Sunday!

Periodically, I listen to sports on the radio. I don’t make a habit of it, but when I have to drive for more than an hour, an AM station from the city I’m driving to is far more likely to not have wacky things happen with it than, say, any given radio station I find on the FM dial.

Having listened to both football and baseball on the radio, I can say this:
Football is an awful radio game.

It doesn’t even really matter on the quality of the announcer. You can have a pretty strong one and, still, there is a huge amount of action that happens that is faster than a person can put into words. “There’s the snap, off to… oh, the defense tackled him.”

Baseball, however, has some really quality lag between events that allows for a good announcer to explain to you exactly what’s going on. “Davidson catches it, throws it to Wallace, to Lopez! A perfect 7-5-4 double play.” If you know what positions are associated with which numbers (something that even penetrated *MY* brain when I was a kid), you just saw it in your head and, get this, the announcer had time to say “Davidson” when the Left Fielder caught it, “Wallace” when it got to Third Base, and “Lopez” when it got to Second.

While the best announcers immediately summarize what just happened (“Looks like Smythe tackled the running back Jones for a loss of 4 yards”), the limitation of Football is that it’s a spectacle. You pretty much have to watch it and the only real benefit to listening to it on the radio is the real-time score updates with the occasional explosion from the announcer when something awesome happens.

Baseball, however, is the perfect radio game.

But, yeah, it’s pretty good in person too.

So… what are you reading and/or watching?


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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13 thoughts on “Sunday!

  1. It totally depends on the strength of the announcer. Many many moons ago, Kevin Harlan was the radio play-by-play guy who called Kansas City Chiefs games. When I lived in Omaha I would turn the sound down on the TV and listen to him call it. He was better than anyone the networks had outside of Madden and Summerall.

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  2. Baseball has had legendary radio announcers, but I think football radio used to be much better. A generation ago, in Washington, the team of Frank Herzog, Sonny Jurgenson, and Sam Huff were quite good. But then, some timd after Snyder bought the team, he fired Herzog, and Sonny got old, and Sam even older.

    And they also deliberately put a time delay on the radio broadcast of double digit seconds so you couldn’t sync up the tv broadcast with the radio simulcast.

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    • And they also deliberately put a time delay on the radio broadcast of double digit seconds so you couldn’t sync up the tv broadcast with the radio simulcast.

      This strikes me as a great injustice.

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  3. The best of the radio announcers take advantage of the fact that there’s no visual. In the classic “He’s at the twenty… makes a tackler miss at the ten… at the five with three men on his back… and in for the score!” the touchdown was scored while the announcer still had the runner at the ten. When I was a lad in the early 1960s, my Grandpa Cain was still a Chicago Cubs fan, although he thought that the current crop of announcers were much worse than when “Dutch” Reagan did the live play-by-play on WHO in Des Moines. Of course, Reagan never saw the games; he was doing a recreation in real time from a ticker tape.

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  4. I couldn’t agree more about baseball being a good game for radio. I spent many a summer evening puttering about doing something – chores or whatever – while listening to Dave Niehaus (My, oh My!) call my beloved Mariners on the radio.

    I listened to a fair amount of high-school basketball games on radio, too. It works better than you’d think. It was a local station and high school games, but the announcer’s name has stuck with me: Haynes Fay. Damn, that’s a good name.

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  5. I’m really not a sports fan but I will listen to baseball on the radio if I need “background noise” while working on a project. You are right – and there is a certain cadence a good announcer can get into, a way of filling the slack times and then being able to snap to when stuff happens.

    I think also I have sort-of-hazy childhood memories of older male relatives listening to baseball on the radio in the summer, and that may also be partly why I like it.

    Also, I bought the house I now live in in the fall of 2001 – in fact, my closing day on the house was September 13, 2001. When I spent the fall evenings scraping and painting and fixing, I needed something to listen to – all I had was a battery radio, and our FM stations here suck, so I listened to AM. My choices, in fall 2001 was news (scary), political talk (scarier), religious programming (in some ways, scariest*), or baseball. I went with baseball and kinda sorta became a Texas Rangers fan that fall.

    (*And I say this as a practicing Christian, albeit one of a more theologically liberal denomination than most who have radio programming)

    (We used to listen to the Michigan football games on the radio, or put them on the TV and turn the sound off and the radio on, back in the days when the unabashedly-partisan Bob Ufer was calling the games. Both my parents graduated from Michigan…. I’m not a football fan by any stretch but radio football does seem like a different beast from radio baseball)

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    • I’ve never gotten into college football at all. (I’m told that I should dig “The System” rather than “The Players”.)

      The little research I’ve done tells me that college football specializes in the “crappy play that nobody can believe worked” compared to the Best In The World thing that you sometimes see in the NFL (one handed behind the head catches, passes so accurate that they would have made it through a coffee can from 50 yards away, that sort of thing).

      As such, maybe college football would be better on the radio.

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  6. I think another thing that makes baseball a good radio game compared to football is that the game play itself is pretty simple — at any given time there are generally only two or four people doing anything worth talking about, while everyone else is just watching and waiting, or positioning themselves for what might happen next; and the things the active people are doing are generally pretty simple — there aren’t too many choices for a baserunner or a fielder with the ball to make. So it’s not hard for an announcer to give a listener most of the pertinent info to visualize the game.

    In a football play you’ve got 22 people all being very active all at the same time, and there are any number of complicated schemes and choices that could be happening that an announcer has no hope of describing in any detail — blocking schemes, receiver routes, all the various rushing and pass coverage possibilities, etc. If you only hear about what the person with the ball is doing, you’re getting a small fraction of the action on the field. It can still be exciting to listen to if you care about the outcome, of course.

    This is largely why I found baseball video games to be more satisfying than football games — it’s easier to control a large chunk of the baseball action, but in a football game, you’re necessarily just watching/coaching a lot of it.

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  7. Haven’t we had this discussion on the boards recently? I remember typing a defense of football on the radio. I thought is was on this site. Ah, well, I’ve repeated more frivolous things than this: football is compelling on the radio. A good broadcaster doesn’t try to sell you on every play, and he’ll provide background and meaningful stats during the down times. But he’ll share his excitement on great plays. If he knows what he’s doing, he’ll have you on the edge of your car seat.

    Also, it’s kind of a relief not to have the constant replays and the busy FOX screen. And the confusing cutaway to a different game.

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