Saturday, August 16, 2014

10 Ways Baseball Broadcasting Has Changed In 20 Years

I started my professional baseball broadcasting career in 1994.  It is amazing to think back and recall how different baseball broadcasting is today - specifically in the minor leagues - compared to two decades ago.  I mean, honestly, I don't feel that old!

A baseball broadcaster's daily life has changed in many ways over the last twenty years.
Here are 10 important and surprising changes that jump to mind:

1.  Riding minor league buses has never been fun, and never will be.  Knees get sore and calves cramp just as they always did.  However, 20 years ago, most players would pass time on long bus rides by playing cards or, if lucky, listening to a portable CD player.  Occasionally you'd hit the jackpot and get to watch a good movie, if the bus had an overhead VCR and someone rented a VHS tape.  (For those under 30, this is a VCR.Now I do feel old.)

I recall many long hours on the bus, reading the Book of Questionswith former broadcast partner, Bill Rogan.We'd ask each other questions, such as "Would you rather stick your hand into a tub of snakes or a bee hive?"  These conversations often got heated, and we passed the hours arguing and contemplating life's deep complexities.

Today, most everyone on the bus carries a portable computer, capable of instantaneous movies, videos, music, maps, conversation and communication.  In other words, smart phones have phased out the Book of Questions.  They contain any question, or answer, you could ever have.

2.  In 1994 we did our pre and post-game interviews on cassette tapes, and carefully rewind and re-cue those tapes for play during the broadcast.  If you were slick, you could make those interviews sound as if they were live.

Today, most interviews are conducted with digital equipment, making recording and playback simple and efficient.

3.  During the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, we had fans constantly coming up to our radio booth, telling us when either of the two hit another home run.  Fans would hear it on another radio broadcast and relay the information to us.

Today, you can watch, hear and read every moment of any sporting event in real time.  The broadcaster truly has all the information at his fingertips in real time.

4.  I had a few ways to supplement my income during the baseball season.  After games, I would find a phone in the press box or in a vacant luxury suite, where I would call in the night's box score to a local newspaper.  The paper would pay me $15 per game to call in and spend 15 minutes giving them all the details of the game, so they could print the recap the next morning.

Today, media can get much of this information digitally or online in real time.  Struggling broadcasters have to find other ways to make a little extra dough.

5.  In years gone by, media members would dine on free meals in press boxes before games,  From a simple hot dog to more gourmet offerings, broadcasters always love a free meal.

Today, many professional ballclubs charge per person for the pregame meal.  The one bright spot is that the offerings are usually more appetizing than a simple dog and soda.

6.  In the past, players' families would often listen in to games on radio networks or, on occasion, on newly-formed internet broadcasting stations.  If a broadcaster was critical of a player, that player's family would hear it and let the player know the next time they talked by phone.  By the time what you said got back to the player, his version was usually much worse than what you actually had said.  Nothing like the good, old-fashioned telephone game to get a player, or many, annoyed with you.

Today, everything is done in real time.  Fans, family and even players can listen live and get the true version of what you say, as you say it.  Pitchers in the bullpen will often listen to game broadcasts, and used to wave their hats to me when I said something they liked.  If I chose to rip on them, they'd show their disgust by kicking up a storm of dirt.  As long as you are fair, you'd always rather have an athlete hear your comments first hand.

7.  Minor league baseball is a traveling freak show circus.  With a game every night, from town to town, the life can be quite crazy.  Players, and the media, have been known to partake in their share of late-night shenanigans.

Today.....ok so not everything has changed.

8.  Broadcasters in the 90's had to proactively market themselves to prospective employers through bulky, mailed packages, containing demo cassette tapes, physical resumes, press clippings and other materials. 

Today, much of the career networking and resume sharing can be done electronically.  You can never replace the human touch that helps you stand out, however today's technology offers immense time-saving advantages.

9.  Radio play by play guys were always headed on a long trip.  At least that was the way it looked, as they lugged huge, overloaded suitcases suitcases containing their radio broadcasting equipment.  It was a workout dragging that 100 pound tub from the press box to the team bus, along with personal bags and belongings.

Today, equipment is much more compact and lightweight.  I'd say that makes today's broadcasters soft compared to the tough guys around a couple decades ago.

10.  Years ago, some broadcasters would chronicle their games and travels into diaries, journals and books.

Today, they simple log on and bang out a post on a super cool, hugely-followed sports broadcasting blog, such as this one!  We hope you sign up to receive our posts, thanks!