Baseball broadcasting traced from its dots-and-dashes origins

THE Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., recently announced its newest exhibit - a display that will trace ticker service in baseball from Western Union in 1909 to Sports Ticker today. Ticker service brings baseball news and scores to scoreboards, press boxes, and broadcasting booths in all the parks. It began in rudimentary fashion, but has been refined and improved over the years as a key development in man's continued quest for instant communication. We hardly realize today that it was only 144 years ago that the first breakthrough in instant communication, the dots and dashes of the Samuel Morse code, was demonstrated to Congress. This was marvelous - a man pressing a key in a small box that sent the Morse code to another man listening to a similar box, who translated those dots and dashes into words. One problem, however, was that the Morse code had to be sent on a connecting electric wire.

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and in 1876 the human voice began traveling over that same type wire. But man wanted more than the limitations of connecting wires. In Italy, a boy named Guglielmo Marconi discovered ``wireless'' - he began sending the dots and dashes through the air, without any limitations by connecting wires.

The British Navy was immediately interested. Here was communication that went over space, through the night, through fog, and brought its ships into contact with each other as well as with land.

The first public usage of wireless was in a sports event. In 1899, an Irish newspaper, the Dublin Daily Express, had Marconi take his equipment to sea to cover firsthand an important yacht race, the Kingstown Regatta. The results as well as the story of the race were published in the paper long before the yachts returned to port. That did it, wireless.

In New York, The Herald brought Marconi two months later to cover the America's Cup Race in which the Columbia defeated Sir Thomas Lipton's Shamrock.

The new century of sound began in 1900. In 1906, for the first time, sound was added to wireless. Radio, as we know it, burst upon us in 1920 when KDKA in Pittsburgh broadcast the Warren G. Harding-James M. Cox presidential returns, and remained on the air with a regular schedule. KDKA on Aug. 5, 1921, had Harold Arlin broadcast the first baseball game.

Radio play-by-play, for the full season, began in Chicago in 1924. Hal Totten was the pioneer announcer. Steadily, more and more baseball teams broadcast, although from 1934 through 1938, five years, the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers banned all broadcasts of their games. Larry MacPhail at Brooklyn broke the silence in 1939, and brought me from Cincinnati to do the announcing.

In 1909, Western Union bought exclusive telegraph rights from baseball for all the big league parks. There was little money in radio in its beginning days, so when baseball games were done they were either ``live'' from the park, or ``re-created'' in the studios from Western Union ``paragraph one'' reports, done on Morse code.

Western Union developed crack operators at each ballpark who ``sent'' the play-by-play, pitch-by-pitch. A receiving operator in the studio typed in English what the dots and dashes meant.

I never knew an announcer who knew a dot from a dash. I certainly didn't. All radio stations were welcome to buy this service from Western Union. WHO, in Des Moines, Iowa, carried the home games of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, all re-created from Western Union, and its announcer at one time was Dutch Reagan. He later became President Reagan.

Because of the expense of travel and telephone line charges, all major league out-of-town games were done from Western Union reports. Larry MacPhail broke this when he sent Mel Allen on the road with the Yankees in 1946 in order that all Yankee games were to be on the air ``live.'' I was sent on the road in mid-1948 to broadcast the Dodgers ``live.''

This Sports Ticker exhibit at Cooperstown will be much more than just sports. It will be a part of our history, and will ask us what have we really done with our newfound, modern forms of communication - especially television, which did its first big league game Aug. 26, 1939, at Ebbets Field, and now is the single most dominant force in sports.

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