Before the era of 24-hour TV channels and hundreds of programming choices, the radio was the gateway to the world. Listeners tuned in for the latest news and the new Beatles record.
And they listened to baseball.
Despite the ever-changing modes of communication in modern society, there are plenty of Americans who still listen to baseball. A variety of voices at every level of the game continue to paint a visual picture of the action for the listeners who are away from the ballpark.
From the major league level to the smaller minor league towns, those voices keep the game alive for the generations that remember the transistor radio, as well as the young players who have just picked up a ball and glove for the first time.
While they toil in different venues, baseball broadcasters share something special with their audience: a love of the game that was born in their youth and has stood the test of time.
Radio broadcasts are especially valuable in minor league venues. The absence of television coverage in most of these smaller towns means the radio is still the primary source of information for baseball fans.
"The broadcasters play an invaluable role in virtually every facet of the business," said Pat O'Conner, the president and chief executive officer of Minor League Baseball. "From the fans' perspective, it's still the best way to keep pace with what's going on. It's the descriptive touch, the ability to paint the picture for those who can't be there. The radio broadcaster gives the game continuity. It's not out of sight, out of mind. Listeners are still going to be there."
Beginning The Dream
Eli Pearlstein spends his days and nights in the same stadium where Hall of Famer Willie Mays played his first minor league game. The 2010 graduate of USC is in his third year as the radio play-by-play voice of the Hagerstown Suns, which began operating in 1981 and has served as the Washington Nationals' Single-A affiliate for the past eight seasons.
Unlike the spacious area in center field where Mays once ran, Pearlstein operates in a small, square press box that is attached to the top of the grandstand and is accessible only by climbing a circular metal staircase. But he has no complaints about his vantage point from the 85-year-old stadium.
"Not many people get to say that this is their office window," Pearlstein said. "I get to enjoy the fresh air for six hours a day and watch some talented baseball players go at it every night. You can't beat that."
Hagerstown isn't Pearlstein's first broadcasting stop. At USC, he was a play-by-play and color announcer for Trojan baseball, football and basketball games on the school's student radio station.
After graduation, he landed a video production internship with the Aberdeen IronBirds, the Baltimore Orioles' short-season Single-A affiliate. His first professional play-by-play opportunity came with the Alexandria (Va.) Aces, a collegiate summer baseball club. He also voiced the Cal Ripken World Series. Pearlstein eventually worked his way to the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays, the Nationals' short-season Single-A club, before coming to Hagerstown as the director of broadcasting/media relations in April 2013.
Pearlstein has also worked at diversifying his resume. For the past five years, he has been the voice of men's and women's basketball broadcasts at the University of the District of Columbia.
"The more sports you can put on your resume makes you that much more appealing to potential employers," said Pearlstein, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and now lives in Bethesda, Md. "If your goal is to eventually get to ESPN, the type of play-by-play broadcasters that they're looking for are people who can call not only the mainstream sports, but also volleyball, lacrosse and soccer."
Despite his experience with other sports, Pearlstein is still enamored with baseball.
"It definitely has a different rhythm than the other sports," said Pearlstein, whose broadcasts are streamed through the Internet on the team's website, HagerstownSuns.com.
"You have to fill a lot of time with stats and stories, but at a moment's notice, you need to stop what you're talking about and describe the action on the field. Basketball and hockey are action-packed all the time, and you only have the chance to go in-depth during a timeout or when a player is at the free-throw line."
A Different View
Geoff Arnold started his professional baseball career as an umpire in the Gulf Coast League. Eventually, he decided describing the action from the press box was more appealing than calling balls and strikes.
"I thought that by the time I got a shot at Triple-A [umpiring], I might be 31 or 32 years old," Arnold said.
So, Arnold moved from the field to the press box. The lifelong Philadelphia sports fan hasn't regretted his decision.
"I had a good knowledge of baseball," Arnold said. "It's the sport that I enjoyed the most and grew up with, so it made the most sense to do it. Baseball is an everyday thing, and you get to travel with the team and get to know the guys and hear their stories."
Now in his second season as the play-by-play voice of the Single-A Frederick Keys, Arnold is already at his third minor league broadcasting stop. Following his 2010 graduation from Dickinson College, the native of Berwyn, Pa., began his professional announcing career with the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers' Double-A affiliate.
