Dozens and dozens of W.U. telegrams were delivered to the studios of XBY in Kansas City. These terse, “ten words or less” messages were sent from the stadium where the Kansas City Blues were trying to win another game. The telegrapher set up his ‘sounder’ in a separate room. He turned the telegraph clicks into text. These bits of paper were hand carried into the studio as they were typed out. The operator at the game only sent the briefest of information. This soon appeared on these tiny, score -cards. Only Balls, Strikes, Bases, hits runs and errors and the names of changes on the bench and all substitutions.
The play-by-play announcer added EVERYTHING else. He gave the weather, the crowd reaction, the motions and postures of the umpire, batter, catcher and the men on bases. Also, the actions of the pitcher, reaching for the rosin bag, the windup, the look at the base runner the signals from the catcher…….all the details you would see if attending the game. (We didn’t add sound effects.) He told us with words how the crowd reacted. He also told us how excited to be and when, by his own reaction. (The play-by-play announcer was also an actor!) The diamond was his stage.
This system has some troubles. The flow of information and the game itself moves at its own irregular pace. There are unexpected pauses when the audience just sets there. The radio audience can’t wait. Immediately the listener suspects his receiver or the station. He may even shift his dial! (A program director’s nightmare!)
The play-by-play announcer must pace himself so as to even out these gaps of information. In practice, the telegrapher may have nothing for a while and then have several messages to type all at once. The panicked announcer will then be handed these several messages. He must not use them too quickly. ( I have seen when half an inning was waiting.) He dare not anticipate the game’s action! He must deliver a game that will match tomorrow’s sports page.
There is yet a phenomenon where the practiced game announcer sees more than the fan at the game! We have written before that fans at the game listen to Vin Scully’s play-by- ply as they watch the game.
It follows that the baseball fan would rather hear the game than to see it! That is what we were doing in 1935!
Here the announcer and engineer were at odds! My job was to compress the dynamic range (volume) to what the station equipment could handle, with out distortion His job was to yell when a hit or run happened.
I had to anticipate and compensate, by rapidly adjusting the mike fader. An effort to keep the volume indicator from ‘hitting the pin’
Then, after the yelling sound, to bring up the volume again so that the voice would be broadcast over the natural noises in the air. (Static)
Excitement is Contagious! Kansas City listeners felt the excitement too, and were entertained! They tuned to XBY by the thousands.
The game wasn’t over when I came off shift. I took the Woodland streetcar home. (A Boarding student’s rented room). When I got off at my stop and walked along the street, I could still hear the game! The summer doors and windows were open. As I walked along, house after house broadcast XBY. The play-by-play announcer yelled at me all the way home!
The year was 1935. This was my first mixing assignment as a studio engineer. I was a student at First National Television. We occupied the 37th to 39th floors of Kansas City’s tallest, the Power and Light building. Express elevators were non-stop to the 14th floor. We used the very new blow dryers in the men’s room. The hot air could be directed to face or hands. The drinking fountains were automatic the mail chutes dropped mail for forty floors! At each floor, one could see it briefly, streaking by.
A free standing, refrigeration unit cooled the studio. But, there was no audio console or mixer. Transcriptions were cued, by counting the turns, to the starting of the track.
Notice the man in the white coat, turning his head to watch the announcer through the glass, while adjusting the volume with his left hand (This was the operating position.)
Our television antenna was placed on the lighted pyramidal dome. (This translucent glass was filled with an electrically blended, colored light show. Nightly, these manmade rainbows could be seen citywide. When the show was over, this became a red aircraft beacon. We visited this place to make antenna adjustments.
The X in XBY indicates an experimental station. A double separation frequency was allotted so as to allow sidebands of 20,000 cycles. (KFI has 10,000) This was high fidelity audio. We used the very new Velocity mikes. Our goal was to broadcast from 15 cycles to 15,000 cycles. (Now cycles are called Hertz)
While XBY enjoyed listener popularity, our television XAL had only a handful of viewers. There were almost no receivers! A dozen or more were planted throughout the City. The average listener could only read about it!
XAL’s picture was a 1˝-inch square. The quality was below the worst of newsprint.
Thirteen years and a World War later, and thousands of miles away, I was on hand to help start KFI TV channel (9) for Earle C. Anthony. Television soon had its own viewers, including Dodger, Play-by–play Baseball, Fans.