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Here’s another baseball broadcasting legend — the “Ol’ Redhead,” Walter Lanier “Red” Barber, broadcasting a Reds game at Cincinnati’s old Crosley Field sometime during the 1930s.
Barber, in the center of the photo wearing his characteristic hat, had never even seen a major league baseball game before being hired by radio manufacturing tycoon Powel Crosley Jr. in 1934!
After four seasons in River City, Barber became more famous as the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1939 until 1953, and as the announcer for the New York Yankees from 1954 to 1966.
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More than a decade later, Barber came out of retirement to do commentaries on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” until his death in 1992.
By telegraph connection from the White House, President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw the switch that illuminated 632 lamps — 1,500-watts each! — to illuminate the field and 25,000 fans who witnessed the historic event. (The Reds won, 2-1.)
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Four years later — exactly 70 years ago this month — Barber was the play-by-play man on the first televised professional baseball game.
His old team, the Cincinnati Reds, came to Brooklyn to play the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in a doubleheader on Aug. 26, 1939. The game was televised over NBC’s experimental New York TV station, W2XBS. (The Reds took the first game, and the Flatbush gang took the second.)
According to a 2001 article in The Sporting News, about 500 homes were able to tune in, along with visitors to the Television Building at the New York World’s Fair in nearby Flushing Meadows.
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The broadcasts were deemed a success, even though “it was not possible to pick out the ball,” the Sporting News said.
Two cameras were used, but Barber (the only announcer) didn’t have a monitor to see what they were showing. He had to guess.
The first-ever televised baseball game was several months earlier, when W2XBS (which later became WNBC-TV) aired a May 17, 1939, college contest between Princeton and Columbia. (The photo above shows part of that game.)
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Incidentally, Stern was known for telling dramatic sports stories with surprise twist endings. Each show included several “strange but true” stories, announced by Stern as “Reel 1” or “Reel 2.”
Stern’s style supposedly inspired a Chicago newscaster named Paul Aurandt to do the same thing. You know that newscaster better by his first and middle names … the late Paul Harvey, who died in February.
Now, you truly do know the “Rest of the Story”! And you can listen to some old tapes of the “Colgate Sports Newsreel,” thanks to Internet Archive.
The first episode is from Nov. 9, 1945, and Stern’s special guest is orchestra leader Tommy Dorsey:
Above: Pioneering sportscaster Graham McNamee interviews hall-of-fame Babe Ruth sometime during the slugger’s tenure with the Yankees. (NBC photo)
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Mr. Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix has been getting nostalgic again for the days when Pittsburgh had a professional baseball team.
But since this isn’t Pittsburgh Baseball Online, he decided he’d showcase some prominent baseball broadcasters of the past instead.
These photos, by the way, are borrowed from a long-out-of-print book called The Trouble Is Not in Your Set, an entertaining (if disjointed) collection of anecdotes by the late Mary Ann Kelly, a writer and advertising executive from Cincinnati’s WLW radio and TV.