Play by Play From Studios is Nothing New

In the last couple of years there has been some amount of criticizing decisions by both ESPN and FOXSports 1 for having announcers handle play by play while watching a feed of the game being played miles away.  The announcers did their work in a studio.

While it is obviously much more preferable to have the announcers at the site the decision was made to cut costs.  Teams, broadcasters and networks have been trying to do that for years, but up until last season the cuts were in the actual production of some so-called low level games.  Fewer cameras or lesser trained production people or sharing cameras with either the local or even in-house feeds were used.  Many of the games on ESPN3, for example are bare bones productions with lightly experienced staff and announcers not paid a real network level wage.  Those games are slated for computer or smart phone viewing primarily and typically are seen by few.

Why complain about it?  Those are also the games that have no alternative if the teams or schools involved want to be accessible at all.  If the game is announced from Bristol but played in California the alternative was to have no telecast at all.

A story publicized recently indicated the “no announcers on the road” concept may be coming to a team in the NHL.  The story indicated the very wealthy Toronto Maple Leafs are leaning toward having all radio broadcasting done from a studio…using the TV feed (which would have announcers on site) as the radio announcer’s source of action.

The reason stated in one story was that the club will no longer allow announcers and production staff –even if it is part of the Maple Leaf family–as the radio crew is– on the charter flights with players and coaches.  Having the radio crew fly commercial would not only increase costs by an estimated $200-thousand per season, but also put some broadcasts in jeopardy of not making the air.  Travel in the winter during hockey season is not always easy.  When going with the team on a charter no games would be missed on radio.  If the team couldn’t get there the game would not be played.  If the announcers couldn’t get there, too bad.

So, the Toronto situation is a bit different, but still all goes back to money.  Doesn’t everything?

In baseball the “re-creation” on radio is a part of the sport’s lore.  When baseball first appeared on radio only home games were aired.  Some clubs started airing road games but not sending their announcer.  He would work in a studio and re-created the game after being handed information called in or from a wire service ticker.  Most of those re-creations were produced to sound like real games….with crowd noise…cheering…and bat hitting ball sounds.  After the Giants left New York for San Francisco announcer Les Keiter did the whole season for New York fans by re-creations on WINS.  Is doing radio from a studio watching a TV screen much different?

In fact, by using a television screen it is much easier and better.  Many Spanish language broadcast crews even today don’t travel to road games in Major League Baseball.  They watch the television screen of the local telecast and call the action.  Sometimes it is possible to get a clean feed on a special line from the ballpark.  That will include only the sounds from the park and not include announcers.  The Spanish broadcasters add their voices to the natural background sound.  The game is thus in the same time window as the telecast.  It is a few seconds behind what the English language radio audience hears since they are on the scene.  The television transmission may travel over 45,000 miles to a satellite and back down before it is actually on the air.

While all the information can be relayed to fans who want to listen to a re-creation, a Spanish language radio broadcast off a TV screen or an English language telecast with video and announcers miles away it is still not as good as having both pictures and audio or audio only (in the case of radio) coming from the actual site of the game.

But it saves money.  It makes more games available that otherwise might not be on radio or television at all.

Next to come may be the day when all stadiums are rigged with a couple sets of remote cameras at many locations that can be transmitted back to a control room in a single location.  The actual cameramen will be located with remote controls in that production facility.  So will be the producer and director, the switcher, graphics co-ordinator, tape operator and audio man.  The announcers?  They will be in a booth next door.  No travel will be needed to cover a game anywhere.  If it is the future blame it on the cost of doing business.  But the idea is nothing new.  Red Barber was calling games for the Dodgers in Brooklyn when the team was playing in St. Louis 75 years ago.

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About gregclucas

Author, "Baseball-Its More Than a Game" available through Amazon.com, BN.com or by order. Veteran sportscaster with extensive play by play experience in MLB, NBA and college sports.
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