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Must-click link: Relive a baseball broadcast from 1939

Apr 3, 2013, 11:33 AM EDT

Old radio

Great stuff from The Atlantic: a link to a portion of a baseball broadcast from a 1939 Senators-Indians game. The actual audio can be found here, but the Atlantic story has a detailed description. The key takeaway: nostalgia is for suckers:

Heard today, the voices in this broadcast originate on the other side of an unbridgeable distance of time and culture. But they speak a language that present-day baseball fans can nevertheless recognize. I’ve encountered no other cultural artifact that makes the game’s history seem more jarringly immediate or real. And I’ve found few others that so clearly rebut the nostalgia and idealization that dominates American society’s engagement with the game’s past.

Walter Johnson is one of the broadcasters, and he’s apparently not too good at his job. But it’s Walter Freakin’ Johnson, so yeah.

The game features the one and only major league appearance forĀ 33-year-old rookie Dick Bass. It also features a 22 year-old Lou Boudreau. Because the broadcast doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight, we get to hear the broadcasters talk about Bass as if he has at least some future ahead of him when this was his one and only moment in the sun. And where a Hall of Famer like Boudreau is not talked about in reverent tones.

So rare a glimpse at history while it’s happening, blissfully unaware that it is, in fact, history.

  1. Old Gator - Apr 3, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    Veeger heard this too, and now it’s coming for us. Great, just great.

    • zzalapski - Apr 3, 2013 at 11:56 AM

      That’s okay. Humpback whales are still around, so they can be our translators.

      • Old Gator - Apr 3, 2013 at 12:59 PM

        Last I heard, humpback whales were carbon based units. I hope they’ll be given a chance to plead our case for us. But even if they are, the Japanese are royally screwed.

      • Gamera the Brave - Apr 3, 2013 at 4:18 PM

        Wait, wait, wait – I think we have mixed cheesy Star Trek movie plots up here – if memory serves, Gator is referencing Star Trek – the Motion Picture (blecch), and ski is referencing Star Trek 4.

        God, I hate that I know that…

      • historiophiliac - Apr 3, 2013 at 4:56 PM

        Now I regret not making that Ricardo Montalban joke that came to mind.

      • Gamera the Brave - Apr 3, 2013 at 5:57 PM

        ‘philiac,
        No, PLEASE – don’t bring in a THIRD ST movie (even though it’s the best one…)!

  2. UgglasForearms - Apr 3, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    “…we get to hear the broadcasters talk about Bass as if he has at least some future ahead of him…”
    Umm, where else would his future be?

  3. unclemosesgreen - Apr 3, 2013 at 12:20 PM

    Ten minutes of that recording made the opposite point for me. Even though Walter Johnson would never do play-by-play again because he wasn’t much good at it, the broadcast was still cool to listen to. He mentioned that Lou Boudreau was a good looking ballplayer up from the minors, so … good scouting report?

    Also – at the end of the broadcast day — Louis Prima Orchestra.

    • bankboy2012 - Apr 3, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      Yeah, Walter had a voice made for newspapers. I agree with you on the Boudreau comment though, he had barely played 50 major league games at that point, I think the comment Johnson made was more than fair.

  4. UgglasForearms - Apr 3, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    Hundreds of old game broadcasts here: Old Time Radio Catalog

  5. simon94022 - Apr 3, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    The broadcast schedule for the day indicates the game started at 4 pm and the broadcast ended at … 5:17!

    I know time of game has steadily lengthened over the decades, but how was that possible? Was it shortened by rain?

    • historiophiliac - Apr 3, 2013 at 1:26 PM

      The box scores for my grandpas games usually indicated that they took 1:30 or less to play. That was normal then.

      They didn’t have all the warm ups & subs back then. There wasn’t a lot of horsing around and no lengthy commercial breaks or field activities generally (though that sometimes depended on location).

    • jamessmyth621 - Apr 3, 2013 at 1:55 PM

      They joined the game in progress in the fifth inning. The time of the game was a crisp 2:00 on the nose.

  6. historiophiliac - Apr 3, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    History is awesome. We like to think we are terribly more advanced than those before us. On somethings, we are quite different, but you’d be surprised how much is the same.

  7. normcash - Apr 3, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    This broadcast is part of the entire broadcast day of WJSV, Washington’s CBS affiliate. It was
    recorded “for posterity” according to a remark made by the morning “drive time” DJ, a guy
    named Arthur Godfrey…The game was joined in progress. Walter Johnson only did this season
    as a Senators announcer. This may have been the “golden age” of radio, but listening to most of
    these programs shows how much dreck filled the airwaves back then. Among other things, we hear
    a 15-minute quiz show with John Charles Daly, then a WJSV staff announcer, handing out loaves
    of bread to housewives who correctly answer general information questions. Daly, of course, went on
    to join the CBS news department in New York where he made the first network announcement of the
    Pearl Harbor attack and, years later, became famous as the host of “What’s My Line?”….

    • historiophiliac - Apr 3, 2013 at 2:22 PM

      I kinda think there’s lots of dreck on today too (especially if you add daytime TV to that). When people complain about folks today having short attention spans, I think of the 15 minute programming that used to be so normal. Some of the talking heads on radio today drone on for hours, and I think — like a football game — only 15 minutes of that is substance. The rest is probably filler.

      • normcash - Apr 3, 2013 at 3:48 PM

        No doubt…

  8. kegrun - Apr 3, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    Listening to a Dodgers game is the exact same thing.

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