Sweet sound of radio fading out
By Bob Halloran
Special to Page 2

There was a time in America when the screen door slammed, Mary's dress waved, and the radio played Roy Orbison singing for the lonely. And if it wasn't the haunting vocals of a guitarist in Harry Caray glasses, it was Harry himself.

"Holy Cow," those were the radio days!

Jack Buck
Jack Buck served as the eyes for generations of baseball fans in the Midwest.
It was a time when people could still walk down the streets of their neighborhood and not just be safe, but never miss a pitch. That's because most every front porch or backyard had the radio tuned to the game. It was both a short time ago ... and a lifetime ago ... when baseball was summertime music. It was easy listening. And there would be plenty of dancing when the home team's hero du jour hit one that was "long gone and hard to find."

But former Red Sox announcer Ned Martin's signature home run call has turned prophetic. The days of transistor radios blaring out the dulcet tones of gentlemen such as Vin Scully, Jack Buck, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell and Curt Gowdy are long gone and impossible to find.

I don't know if that time ever really existed, but I like to think it did. I hear about it from time to time. And it makes me think of radio as a black-and-white photograph. We see a world full of colors, so a picture devoid of color makes us see something else. Something more. Something beautiful, or dangerous, or unknown. Something legendary, perhaps.

There's a reason why "Raging Bull" and "Schindler's List" were shot in black and white. Color film had long ago been introduced as an option, but Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg chose to go with a certain texture. Maybe it was a way of adding darkness to a sad tale. Maybe it was just a way to reflect the time, a way to help the audience turn back the clock.

Radio still does that.

If we let it.

Radio is still out there, of course, as an alternative. But it's no longer the first option. Video killed the radio star. Or at least severely wounded him. And consequently, we've become a society of shut-ins. When the game's on, it's time to park your butt in a comfortable chair and see everything unfold with your very own eyes, plus the eyes of the announcers, and the eyes of about 16 different camera angles. A bald eagle using the Hubble telescope doesn't have better vision than the TV sports fan. You can see it all -- up to 27 times on replay.

Nothing is missing -- except for the poetry and the mystery.

And don't underestimate the mystery! What's sexier and more passionate -- the waves splashing on the shore kissing scene in "From Here To Eternity" where there's no nudity, or the Halle Berry "bare all" sex scene in "Monster's Ball"?

Cheryl Tiegs
Cheryl Tiegs was sexier because she left a little to the imagination.
OK -- bad example.

But I can remember the poster of Cheryl Tiegs when she was wearing a red bikini with her thumb tucked inside the string along her hip, and it was hot! No nudity. Just mystery. That's sports on the radio. It's imagination and fantasy. If it helps you to see my point, just think about Cheryl Tiegs in a red bikini the next time you're listening to a game on your car radio. Even if it doesn't help you to see my point, it's still a nice thought.

Radio was once the link to the ballpark. It was like the home version of "Password." You could take it with you anywhere -- lying on the beach, working in the garage, sitting in school.

That's right, even in school. I went to a parochial school where you had to wear a uniform sweater. So I'd put a small radio in my shirt pocket and run the wire to the earpiece up my sleeve. The earpiece would come out in my palm, and I'd simply put my elbow on the desk, and rest my head in my hand listening to the Mets and Cubs play an afternoon game in the spring. (Note: I'll be extremely upset if this information is used for evil. Therefore, I admonish one and all against using the "something up my sleeve" trick to listen to a Britney Spears CD. I disclose this information only for the use of sports fans.)

Now I go to the beach and I hear rap music, or I see people wearing headphones getting very odd, circular tans on their ears. A few folks are reading, and the rest are just trying to keep sand from getting into personal and uncomfortable places. But it's hard to find someone listening to a game.

(By the way, that's how I used to find a spot at the beach. Too cheap to buy a radio, or too worried about getting sand in the speakers and dials, I'd walk around until I found someone with the game on, and I'd stake a claim to the area downwind and about 10 feet away. I'm a little older now, so I basically just look for a spot close to the rest rooms -- and being downwind is no longer a preference.)

Harry Caray
Harry Caray was as much a part of the Cubs as the ivy at Wrigley Field.
Here's what's weird about me. At least, here's the one weird thing I'm willing to discuss publicly at this time. I think listening to a game on the radio is far more enjoyable and exciting than watching it on television. Yet, given the choice, I choose TV every time. It's like fruit and candy. I love strawberries, cherries, grapes, plums and kumquats just as much as Goobers or M&M's, but I almost always choose candy over fruit.

(Actually, I don't really like kumquats that much, but I think it's a funny word, so I threw it in. I could really go for some Goobers right now. Even though I've never been the same since the time I was eating Goobers, and a Raisinette got in there by mistake, and I thought I had eaten a bug. I've found some comfort in believing it was a Raisinette, so please don't try to convince me otherwise.)

Back to the radio thing. This recognition that sports on the radio is better than television really hit me May 25. I was driving from Connecticut to Massachusetts, and I happened upon the Celtics-Nets playoff game. It was already late in the third quarter, and the Celtics were down by 24 points. For some reason, I stayed with the game. And you know what happened. The Celtics entered the fourth quarter down by 21 points, and went on to win 94-90.

It was an amazing comeback and not being able to "see" it only intensified the drama. It feels like an eternity between the time you hear, "He shoots!" until the time you hear, "It's good!" And in that split second, it's Christmas morning. It's waiting for a response to a marriage proposal. It's a boy! It's every great anticipation you've ever experienced.

And it's so much better than watching it on television, because a "viewer" can tell almost as soon as the ball is released if it's going to fall in or not. "The ball goes out of bounds!" On TV, you can see who touched it last. On radio, you have to wait for the announcer to see the call, and then tell you what it was. Sure, we're only talking about fractions of seconds, but it's an excruciating delicious difference.

You might recognize the opening sentence in the first paragraph as the paraphrased words from Bruce Springseen's "Thunder Road." And while the Boss might not be what you'd call a poet, and he might not be among your favorite rock 'n' roll artists, even his most ardent (and ignorant) critics would agree with those of us who have followed him from the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. -- the man can tell an unforgettable story with his voice, which resonates not just for a single moment in a club or stadium, but for a lifetime.

Radio announcers do the same thing.

They are simultaneously the musicians and the conductors. Every day produces an original symphony. We wait for the crescendo. And sometimes it never comes. "That ball is deep. It's going, going ... foul ball!" Oh, you're killing me softly with your words!

Radio will always provide the excitement of the unknown. It brings pain and pleasure. Agony and ecstasy. Hmm, when I put it that way, it makes me think a radio announcer is basically just a verbal dominatrix, an all-powerful control freak who mixes a little agony in with the symphony. Hadn't thought of it that way. It's not really where I was going with all this, so I think I'll stop there.

Suddenly, I have a lot to think about. But first I think I'll check out the TV. Maybe there's a game on.

Bob Halloran is an anchorman for ESPNEWS.



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