4. Sports and Radio
Beck, Daniel, Bosshart, Louis, Communication Research Trends
Up to the early 20th century, the only way to share the immediate drama of a sports event was either to play or to attend. But then came radio. The added value of the radio--compared to the printed media--is the opportunity of live reporting. From the very beginning the radio took advantage of this asset. Live radio reporting gave the impression of being there, of being a witness of something emotional and suspenseful. Announcers learned very quickly to give the impression of dense and dramatic events. Another advantage of the radio was and still is its very fast speed. Results and scores can be diffused instantaneously in a very flexible program. And the radio medium can reach people at any time anywhere, i.e., in the car, at the workplace, on the beach, etc. Technically, radio stations and their reporters can very easily be interconnected so that radio listeners can virtually move from one place to another. Finally, radio reporting excels at interviews, one genuine genre of radio.
Several sporting events have been midwives for the commercial and social breakthrough of radio and television--a birth that led to the co-existence of several kinds of sports with the media. In the USA it was boxing that, via live transmissions on radio, made that medium and itself popular. On April 4, 1921, the radio station KDKA broadcast for the very first time a sporting event, namely a boxing match from the Pittsburgh Motor Square Garden. On July 2 of the same year two New York radio stations (WJY and WJ2) broadcast the heavyweight boxing world championship fight between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier in New York. David Sarnoff, later in his life president of NBC, had radio sets installed in theaters, ballrooms, and barns. About 300,000 boxing fans paid the entrance fee--it was spent for the reconstruction of France after the First World War!--and were fascinated. That was the initial ignition for the tremendously successful diffusion of the radio medium in the United States. In 1927 about 40 million Americans listened to the live transmission of the Dempsey vs. Sharkey fight, this time at home, in front of their own wireless-sets. Already in those early days, ratings showed that reports from sporting events were more popular among men than among women--a pattern that still exists today in most countries. In the late 1930s the fight between two heavy-weight boxers, Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, scored a 58% rating among American households--radio and boxers, hand in hand, fighting their way through the market.
At first, though, the media establishment proved very hostile to the radio pioneers. Newspaper publishers in various countries pushed through governmental measures in order to protect themselves. As a result, laws or policies limited news reporting on the radio. This also affected the sports section. In Great Britain, for example, the BBC radio channel (British Broadcasting Corporation, founded in 1922) forbade sports news before 7 o'clock in the evening until 1926. Even in 1928, during the Olympic Summer Games in Amsterdam, BBC sports reporters were only allowed to read news agency bulletins--and only after 6 o'clock in the evening. At the 1932 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, broadcasting time was limited to 15 minutes per day. This time, it was the film industry that pushed through the measure (Llines & Moreno, 1999, p. 22).
Live reporting on the radio increased the number of people that could follow a sports event at the same time. …