My friend Jim loves to listen to sports on the radio more than anyone I know. He's also a huge Yankees fan, although I don't think he's budged from his declaration early in the season that this Yankees team was utterly unlovable. He spends most of his work day sitting a foot from a TV that's always on. And if the Yanks are playing, he's tuning in.
Yet at home, he says he almost never watches them on television. Instead he tunes in to the radio, where he's treated to the wonder that is John Sterling, better known to non-Yankee fans as the overbearing voice they hear on highlights announcing, "Ball game over! Yankees win. Theeeeee Yankees win!" Jim listens to the Yankees, an occasional basketball game and, if they're ever on, the New Jersey Devils.
He says he listens to the radio because it gives him the chance to multitask. He can't just sit in front of the TV and do nothing but watch A-Rod hit homers and Joe Girardi make pitching changes. So he'll cook and surf the web while listening to a ballgame. He's like a relic from the 1940s.
Unlike Jim, I'm no longer enamored with listening to sports on the radio. Actually, to be more accurate, I no longer enjoy listening to the radio when I have a rooting interest. If I'm in the car and it's an early summer game between two random teams, it's hard to beat baseball on the radio. And it certainly beats talk radio.
But if I do care about the outcome? That's different.
It makes me anxious listening to a big game. Being unable to watch what's happening means I have to rely on someone else to tell me what's taking place, and I don't necessarily like the idea that they know something before I do. You're at their mercy, prisoner to their eyes and competency. "First down catch at the 20! No, he dropped it." What? What happened?
If I'm watching on television and my favorite team loses, I'll almost always hit the mute button, the better to drown out the talking hairpieces who are droning on about what went wrong on the court. It's the adult equivalent of a child putting his hands over his ears and closing his eyes, as if everything is all right as long as he can't see or hear anything.
The radio robs me of that opportunity. It forces you to listen to every strike, every missed shot, every dropped pass. If it's the opposing team's announcing crew, the misery is compounded by their over-the-top glee, annoying catchphrases and a level of homerism so obscene it makes Baghdad Bob look impartial. These guys are the heirs to Johnny Most, the famed Celtics broadcaster famous for, among other things, saying that Kurt Rambis looked "like something that had crawled out of a sewer."
But as a kid I tuned in often, usually searching for out-of-the-way radio stations that broadcast Lakers games. For some reason, in little Janesville in southern Minnesota, we could pick up stations from Denver, San Antonio and Dallas. So every time the Lakers played those three teams, I hustled upstairs to do battle with the radio. The stations often went in and out, meaning I had to situate the radio...just...so. Move it an inch and I lost the signal. Slapping the radio on the right side brought the signal back, jostling the antennae sometimes lost it. Occasionally I'd have to change bedrooms, as, improbably, the frequency often varied if I moved 10 feet, even if it was for a radio station a thousand miles away. Laker games were on TV maybe once a week, so the radio provided more exposure than even television. Back then, hearing about their victories really was as satisfying as watching them.
It was also during those years that my number one dream in life was to be a play-by-play announcer. Forget being a fireman, or a cop or a wide receiver in the NFL. I wanted to call games every week. It seemed like such a glamorous life. In 1986, when I was 11, I even "broadcast" the first half of a Monday Night game, setting up a desk in the basement. I had stats, charts, magazine stories, all used for research on the teams. I was a kid in desperate need of a hobby.
I set up my tape recorder and called the first two quarters, later playing it for my parents. They praised my skills. That tape is lost to history and I never listened to it after that night, but I'm going to assume mom and dad's critique had more to do with our relation than my broadcasting excellence.
The radio dream didn't last long and was probably for the best. I'd be too self-conscious of my voice and even as I'd say my catchphrases, I'd be thinking, "This sounds ridiculous."
I admire those who can paint pictures with their spoken words, even the screamers who seem to hold most of the jobs in college and pro sports. I can appreciate how skilled they are, even if I usually have no desire to listen to them.