Essay: Ball Games on the Radio

Oct 1, 2016

For the majority of Major League Baseball teams (including the Brewers), the season comes to an end this weekend. Players will go home to their families, and sports fans will turn their full attention to the playoffs, or to football. Many people will miss watching the games on television, but Lake Effect essayist Jim Spangler is not among them. 

“Why don’t you come up stairs and watch the baseball game on TV?” my wife asked during a recent Milwaukee Brewers broadcast.

“No, I’ll stay down here and listen to the game on the radio. That way I can do two things at once,” I replied. And I was, too.

With the change of seasons from summer to fall, and with winter just around the corner, I was finally cleaning out some of the accumulated stuff in the basement. But multi-tasking wasn’t the only reason I prefer radio over the TV. For me radio and baseball just go together. The crack of the bat when our guys are up and that split second before Bob Uecker tells us if it’s fair or foul. Was it caught or did it drop for a hit? Then there is the roar of the crowd during away games in that instant before we know the extent of the damage.

Dad and I used to listen to baseball on the radio, a Philco that sat on a bamboo table on our screened-in front porch back in those non-air conditioned days. I don’t think Philco makes radios anymore. Maybe they don’t make anything anymore having gone the way of screened-in porches and bamboo tables. Many summer nights we’d be there on the front porch listening to Hank Dihlman call the Class A Clinton Iowa Pirates on station KR0S. That stands for Keep Right on Smiling. Some nights we would see heat lightning through the screens and hear the occasional crackle from the tubes in that old Philco. Dad would often eat a cucumber sandwich – I could never stand them.

But those days together were short lived. Life for young men changes rapidly and with my leaving for college, then the Marines, marriage, children and a budding career, Dad was left to listen to Hank Dihlman pretty much alone. One thing I hope won’t change is baseball on the radio. Maybe someday, years from now, another old man will reminisce about he and his dad listening to Bob Uecker call the Brewers games. But he, like me, will have to be content with remembering places, faces and times that can never be again.

One thing for sure – I’ll keep listening to baseball on the radio. Sometimes it will be Bob Uecker and sometimes I’ll imagine it’s Hank Dihlman. When it’s Hank we will be on the front porch. There will be a half-eaten cucumber sandwich on the bamboo table. Heat lightning will dance in the west to the crackle of radio tubes. Just Dad and me, listening to the ball game on the Philco.

Essayist Jim Spangler is a retired newspaperman who lives in Brookfield.