Yankees and, especially, Yogi Berra, an approachable, kind man. He said the doorman eyed him "superstitiously".