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Sports reporting on the radio: Where it all began

Posted by: | November 5, 2009 | No Comment |

Almost everyone who is a die hard sports fan around the globe has listened to a sports game on the radio before.  Whether it be basketball, baseball, football, or soccer, millions of people listen to sports radio.  The most popular broadcast on sports radio is arguably our national pastime, the sport of baseball.

Major league baseball being broadcasted over the radio has been an ongoing tradition for almost 80 years and has never died down.  People like Mel Allen, Harry Caray, Red Barber, and Harry Kalas are just a few of the greats that broadcasted baseball games for years.

St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs great radio broadcaster Harry Caray, who broadcasted Cardinals games over the radio from 1945-1969.

St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs great radio broadcaster Harry Caray, who broadcasted Cardinals games over the radio from 1945-1969.

Does the radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh ring a bell? Of course it does, because we learned about it in class being the first commercial radio station ever.  This station also broadcasted baseball games, the first one ever being the Pittsburgh Pirates versus the Philadelphia Phillies on August 5, 1921.  It was broadcast by Harold Arlin, KDKA’s announcer.  Arlin became known as the first play-by-play announcer in radio history.

Harold Arlin, the first play-by-play announcer.

Harold Arlin, the first play-by-play announcer.

Harold Arlin was a twenty-five year old Westinghouse foreman and nighttime studio announcer and is very unknown in the sports radio broadcasting industry, not even baseball. Arlin sat on a ground-level box seat in Forbes Field and used only a converted telephone as a microphone and other poor equipment set up behind home plate to call the world’s first baseball game broadcast on KDKA.  Little did he know was that this would become a historic day.

That year, KDKA and WJZ of Newark, New Jersey broadcasted the first World Series on the radio, with Grantland Rice and Tommy Cowan calling the games for KDKA and WJZ.  What is interesting about this is that the broadcasters were not actually present at the game, but rather gave reports from a telegraph wire.  The next year, WJZ broadcast the entire series, with Rice doing play-by-play.

What was very interested about most announcers in the earliest days of radio was that they were not permitted to identify themselves over the air, because the stations apparently feared that radio announcers might become too popular and harder to control.  We all know that this is not the case anymore.

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