He moved back east to work for the Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals), then stayed in the Carolina League with the Oriole-affiliated Keys.
"You have to have an easygoing, conversational style," said Arnold, who is the football and basketball play-by-play voice for McDaniel College and also broadcasts Frederick County high school games of the week.
"Listenability is the number one thing for baseball, because people are welcoming you into their homes. You're trying to be like another family member to the people who are listening to the broadcast. And you need to have enough material to inform people and teach them something new."
On a typical day, Arnold must not only prepare for his broadcast on flagship station 1450 AM, The Source, he also has to make time for his duties as the Keys' public relations manager. Despite many 12-plus hour days, it's still a labor of love for him.
"The biggest thing is that if guys get so wrapped up in it, they're not going to sound as good; they're not going to have as much fun and they' re not going to enjoy the people around them," Arnold said. "If you're relaxed and having a good time, you might come up with references that you might never have thought of before. Those moments are the kinds of things that big league decision-makers notice."
Arnold realizes there are many factors that can help him reach his goal of becoming a big league broadcaster.
"There's no one blueprint that is going to get you there," Arnold said. "It's a combination of a number of different things. Some of it is how good you sound on the air. But they also want to know what other broadcasting you have done. That's the next step that I'm trying to take, to do more television work and figure out some way to get more exposure. Once you prove that you can be on a bigger stage and not flounder, you can move forward."
Adam Pohl comes from a musical family. He grew up playing the trumpet, and his dad was a clarinetist in the U.S. Army Band.
But Pohl found a different calling.
"I loved music, but my real passion was sports," Pohl said. "At my dad's concerts on the National Mall, I'd have my baseball glove and would be playing catch while the concert was going on."
Now in his second season as the play-by-play broadcaster for the Bowie Baysox, Pohl has been rising through the ranks. The University of North Carolina graduate began his career with internships at the Coastal Plains League and the UNC Tar Heel Sports Network.
Pohl did play-by-play broadcasting with minor league franchises in Burlington, N.C., and Salem, Va., before joining the Orioles' organization in 2007 as the voice of the Keys. In January 2014, Pohl made the jump to the Double-A level when he accepted a similar position at Bowie.
Pohl was raised in Arlington, Va., and became an Orioles fan at an early age. The opportunity to work for the Orioles' organization was inviting.
"It's been really cool to be able to do this in the organization that I grew up rooting for," said Pohl, who also serves as the Baysox corporate sponsorships account manager. "Not many people get to do that. If you told me when I was a junior at UNC just playing my trumpet that I was going to have this position, I would not have believed it. I'm very fortunate."
During his lengthy career in the broadcasting booth, Pohl has recognized the importance of preparing for a one-man broadcast.
"In baseball, you need to tell the story," Pohl said. "In a 3-2 game, I'm setting up every pitch. If it's a 10-2 game, I'm telling stories. The story can be about [a player's] background or how they're doing now. But no matter what you do [on the air], I realized quickly that I needed to have something to say about everybody."
While Pohl spends his nights announcing Baysox games for flagship station WNAV-AM in the press box at Prince George's Stadium, he still keeps an eye on his eventual goal. Pohl has witnessed the rise of several current major league ballplayers through the Orioles' minor league system. Now, he wants to tread the same path as catcher Matt Wieters, third baseman Manny Machado and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
"My ultimate dream is to be the Orioles' radio announcer," said Pohl, who is also the play-by-play voice for Mount St. Mary's basketball games. "That would be incredible, but it's easier said than done. I do almost 180 live broadcasts a year, so getting more experience is not the key. It's getting the right opportunity."
Happy In Harrisburg
Terry Byrom joined the Double-A Harrisburg Senators in 2005, the same year the major league franchise formerly known as the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals. During his 11 seasons of broadcasting at the Senators' Metro Bank Park, Byrom has had the pleasure of announcing the early career achievements of several current members of the Washington Nationals, including first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, shortstop Ian Desmond, outfielder Bryce Harper, pitcher Stephen Strasburg and infielder Anthony Rendon.
"Every single one of those guys came through here," Byrom said. "It's fun to go to a game [in D.C.] and say hello to those guys."
