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Radio and Baseball: The Perfect Marriage

March 28, 2018

It’s almost that time again! From the first crack of the bat to the smell of hot dogs and nachos at the concession stands, the boys of summer are getting ready to come home from spring training in Florida and Arizona. The gray winter sky will soon lead to warm sunbathed baseball fields and temperatures that are no longer in the single digits.

All of the radio flagships and affiliates of your favorite baseball teams are excited for a boost in ratings from fans listening on porches, in cars, or in the ballpark. Fans in the stands aren’t the only people who want their teams to do well; radio GMs, PDs, and other executives want the team that they carry to go all the way to the World Series.

In 2017, both the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers went on to an exciting seven-game World Series that culminated with the Astros taking home the trophy. But in terms of radio, both teams could consider themselves winners. According to a December 7th Inside Radio article, the flagship station for the Los Angeles Dodgers, KLAC-AM, had a 13.7 share for persons 6+ and a 15.1 share for Men 25-54 when the World Series was airing. In Houston, the Astros’ flagship, KBME-AM, had a 12.7 share for persons 6+ and a 12.1 share with Men 25-54.

This wasn’t just a one-off either. In 2016, the Cleveland Indians’ dual flagships WTAM-AM and WMMS-FM collectively had an amazing 58.7 share for persons 6+ and a 55.8 for Men 25-54. For the World Series Champs that year, the Cubs’ flagship WSCR-AM had an average share of 30.5 for persons 6+ and Men
25-54.

Listenership increases when “something major is happening, like a Rich Hill potential perfect game last August for the Dodgers, you can see the audience grow with each quarter-hour as word of mouth does its part. . . it was fascinating to watch the radio audience expand virtually minute-by-minute,” says Len Klatt, former Senior VP & Director of Research for Premiere Networks.

Baseball on the radio has been growing since the first broadcast on August 5, 1921. KDKA in Pittsburgh aired the Pittsburgh Pirates beating the Philadelphia Phillies 8-5. Back in the early 1930s you couldn’t listen to your team play if they were playing on the road. Only home games were broadcast. This started to change in 1935 when MLB Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis sold the rights to the World Series for $400,000 to the major networks. In 1939 all teams started to broadcast their games on the radio. It has evolved to the point that you can listen to the broadcast digitally on your cell phone.

Broadcasters and programmers alike can’t imagine the radio without baseball on it. Mark Chernoff, of WFAN-FM/AM, says, “We’ve always had ‘radio is theatre of the mind’ drummed into us, and it really fits with baseball. When the announcers ‘paint the word picture,’ it’s so true for baseball.” Anita Bonita, a media pro, says that “my radio was often richer and more detailed than the TV coverage. So even when the games were on free TV, I’d have the picture up, the sound off, and the radio on.” She’s not the only one to sync the radio audio to the television picture, even if it is getting harder these days. Dennis Constantine, a major market programmer, explains why: “If we attempt to listen to the radio and watch TV, the radio play-by-play doesn’t match up with the TV picture. FM radio stations using PPM decoders are delayed by 6 seconds or so, and the delivery of TV digital pictures can vary depending on the delivery platform. So, that magic of turning down the sound on the TV and listening to the radio broadcast is gone.” Even with some difficulties added because of new technology, baseball and radio is a perfect marriage.

So get ready to sing, “for it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out!” and get your transistor radios out because it’s almost time for inning 1 of the 2018 Major League Baseball season.

-Matt Weaver, Research Specialist

Sources:

“Tom Taylor NOW: Radio’s Daily Management Newsletter” Vol. 7: Issue 36 (February 21), Issue 38 (February 23), & Issue 40 (February 27)

Larson, Stevie. “The History of Baseball Broadcasting: Early Radio” Baseball Essential, 11 Dec. 2015, https://www.baseballessential.com/news/2015/12/11/the-history-of-baseball-broadcasting-early-radio/. Accessed 12 March 2018.

Author Unknown. “Ratings Drilldown: Sports Radio Shares Up 30% Since June” Inside Radio, 7 Dec. 2017, http://www.insideradio.com/ratings-drilldown-sports-radio-shares-up-since-june/article_0dbb12de-db2c-11e7-95c7-ef95007fe21c.html. Accessed 12 March 2018.

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