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Oakland A’s are off terrestrial radio in the Bay Area; Team will stream its games through A’sCasts on TuneIn

Ken Korach returns as the team's lead audio voice. It's his 25th season, Vince Cotroneo begins his 15th; Expos weren't on radio in 2000

 

The Oakland A’s announced today that live play-by-play audio of its games will be available only on a streaming service and not on terrestrial radio in the San Francisco-Oakland area.

The online audio provider TuneIn will make A’s games available free on the team’s new home, A’sCast, athletics.com/ascast. It will not be part of a premium service. TuneIn says it is the leading live global streaming and on-demand audio service. The A’s will also offer a commercial-free broadcast once each home stand.

The commercial free feature is hardly a surprise. Until the team demonstrates that it’s reaching a critical mass, advertisers won’t elbow their way in as sponsors of niche gamecasts. It’s not like there’s a run on conventional advertising inventory.

The good news for A’s fans means that their games will be available nationwide without a subscription to entities like SiriusXM or mlb.com.

A’s President Dave Kaval told The Mercury News that fans respond well to “consuming content in a more tailored way.” He expects younger fans to embrace play-by-play. TuneIn ran non A’s game programming last year.

Ken Korach is back for his 25th season with the A’s

Ken Korach will return for his 25th year with the A’s and his 15th as the team’s lead radio announcer, partnering with Vince Cotroneo, who begins his 15th season.

The A’s will be the only team in Major League Baseball without a conventional radio home to service area fans. No NBA of NFL team is devoid of local radio.

Two National Hockey League teams, the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angles Kings make their games available by stream only. Both teams are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. New York and Los Angeles are tough markets to clear for second-tier teams unless they’re prepared to buy the commercial time and sell the inventory themselves. A time buy in America’s top two markets can be costly.

Last NBA season, the Washington Wizards started the campaign running its games exclusively by stream until it landed an over-the-air station. I checked. There were no protests at the gates of the White House.

The A’s development raises a broader issue. Play-by-play on radio for most sports including baseball is harder to sell to advertisers.

One reason is that the selling process itself has changed through the years in many markets. Teams sell the radio advertising as part of a more global partnership, one structured around a long menu of sponsorship offerings. Advertisers can buy television, cable, digital inventory, promotions on the field and off, signage in the ballpark, public address announcements, off-season caravans and more.

While radio is included in the menu of options, decision-makers veer away for a variety of reasons, lower ratings and an overall knee-jerk that radio has lost its luster. Remember too that decision-makers today are younger and weren’t necessarily raised listening to games on radio. So the passion-point of sentiment is fading.

Korach was asked whether the move surprised him. “I kind of saw it coming since, a) the A’s developed the relationship with Tunein last year and b) because of the evolution of radio, especially changes for terrestrial.”

The longtime A’s voice points out that while there will be no flagship station, the A’s will still feed a hefty network of 11 stations outside the Bay Area, including a strong signal in Sacramento, KHTK. He is concerned though about older listeners who’ve been listening since the team arrived from Kansas City in 1968. “it’s incumbent on all of us to do whatever we can to be helpful— the educational process—to make this transition as easy as possible,” Korach adds.

It was erroneously reported today that this is the first time a baseball team is without a local radio station.

Just ask the Marlins’ announcer, Dave Van Horne. He was the original voice of the Montreal Expos, having started with the franchise when it was born in 1969. In 2000, the club was suffering and couldn’t find an English radio station to carry its games. Montreal had only three AM English language radio stations.

Van Horne, then in his 32nd year as the team’s announcer, told Sports Illustrated “I never believed that we’d open the season, not being on the air.”  When the Expos made an early road trip to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, he was told not to plan on making the trip. “It was a bitter, bitter disappointment,” he told SI then.

Interestingly, the team was on a French language station that year, so I guess Dave could have listened to the game if he understood what the announcers were saying.

As it turned out, shortly thereafter the team started to carry its games on the internet. But audio on the internet in 2010 was vastly different from today. Think of what’s happened to podcasting. Think of SiriusXM, TuneIn and so many audio programming purveyors on-line. And in 2010, mobile audio was still an embryo versus today. It’s a different mobile audio world now.

I can listen to just about any game, anywhere, whether in my car, at my desk or in the boondocks.

The Oakland development is hardly a curse. There could be more of this down the road. With radio ad revenue declining and no cost to stream games, teams might not want to invest in terrestrial radio if the deal isn’t right.

Think ESPN3 or ESPN+ against ESPNU or ESPN2. Not necessarily a big deal. The winds of change are always blowing.

One other critical point. Cars today, unlike 2010, are equipped with media buttons, enabling streaming audio from individual Smartphones. In time, the transition should be seamless.

And another interesting historical note.  In 1978, while Charlie Finley still owned the A’s, the club couldn’t find a radio home. Current San Francisco Giants president Larry Baer, then the general manager of the student radio station at Cal, Berkeley offered Finley a home. The colorful owner took him up on it, running the first 16 games on commercial-free, KALX 90.7 FM.

 

 

 

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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