Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio

By Miller, John E. | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio


Miller, John E., Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio. By James R. Walker. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 305, photographs, appendices, notes, index. Cloth, $28.95.)

As an historian who entered the profession because I was a baseball fan first, listening to Harry Caray announce St. Louis Cardinals games on radio station KMOX during the mid-1950s, reading this book was both a pleasure and a revelation. (The connection between baseball and history, by the way, is that any contemplation of baseball teams and players quickly leads one to historical comparisons with past teams and players.) In this sprightly, well-written account, James R. Walker, emeritus professor of communication at Saint Xavier University, analyzes the interrelationships among baseball owners, the radio industry, and advertisers. Most previous studies have focused, not without reason, on the colorful (and sometimes staid) announcers of the game, ranging from Caray, Hal Totten, and Fred Hoey to Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, and Vin Scully. Walker does not neglect them, but the books major contribution lies in its focus on ongoing struggles to induce franchise owners to allow their teams' games to be placed on the airwaves, the internal debates that occurred within baseball circles over the best strategies to maximize revenues, the expansion of the teams' radio networks carrying the games, the impact of new technologies and how they factored into the evolution of broadcasting, and som e of the financial implications for baseball teams and advertisers as they interacted with each other.

The narrative is divided into three periods: formative years from 1920 to 1936, when most of the East Coast teams (especially the three located in New York) continued to hold out against broadcasting home games; the age of acceptance from 1937 to i960, as all teams recognized the benefits of radio and began to expand their networks of stations for carrying broadcasts of their games; and the television era from 1961 to the present, the period that receives the least attention but which provides interesting material on the new digital world of broadcasting.

Readers of this journal will take special note of the crucial role played by the Chicago Cubs in spearheading the midwestern teams that pioneered in promoting home-game broadcasts during the twenties and thirties. WMAQ and WGN were "the most precocious in covering big league ball" (p. 48), having begun broadcasting all Cubs homes games in 1925 and 1927 respectively. …

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