Orioles Off Free TV After 64 Years
Tuesday’s news that the Orioles have officially scrapped airing their games on broadcast or over-the-air television is a sign of the times, but hardly a surprise.
The decision of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, the Orioles-owned regional sports channel, to forgo airing games on WJZ is in keeping with what’s been happening all over baseball and, for that matter, most sports, for years now.
Most sports leagues and their individual teams have aired the bulk of their regular season and postseason packages on cable television for decades.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Truth be told, today’s viewers hardly recognize the difference between broadcast and cable channels these days. Indeed, the men’s NCAA tournament selection show aired on TBS, the first time since 1982 that the program didn’t air on CBS. And this coming weekend’s men’s Final Four will show on TBS, not CBS, the second time that the marquee NCAA championship event will air on cable, not broadcast.
For their part, the Orioles, for example, split their televised games between area broadcast outlets and Home Team Sports (the forerunner of what is now NBC Sports Washington) from 1984 until MASN was launched in 2007.
And the Orioles have an additional stake in keeping all the games on MASN. Since they own the channel, it behooves them to maximize revenue to as great a degree as possible.
And having even the limited number of games on WJZ meant the team wasn’t getting every possible dollar since they either had to pay the station for the airtime or, more likely, split the ad revenue with the station.
Bringing all the games to MASN in both Baltimore and Washington, as the channel has moved Nationals games off WUSA, also has the effect of placing pressure on any recalcitrant cable or satellite systems that don’t carry MASN.
The likely gamble from Orioles management is that angry fans will flood those systems with demands to carry the games that they were used to seeing with televisions with antennas.
But while the club’s decision is nice and legal and logical, it’s also a bit heartless.
Three generations of Baltimore baseball fans grew up watching the cheesy animation that led into Orioles telecasts on Channel 13 back in the day with that catchy theme song that invited you to “relax and be a Bird Watcher.”
Orioles television booths were graced in the early days by the best announcers in the business with Hall of Fame honorees Ernie Harwell, Herb Carneal and Bob Murphy on Channels 2, 11 and 13 after the club relocated from St. Louis.
When the club grew into excellence in the 1960s and 1970s, it was Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell, who split television and radio duties, who called games. Later, Thompson and Brooks Robinson manned the booth when the telecasts moved to Channel 2.
The pairing of Thompson, a Ford Frick Award winner and Robinson were present on June 17, 1984 for one of the great moments in Orioles television history.
The station and Equitable Bank had sponsored a “Home Run Derby” contest where a jackpot would be paid to a lucky contestant if the Orioles hit a home run during a designated inning.
The prize rose to $1 million, however, if a Bird cracked a grand slam during the “Home Run Derby” inning, and Thompson and Robinson had been anxious all that season to give away the big prize.
It finally happened on that day in the eighth inning of a contest against the Yankees. Gary Roenicke provided the slam and the booth pair, and especially Robinson, went crazy as a woman named Ann Sommers landed the big prize.
Equitable Bank doesn’t exist anymore, and now, neither do Orioles television telecasts.
The annual Sports Emmy Awards nominations are out, and, seeing as last year wasn’t an Olympic year, NBC does not lead the pack in terms of number of nominees.
That distinction goes to ESPN, which received 54 nominations across its platforms, while CBS and Fox got 31 nominations each. NBC grabbed 28 nominations, while Turner rounded out the top five with 19.
Among the notable categories, CBS’ coverage of the Army-Navy game and its coverage of the Masters were nominated for best Live Sports Special, along with NBC’s coverage of the British Open, Fox’s telecast of the World Series and ESPN’s production of the Alabama-Georgia college football championship game.
NBC’s telecasts of Sunday and Thursday NFL games were nominated for best Live Sports Series, as well as Fox’s airings of the NFL and NASCAR and TNT’s NBA coverage.
In individual categories, Rece Davis and Bob Ley of ESPN received nominations for best Studio Host, as well as Dan Patrick of NBC, Ernie Johnson of TNT and Fox’s Curt Menefee.
Mike Breen of ABC/ESPN, Fox’s Joe Buck, NBC’s Mike “Doc” Emrick and CBS’s Jim Nantz and Brad Nessler were nominated for best Play-by-Play Announcer, while Nantz’s new NFL partner, Tony Romo was nominated for best game analyst. Romo is joined in the category by John Smoltz of Fox/MLB Network, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and Jon Gruden (who has gone back to coaching with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders) and CBS’ Gary Danielson, who shares the college football booth with Nessler.
The awards will be presented May 8.
Milton Kent is a veteran of Baltimore and Maryland journalism.
Kent began a long association with the Baltimore Sun in 1985, serving as the Evening Sun’s Howard County reporter for 2 ½ years before joining the paper’s features department as an entertainment writer in 1988.
In the following year, Kent began covering men’s and women’s college basketball for the Evening Sun, concentrating on the Maryland men’s and women’s teams. He continued covering college basketball when the writing staffs of the Evening and Morning Suns merged in 1991.
From there, he covered the Orioles for three seasons before becoming one of the nation’s first fulltime sports media critics for parts of six years. In 2000, he began covering the NBA until 2004, when he launched a high school sports column, which he wrote until he left the Sun in 2008.
Kent joined the staff of AOL Fanhouse, an online sports operation in 2009, covering sports media and women’s basketball, until operations ceased in 2011. He then joined the faculty at Morgan State University in the fall of 2011, where he has taught until the present day.
In addition to writing for various platforms, including Sports Illustrated.com and TV Guide, Kent has hosted “Sports At Large,” a weekly commentary program airing on WYPR (88.1 FM) since 2002.