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Chris Gay: Listening to the Atlanta Braves is not an easy thing

Posted: April 16, 2017 - 1:37am

Driving home from covering Harlem baseball Friday night, I thought I'd catch the Atlanta Braves pre-game show on radio.

I love listening to baseball on radio. There's something special about hearing an announcer using words to paint the picture. I get to use my imagination to figure out what I believe is transpiring in real time.

Growing up in Blythe - the town without a stoplight located 18 miles outside of downtown Augusta - I didn't have the option of watching my favorite baseball team on TV for most of my youth. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, cable TV wasn't a choice for those of us living out in the country - cable television wasn't available in Blythe until 1986. We had four channels: ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. That was it. Kids these days come out of the womb watching The Disney Channel. You guys are so spoiled.

While I couldn't see the Braves play, I could listen to them. My dad had a big stereo unit in my parents' bedroom. I would turn the dial to either 580 AM (WGAC) or 92.1 FM (WPEH) and then rest on the floor listening to three broadcasting greats: Ernie Johnson, Skip Caray and "The Professor" Pete Van Wieren. While the Braves were bad for most of the 1980s, the team's radio crew, who felt like extended family members, were the real stars.

Fast forward to my brief stint matriculating at the University of Georgia in the fall of 1992. My friend, Jason James, and I watched Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series in my dorm room. When Francisco Cabrera hit the game-winning single to left field and Sid Bream eventually came around to score from second - just beating Barry Bonds' throw to home plate - Jason and I high-fived, jumped up and down, and went bonkers like every other Braves' fan in the universe. We ran up and down my dorm hall giving fives to a multitude of strangers. After the jubilation died down, I wondered one thing: How did it sound on radio?

Eventually, I heard Skip Caray's call. I still remember it: A lot of room in right-center. If he hits one there, we can dance in the streets. The 2-1. Swung. Line drive, left field!. One run is in. Here comes Bream. Here's the throw to the plate. He is...(dramatic pause)...SAFE! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!"

It's been 25 years and I still get chills listening to that. It might be not be the greatest call in the history of sports broadcasting, but it still means a lot to all of us long-time Atlanta fans. Sadly, Skip, Ernie and Pete have all died in recent years, and so has a part of my youth.

Today's announcers just aren't the same. Still, I enjoy listening to games on radio. So, imagine my surprise when I drove home Friday night and couldn't find the Atlanta Braves on any of our local stations. One of my friends in the radio business said an engineer had forgotten to flip a switch and that the game was on air by 8 p.m.

I understand. I make my fair share of mistakes. We all do. So I can forgive the guy who didn't have the Braves game on air on time, even if it was the team's first game in its new home stadium.

Still, I hate the Braves have been de-emphasized on Augusta radio. For decades, the team ran on WGAC. A few years ago, Beasley Broadcasting officials decided to switch the team to WRDW. Now, if I'm at my parents' home in Blythe, I can't listen to the Braves at all - unless I listen to WPEH, a 6,000-watt FM station in Louisville.

Why are the Braves no longer on the main AM station in the market? Good question. Maybe it's because of ratings. Maybe the station tired of the Braves, especially now during the rebuilding phase. Now at night, WGAC runs conservative talk show host Mark Levin. Maybe some folks like him, but I always turn him off. He's no Rush Limbaugh. And he's no good replacement for the Braves, either.

While I enjoy living in Augusta, I'm not a fan of the sports radio scene here. The Braves are now on a lesser station. The Atlanta Hawks are currently in the playoffs. You won't find them on radio around here. And the Atlanta Falcons, the team that just went to the Super Bowl? They're not on local radio, either.

The Falcons can be found on radio in big cities like Columbus, Macon, Savannah and Valdosta, and in smaller cities like Cornelia, Dublin, Jesup and, yes, Louisville (WPEH, again). You cannot find our state's NFL team on radio in Augusta. This is absurd. We live two hours away from three major pro sports teams and we can barely find one of them on radio.

Why do we need to worry about our favorite sports teams on radio when we can watch most all of the games on television? Sometimes, we're not always around a television. Besides, there are times I'd rather listen to games on radio.

I know how I can fix this problem, at least for listening to the Braves. I have the Major League Baseball app on my phone. For $19.95, I can listen to every broadcast, home or away. And I don't have to worry about whether I'm in Blythe or Harlem. Or whether anyone has flipped a switch.

I'm still a fan of local radio. I listen to our classic rock station at times. I listen to WGAC now and then. And when my children aren't making me listen to today's hits, I listen to the old school R&B and hip hop station on occasion.

But I also enjoy listening to music on my phone. I enjoy listening to Braves games, too. I might have to invest some money to find the Atlanta broadcasts whenever and wherever I want.

It's not Ernie, Pete or Skip anymore. I'm no longer lying on the floor listening to the games. Still, it's Atlanta Braves baseball. And that's good enough for me.

 

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