My late (ex) father in law, Sylvester, was a Burger Beer man.Ã‚Â He had a draft beer tap in his basement always filled with Burger, and it always seemed to Ã¢â‚¬Å“blowÃ¢â‚¬Â on Sunday before dinner. Ã‚Â And as I was trying to earn his respect as the 24 year old husband of his only daughter, I volunteered to change the keg every time. Ã‚Â I never knew Ã¢â‚¬â„¢til years later that Syl could tell when the tap was about to be empty on a Tuesday and he would drink canned Burger all that week, waiting for my Sunday dinner arrival. I would be sent down with two glasses to fill, discover the tap was blown and jump right in to make that change. Ã‚Â And that was changing the empty Burger keg for the next full one, because Syl was a Burger man.
Waite Hoyt was a Burger man as well. Not as a drinker – Waite was a recovering alcoholic after his years carousing with Babe Ruth when they both were Yankee players.Ã‚Â But he was loyal to the brand, introducing the games on radio each summer night – Ã¢â‚¬Å“Burger Beer brings you baseball.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã‚Â In 1965, Burger Beer was ousted as a Reds radio broadcast sponsor and replaced by Wiedemann.Ã‚Â The folks at Wiedemann wanted Waite to stay on as the play-by-play man but he decided to retire instead as he did not think he would be credible as the spokesperson for any beer other than Burger.Ã‚Â And Waite Hoyt walked away, only occasionally returning to the microphone (he was the color commentator on TV during the 1972 season, when I first became aware of him).Ã‚Â He died in 1984 as he was preparing for a trip to Cooperstown (he was enshrined there in Ã¢â‚¬â„¢69).Ã‚Â And even though he was born and raised in Brooklyn, he is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, his adopted home town.
Much has been written and said about Waite Hoyt over the years both as a player (1) and a broadcaster (2) (3) .Ã‚Â But the Reds have a rich and fascinating history of broadcasts and broadcasters, including Harry Hartman, who may (or may not) have been the father of sports catch phrases. Ã‚Â This is the first in a series of posts on Reds radio announcers.
The first baseball game on the radio happened in Pittsburgh.Ã‚Â The Pirates beat the Phillies 8 to 5 at Forbes Field as Harold Arlin described the action to listeners of AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first professional radio station KDKA.Ã‚Â (Arlin not only called the play by play – as an engineer for Westinghouse, the stationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s owner, he helped build the converted telephone he used as a microphone for the broadcast.) (4) The Gates Radio Corporation in Cincinnati thought that baseball games might be a good way to get people to buy their new-fangled radios.Ã‚Â In 1924 they hired former minor leaguer Gene Mittendorf to call Reds play by play on WMH (now WKRC).Ã‚Â It only lasted one year.
Baseball was not an immediate hit on the radio.Ã‚Â WLW took a brief stab at broadcasting the Reds in 1929 for one season. According to Arlin that first KDKA broadcast was a Ã¢â‚¬Å“one offÃ¢â‚¬Â as many executives of Westinghouse thought baseball was Ã¢â‚¬Å“too boringÃ¢â‚¬Â for radio. (4)
But radio was an exciting new industry and people were anxious to find something to listen to on those big wooden boxes in their living rooms.Ã‚Â The Parkview Place/Garfield Place Hotel used WFBE, a 250 watt AM radio station to broadcast all sorts of events from their hotel ballroom, including boxing matches. The trouble was sometimes the announcers didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t show up at broadcast time (I hear people in media might sometimes choose an adult beverage, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not talking.)
Harry Hartman was the son of a Jewish tailor and destined to take over the family business.Ã‚Â But HarryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true love was sports and he could talk for hours on any sports topic, especially his beloved baseball.Ã‚Â One night Harry snuck out of the tailor shop and headed to the Parkview Place to watch a boxing match.Ã‚Â That same night, the announcers scheduled to broadcast the match didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t show up.Ã‚Â The WFBE radio producer spotted Harry whose ramblings on sports were famous at the hotel bar.Ã‚Â It didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take much coaxing to get Harry up to the microphone.
It was that night Harry dropped his needle and thread and became CincinnatiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s premier radio sports announcer.Ã‚Â He was a celebrity and when WFBE decided to start broadcasting Reds games in 1931 Harry was thrilled.Ã‚Â At the time, three radio stations carried Reds games with broadcasters like Sidney Ten-Eyck, much better known as the host of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“DoodlesnockersÃ¢â‚¬Â comedy radio show on WLW and C.O. Ã¢â‚¬Å“OatmealÃ¢â‚¬Â Brown, the patriarch of amateur baseball in Battle Creek Michigan (the Battle Creek Bombers of the Northwoods League play now in CO Brown Stadium.)
But Harry was the radio star Reds announcer.Ã‚Â WFBE became one of the first stations to broadcast the entire 154 games in a baseball season.Ã‚Â Harry was named the best sports broadcaster in America by Sporting News.Ã‚Â His rapid patter delivery and unique style won fans to him and the Reds.Ã‚Â One night, he was so excited as a home run was headed toward the bleachers in Crosley Field he yelled out Ã¢â‚¬Å“Going.. Going.. Gone!!Ã¢â‚¬Â giving birth to the sports catch phrase.Ã‚Â It was so popular that a local bandleader turned it into a song – Ã¢â‚¬Å“Bam! Going GoneÃ¢â‚¬Â. (5) The Reds, the station and Harry were all on top of the worldÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ and then the war broke out.
As the Nazis were moving thru Europe WFBE (now WCPO) management decided that competing against all the other stations broadcasting Reds games was not worth it, so they moved Harry into the sales department where he stayed until his death in 1965.Ã‚Â Very few if any recordings of Harry remain and his contribution to Reds radio history is largely forgotten.Ã‚Â Or it was until 2004.Ã‚Â Tony Hoty took the stage as Harry at Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati in the play Ã¢â‚¬Å“Going GoneÃ¢â‚¬Â written by HarryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s granddaughter Karen Hartman. And while some of the actors got good reviews, Jackie Demaline in the Cincinnati Enquirer was not a fan Ã¢â‚¬Å“Well, they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t all be home runsÃ¢â‚¬Â (6)
Finding announcers in the early years of baseball radio was not easy.Ã‚Â The formula the Reds used to success was finding teenage baseball phenoms who grew up to be great major leaguers just as they were retiring from the field.Ã‚Â So Ã¢â‚¬Å“Schoolboy WonderÃ¢â‚¬Â Waite Hoyt took over the mic in 1942 after retiring from the Yankees.Ã‚Â Then Joe Nuxhall who played major league baseball at age 15 and retired in 1966 stepped into the booth when Waite Hoyt refused to sell any other beer.Ã‚Â But in 1971 the Reds took a different road when they asked a failing NBA announcer who’s former job was finding bachelorettes to appear on Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Dating GameÃ¢â‚¬Â to take over the radio microphone. His story including the chance to announce the biggest hockey game in history next time.
- Ã¢â‚¬Å“Waite Hoyt, A Biography of the Yankee Schoolboy WonderÃ¢â‚¬Â doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t look like it is still in print
- You can actually hear Waite tell his stories on Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Best of Waite Hoyt in the RainÃ¢â‚¬Â
- Ã¢â‚¬Å“WaiteÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s WorldÃ¢â‚¬Â – his video biography that you can watch online atÃ‚Â or order a DVD copy.
- Ronald A. Smith, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Play-by-Play: Radio, Television, and Big-Time College SportÃ¢â‚¬Â (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press), 2001.
- From the collection at the Voice of America Museum in West Chester Ohio and Media Heritage, inc.