Radio, Radio is a Sound Salvation

This was originally posted over at Every Day Ichiro, which chronicles my new turn as a Mariners fan, and as an AL fan in general.

SPORTS TALK RADIO AND A CITY’S IDENTITY

Part of being a fan is listening to local sports radio. I am even right now listening to 710 AM KIRO Seattle.

I love sports talk radio (it being a subset of talk radio, which I also love, in the way that you love something that remained a part of your life as you moved from child to adult). In Chicago and in New England, a better part of those regions’ broad character came through in the personae of the sports talk radio hosts. The pride and the humor from 670AM in Chicago’s Boers and Bernstein–still the funniest radio I’ve ever heard–and the acerbic self-flagellation of the pre-World Series Boston guys whoever they were. I link these indelibly with my experience living in these places. Deep truths emerge from hours, days and weeks of listening.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, I am still collecting this metaphysical data. I don’t yet have a bead on the psyche of this place. What I think I know so far is that Mariners fans have been through years of hard times and inept management under Bill Bavasi. Now, with Jack Z and his flurry of handyman-style moves and his several big moves, they are optimistic bunch.

What I also think I know is that these fans are analytical. On 710 this morning, I already heard one caller who discussed the manner in which the team is meant to win. They aren’t meant to hit, he said, they’re meant to have great pitching and great defense. In other words, the problem isn’t that the Ms aren’t scoring enough runs, it’s that they’re aren’t preventing enough runs. That’s heavy, and it shows a lot of a) patience and b) smarts on the part of the fans. There’s a method, here, and Ms fans are willing to give over the fate of their fandom to that method.

In the meantime, worry is setting in on the radio. Brock and Salk are wondering if it’s too soon, or if it’s too late, or if it’s up or it’s down. Don Wakamatsu has let loose a couple of sound clips, saying things like “feeding off of one another” and “guys are pressing right now.” These are the misgivings of a tortured fan base that is afraid of its own optimism. “Let’s not everybody freak out yet,” the blogs are saying. The more calls for calm, the more unnerved the hoi polloi becomes, I think.

BILL JAMES DISEASE

The new modern problem with sports talk radio is what I might call Bill James disease, in which one must second guess every assertion by the mainstream media members who are speaking for the most part off the top of their heads. To wit: Salk said something like “Ichiro will see a lot of pitches because of all of the foul balls.” Now, this might be true, I don’t know. I tried to check on Fangraphs without much success. But the point is, I don’t really believe it when Mike Salk says it. Not because I don’t trust the guy, but because I don’t think he’s committed his life to having command of these facts and figures. Hell, I wouldn’t trust myself if I said that, no way.

Once I start to pay attention to these passing assertions, they appear everywhere in sports talk radio. Each remark–blinks of an eye in the hours and hours of radio talk time–could warrant ten spreadsheets and a panel of experts to suss it out. Do I need to know if it’s true or not? Why can’t I treat the radio like it’s a conversation with a friend, meaning imbued with trust, forgiveness and merriment? Because I’ve got Bill James Disease, that’s why.

4 Responses to “Radio, Radio is a Sound Salvation”


  • I have Bill James disease a little, but it really does depend on who’s saying it. I’d trust Peter Gammons a little more than say, Ralph Kiner. Sports radio….again, depends who’s saying it. Costas, ok, maybe I believe him…he has a great memory. Screamy McInsult guy who seems to populate a lot of radio shows….not so much.

  • Context is a big part of it, absolutely Paul. If Dave Cameron is saying it on the Fangraphs podcast, then yes Bill James Disease is mitigated extremely.

  • I think the reason for it is that with the explosion of sports blogs, there are so many better, more informed choices. When you are a multi-sports columnist or radio host you just can’t know as much about each individual sport. With the internet and blogs, you have obsessive fans pour over ever stat – past, present and future – and are just way more knowledgeable and can provide way more actual insight than analysis than the usual ESPN tropes and cliches. You as an author and a reader of a blog yourself have exposed yourself to a much higher quality of sports analysis that the usual stuff just does not cut the mustard anymore. If that gives me Bill James disease, I won’t be looking for a cure.

    Also, Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie has spoken on this subject much more eloquently than I. http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/blog/ball_dont_lie/post/Kindly-ignore-the-Colin-Cowherds?urn=nba,230837

  • You make great points, Alex, and I think that article makes some good points as well. Here’s what I think the “solution” is, though I don’t really believe in solutions, per se: radio as an art form.

    There’s a lot lot lot to be said for the art of speech. Spoken language is engaging, calming, enjoyable, community-building, etc. It’s great. I love talk radio. We’ve established that these guys can’t keep up in terms of information and specifics. Therefore, they shouldn’t try. They should move away from the proclamations and focus more on stories, on perception, on community, on fun. Boers and Bernstein are hilarious, ie. they are a comedy show about sports, and they tap into the community’s sentiments about sports.

    That in my mind is the future of the generalist, as it is for sports magazines.

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