And another baseball tradition bites the dust.
The Pittsburgh Pirates recently announced that starting next season, their games no longer will be heard on radio station KDKA. That is disappointing news because KDKA and the Pirates have been synonymous for decades, going back to the 1950s.
Beginning in 2007, the flagship station of the Pirates’ network will be WPGB, an FM station with a much weaker signal. KDKA is a 50,000-watt station that, depending on atmospheric conditions, can be heard om much of the East Coast and even in Canada at night. In 1920, KDKA became the first commercially licensed radio station in the United States and a year later was the first to broadcast a major league baseball game. It is the only radio station east of the Mississippi River whose call letters start with a ‘K’.
The Pirates are the second team in as many years to move their games from a powerful AM station to FM. Last season, the St. Louis Cardinals switched from mighty KMOX to lesser known KTRS.
One of the reasons the Cardinals developed a huge fan base in the Midwest in the 1940s and 1950s was because of the reach of KMOX.
Before the Giants and Dodgers migrated to California, the Cardinals were the nation’s western-most team. They developed a large fan following in states like Tennessee and Arkansas and Mississippi and Nebraska because of KMOX’s powerful signal.
Part of the joy of being a baseball fan is being able to tune in games from different parts of the country. As a kid growing up in Connecticut, I remember turning the dial on my radio and on clear nights picking up games from such far-away places as Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia and occasionallly Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Somehow, it seemed to make the country smaller. I learned the call letters and the team’s favorite announcers: Jack Buck in St. Louis, Bob Prince in Pittsburgh, Herb Score on WWWE in Cleveland, Ernie Harwell on WJR in Detroit, Chuck Thompson on WBAL in Baltimore and Karry Kalas (who is still doing Phillies games) on WCAU in Philadelphia.
The Cardinals and Pirates switched radio stations to attract a different (read: younger) audience, but there is a bigger issue here. Since KDKA is losing the broadcasting rights, Pirates fans outside of Pittsburgh who don’t have a local affiliate are left with one of two options to hear the team’s games. They either must sign up for Major League Baseball’s on-line service or XM radio. But Major League Baseball has a deal with XM radio, so there is something that doesn’t seem right about that arrangement.
There probably isn’t anything that can be done to prevent teams from making any broadcasting deal they want. Baseball, after all, is a business and the primary objective is to make money. Still, you wish teams would be more mindful of their tradition.
St. Louis Cardinals game not on KMOX? Pittsburgh Pirates games not on KDKA? That’s just wrong.