Seventy five years ago people would have to either attend a sporting event or read the newspaper to find out about the results of baseballand football games, tennis and boxing matches, horse and boat races or other sports activities.
1920 was the year that brought sporting events to the ears of the people through spark transmitters, code, and the converted telephone (the microphone of today). A year later, in 1921, the first popular priced home radio receiver was produced by Westinghouse for about $60.00, not including head sets or loud speakers. Thus, radio promoted the popularity of sports as the audience could be in their homes and share in the thrills of a game.
On August 5th, 1921, radio's first professional baseball game was sent over the air waves by the country's first radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA. Harold Arlin described the play-by-play contest of 7 walks and 21 hits from the field to the broadcasting station. For one hour and fifty-seven minutes the radio audience listened to Harold Arlin use his eyes, ears, brain, a wireless telegraph and a converted telephone to recount the defeat of the Philadelphia Pirates (8 to 5) by the National League Pittsburgh Corsairs.
Arlin was also the first man to broadcast a tennis match and give first play-by-play account of a football game (University of West Virginia and University of Pittsburgh). As a result of Arlin yelling so loudly on one touchdown, he knocked the station off the air.
Until the 1920's there were only written descriptions of the games. But with the beginning of radio, the sports broadcaster made the game come alive by painting pictures with words and also using props for sound effects. A hollow block of wood tapped with a stick or a pencil was used for the sound of a bat hitting the ball, the placement of a microphone near an open window where a group of extras were hired to cheer and shout upon signal, or the use of a canned sound track of cheering, with the broadcaster adjusting the volume for effect, reached the listeners who were miles away. It made the audience feel that they were at the event.
The sports broadcaster was and is like an artist or poet. On TV a sportscaster with his/her commentary provides the captions for the picture. But on radio the sportscaster has to make the listener see with their mind's eye. It becomes a canvas and it is a challenge to the sportscaster to paint the picture with words of the action that he is viewing. The listener puts his own brush strokes on this painting by bringing their experience and imagination into play, thus completing the picture.
The great broadcasters have always preferred radio. For many people, long after the details of a game are forgotten, the voices and phrases of the broadcaster are remembered; the Mel Allens, Red Barbers, Jack Brickhouses, Don Dunphys, Graham McNamees, Bill Sterns, Harry Carays, Russ Hodges, Vin Scullys, Dizzy Deans, Phil Rizzutos, and many others who brought the game alive. Who can forget the phrases of "Holy Cow!", "They're Off!", "Going, Going, Gone!", "Say Hey!", "How about that?", "How sweet it is!", "Oh my!", "Bye, bye baby", and of course Rus Hodges' cry of "The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Penant!" after Bobby Thomson's line drive into the lower deck of the left-field stands to clinch the series for the Giants in 1951?
With the advent of radio a new career was born, that of the sports broadcaster. Many young people would dream of becoming the next Red Barber, Mel Allen, Vince Scully, etc.