Baseball Broadcast with Imagination

By Terrence Cole

Ronald Reagan began his acting career as a radio sportscaster.  He provided play-by-play for baseball games, primarily those of the Chicago Cubs, that he knew only from the telegraph wire reports.  Baseball has long been popular in Alaska.  Early Alaska radio stations were sure to broadcast games as news of plays clattered their way over the telegraph wires.  Terrence Cole, Professor of History at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, recounted this aspect of Fairbanks’ history in a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner story in October 1978.
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Today, . . . baseball followers in Fairbanks can watch a live telecast of the World Series from Yankee Stadium seeing everything as it happens, and with instant replays, sometimes see it happen over and over again, from every angle in the ballpark.

Before television when the games were only on radio, the broadcasts were more selective.  The only way a radio broadcaster could bring the feel of the ballpark to his listeners was by his description of the game, and so the announcers were more than just entertainers.  Describing everything they saw for thousands of listeners, a man like Mel Allen became the Voice of the Yankees, and Red Barber, the Voice of the Dodgers.

Baseball on the radio in Fairbanks was not quite the same as in New York.  After KFAR was founded in 1939, the manager of the station, Bud Foster, recreated the ball games play by play in KFAR studios, because they could not be broadcast directly to Fairbanks.   For many years both baseball and football games on the radio in Fairbanks were truly “born again.”

Wilson “Bud” Foster, the Voice of the World Series in the early 1940s, had been living in Juneau in 1935, when KINY, the second radio station in Alaska, went on the air.  The Tigers were playing the Cubs in the Series that year, and one night at a tavern Foster was saying he could have done a better job of recreating that day’s game than the announcer had done.  A friend of his arranged for Bud to meet the station manager, who said, “How do you do Mr. Foster, I understand you have done sports broadcasts many times?”

Even though he had no experience and had to hedge on that question, Bud helped announce for the rest of the Series and started his life as a broadcaster.  When KFAR went on the air in 1939 Bud moved to Fairbanks and later became the station manager, but sportscasts were what he liked to do best.

With a studio bat and ball device, a record with crowd noises, and a typed telegraph report with a bare bones account of the game, Foster worked and sweated to make it seem like he was broadcasting direct from the ballpark.  He couldn’t just say the runner was thrown out stealing second base, he had to say, “The pitcher checks the runner, and here’s the pitch–with the runner going . . . swing and a miss and he’s . . . out at second base, with a great throw by the catcher.”  Of course it could have been a lousy throw and the runner had simply fallen down, but that did not matter because the end result was the same.

A woman wrote in the early 1940s, “if you go into the Nordale Hotel lobby when Bud’s sportscasts are on, you will find the air thick with smoke, and a crowd lounging in the chromium-plated chairs and listening to the game as if their lives depended on the outcome.  When the World Series is on, business almost folds up everywhere in Fairbanks, and as you walk down the street Bud’s voice is heard barking over the radios of nearly all the stores in town.