But he doesn't have a burning desire to follow them to the major leagues. Byrom is happy with broadcasting the Senators' games on flagship station WTKT-AM in Pennsylvania's capital city.
"If somebody called and said that they wanted me to be a big-league broadcaster, I certainly wouldn't say no," said the 52-year old Byrom, who lives in Camp Hill, Pa. "I just know realistically that, at my age, it's going to be pretty hard for a team to hire me instead of hiring somebody who's 30 years old.
"I love doing this, and the baseball is really good, because there are more players who are moving toward their peak. But I'm past thinking that going to the big leagues would change my whole life."
The native of Sacramento, Calif., became a San Francisco Giants fan while listening to the legendary voices of Russ Hodges, Lon Simmons and Al Michaels on local broadcasts.
"Players came and went, and free agency came in," Byrom said. "But the guys that called the game were the eyes. I had the transistor radio on when my folks thought I had gone to bed. Once I figured out I wasn't going to be a player at this level, I wanted to be a radio broadcaster. It just took me a long time to get here."
Byrom was 39 years old when he got his first job in baseball. He had served in the military in Operation Desert Storm and did administrative work for a Sacramento law firm for seven years. He also helped run a medical organization, then did some sports broadcasting at the high school and small college levels in Indiana before being offered his first minor league job with the Ogden (Utah) Raptors, which was then the Milwaukee Brewers' Rookie-level affiliate. He moved on to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards, the San Diego Padres' Single-A team before coming to the Senators.
"What I enjoy most is being at the ballpark," Byrom said. "I'll joke with friends in California and Pennsylvania that while they're sitting in traffic after getting off of work, I'm watching batting practice. That's a pretty big deal for me."
Achieving The Dream
Gary Thorne has crafted a diverse broadcasting career that has taken him from hockey arenas across North America to a modern-day baseball stadium. During his 50 years in the broadcasting business, the Baltimore Orioles' play-by-play voice on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network has been mostly identified with MLB and the NHL. But Thorne has also broadcast three Olympic Games and the Little League World Series. On July 26, he will serve as the host of baseball's Hall of Fame induction day in Cooperstown, N.Y., for the seventh time.
Thorne's interest in pursuing a broadcasting career that has taken him all around the world actually began when he was a 6-year-old growing up in Maine.
"I'd go over to my grandmother's house, and we'd listen to games on the radio together," said Thorne, the TV voice of the Orioles since 2007.
Thorne began his broadcasting career while he was still in high school, working at a small station in Bangor, Maine. He graduated from the University of Maine in 1970 with a degree in business, and three years later, earned a law degree from his alma mater. Thorne received a doctorate in law from Georgetown in 1976, served as an assistant district attorney in Bangor and was a member of the Army JAG Corps.
But a law career couldn't compete with sports. Thorne was the voice for University of Maine hockey games for nine seasons. In 1984, he became the play-by-play announcer and director of broadcasting for the Maine Guides, the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A affiliate. He quickly moved to the major leagues as the New York Mets' radio and television announcer.
"I grew up with baseball," said Thorne, who spent 13 years as the voice of the Mets. "I played it and coached it, and I've always loved the game."
While Thorne has been primarily a television broadcaster, he is partial to the radio.
"On TV, you're restricted to the picture," Thorne said. "It is limiting, where radio is expansive. Radio gives you the chance to paint the picture and use a lot more artistry. I think that's a treat."
Thorne, who has earned five Emmy Awards, feels his minor league baseball experience helped prepare him for the major league positions that have followed.
"Doing minor league baseball has such value, because you have to do everything," Thorne said. "At this [major league] level, you understand the range of jobs that are being done behind you. At the minor league level, you're it."
The minor league broadcast booth is where Thorne started to build his memories.
"I've been lucky," said Thorne, who has also called play-by-play for the Chicago White Sox and the NHL's New Jersey Devils. "Game 7 [with the champion Mets] of the 1986 World Series was a special memory. I've also had the opportunity to do Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Seeing those kids play in the Little League World Series is always a treat. And the no-fan day (White Sox-Orioles game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards April 29) was a unique day that was just surreal. How can you give due weight to all that was going on at that time?"