The end of the Radio PxP Broadcast?

michaels madden

Whenever I consider the consolidation of media outlets, particularly in regards to sports broadcasting, I would always tell myself this:

“There will always be jobs for PxP broadcasters, because sports aren’t going away and fans will always need access to their team’s broadcasts.” I apply this theory to television and radio broadcasts alike, knowing how different the two are in style and content.

But that all changed when I read this report from Darren Rovell, former WNUR Sports staffer and namesake of the famous “Darren Rovell Cultural Embodiment Award,” given to the WNUR Sports staffer who best exemplifies what WNUR Sports is all about.

Anyways, if you were too lazy to click the link, let me give you a quick summary. The New York Islanders last week canned their radio announcers, Chris King and Steve Mears. Instead, Islander fans will now be able to listen to a simulcast of Howie Rose and Bill Jaffe on both television and the radio. This is the third NHL team to simulcast their television announcers on the radio; the Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars have done so as well.

Rovell points out that the deal was made easier because Cablevision owns the rights to both the television and radio broadcasts. He asks whether more radio stations will follow suit by negotiating with stations that own the television rights to simulcast the tv broadcast on their airwaves. This will allow radio stations to save money by not paying the salaries of the broadcasters (they would probably help subsidize the tv broadcasters’ pay, which definitely would not equal what they pay their own talent) while continuing the keep the steady stream of advertising revenue they get from broadcasting the games.

So from a business standpoint, this all makes sense. Keep the revenue flowing while cutting back on expenses. As Rovell wrote, “The bottom line is the bottom line.” But from a fan’s perspective, and from a broadcast quality perspective, the move makes very little sense, and is a trend which, if it continues, will frustrate any team’s fans trying to follow their team without a tv in front of them.

There’s a reason that, until now, radio and television sports broadcasts were always done by two different teams. Without overstating the obvious, the ability for fans to see what is happening on the field creates a different role for the television broadcaster in contrast to the radio broadcaster. On television, the PxP broadcaster’s job is to deliver something to the fans that they would not get from watching the game on mute. In other words, they must bring analysis, anecdotes and stats that a fan at the stadium watching the game would not know. The TV PxP man’s job is NOT to describe every play for the viewer, because that would be redundant. They can already see what is happening.

baseball stadium

That’s the job of the radio PxP man. He needs to be the eyes of the listener. My favorite phrase use to describe the role of the radio PxP man is to “paint the word picture.” Radio broadcasts relay everything that happens on the field, on the sidelines and in the stands. Their job is to make the listener, through description, feel like they are actually at the game.

In my opinion, radio broadcasts are more suitable for television than vice versa. There are obvious logistical problems with the idea, but at least you are not compromising the ability for television viewers or radio listeners to understand what is happening on the field or court. By putting television broadcasts on the radio, you are subjecting the listener to descriptions of instant replays that they can’t see and jokes about a fan doing something in the stands or a coach’s antics that again, they can’t see. TV broadcasters are not going to change their style for their radio listeners, and tv color men will not stop talking over plays so that the PxP man can call the action. Basically, if tv simulcasts take over radio, it will eliminate a listening radio audience in sports.

It would be annoying for the television audience to have to listen to the PxP man describe everything they are watching, as well. It would probably drive a lot of people to mute the broadcast. There’s just no need in television for the announcer to call every pitch, describe in detail every shot or tell the viewer every yard line that the running back is crossing. But, again, it’s all about money; however, unlike Rovell, I believe that fans will refuse to listen to radio broadcasts if they can’t follow what is happening in the game. There will be so much complaining on message boards and blogs that radio stations will be forced back into providing their own broadcasts.

Now, if there is one sport that this idea COULD work, it would be hockey. With the constant action, television PxP men are already calling most of the action, so it wouldn’t take a huge adjustment for them to cater to a radio audience as well. Still, some of the problems mentioned above, such as the color man talking over plays, will plague the simulcast from the radio end. But in every other sport, putting a tv broadcast on the radio would be disastrous.

Packer

Can you imagine having to listen to John Madden diagram a play on your radio? What about Joe Morgan explaining a hitter’s swing while you drive on the highway? Wouldn’t this cause you to drive over the divider? This is not just an inconvenience, but a major safety hazard for drivers everywhere. Plus, this would put an end to one of my favorite sports traditions: picking out the fans who wear headphones to the game to listen to the radio broadcast while watching.

So here’s hoping this experiment fails, both from an aspiring broadcaster’s viewpoint, and from a fan’s perspective. I really, really, REALLY hope the next time I’m driving and turn on a college basketball game, I don’t hear Dick Vitale blaring through my car stereo. It might just cause me to drive into oncoming traffic.

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4 responses to “The end of the Radio PxP Broadcast?

  1. The Seattle Supersonics used to do simulcasts of their games, and I always really enjoyed them. The only thing the announcer would do wrong was he never talked about the free throws until after the fact. But that was only a minor thing. Basketball and football could always use more description from TV announcers because of the fast pace, or in football’s case, the sheer amount of players.

    Baseball is the one sport where a simulcast would be awful.

  2. Thanks for posting about this, I would like to read more about this topic.

  3. 2 quick points:

    1) I agree with you whole heartedly. This is a terrible trend, but as you said, it works best in hockey. And considering the Islanders are the third most popular team, in the fourth most popular sport in their area, and that radio is far behind TV in terms of audience, it makes sense that they are the one’s cut.

    2) If this trend continues, will TV announcers have to adjust? That is, will Islander TV announcers concentrate on doing different things because they know that there are radio listeners?

    • andrewgothelf

      Ideally, TV broadcasters would try to cater to both audiences, which, as I pointed out, is inherently challenging. I’m not exactly sure what the TV announcers are being told to do (that would be an interesting interview to conduct), but a lot of these broadcasters have egos. Asking them to change their style might be difficult, particularly as you move up the ladder of sports broadcasters.

      Some TV announcers will probably be able to do it better than others, especially because some started out as radio guys or still hold a couple of radio gigs. But trying to cater to a television audience that can see instant replays without driving your radio audience crazy is going to be very, very tough to do. And having some of the ego-maniacal color guys shut up while action is going on is going to be even tougher.

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