CBS wants to get out of the radio business and is looking to get rid of the 117 stations it owns across the country. What this means for radio is totally unclear but in the world of sports, radio helped build the foundation that created massive interest in baseball and college football. Radio was a significant factor in the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day celebration.
Baseball and radio have been together since August 5, 1921 when Pittsburgh’s KDKA presented a Philadelphia Phillies-Pittsburgh Pirates contest. But baseball couldn’t figure out what to do with the new and growing medium which needed programming and team owners were reluctant to put games on radio because it might hurt home attendance. In cities with two teams such as Boston, neither the Braves nor the Red Sox broadcast road games for fear of hurting home attendance and in New York none of the three teams had radio deals. But radio station owners began buying teams and using the broadcasts as commercials for the product, sports. In 1934, Powel Crosley purchased the Cincinnati Reds. This a lot of made sense, Crosley owned WLW radio in Cincinnati and figured out radio was selling Reds games. He also was a radio manufacturer. He needed not only programming on WLW but also he needed it to sell radios. Later in 1934, G. A. Richards, a Detroit radio station owner bought the Portsmouth, Ohio team and moved it to Detroit. His new Lions franchise was struggling with low attendance. Richards scheduled a Thanksgiving game to coincide with the city’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade but more importantly he got David Sarnoff and NBC to broadcast the game nationally. Richards’ had a box office smash that day and radio would become a major player in the NFL. Radio doesn’t have the allure it once did yet radio remains important to the sports industry, it is mobile and brings games to the people who have an interest in sports. Even if the 1930s baseball owners hated it.
Republished with permission Evan Weiner for the Politics of Sports Business.