Gary Geiger Counter takes us on a personal tour through the history of the Red Sox on the radio.
Radio. The theater of the mind. Amplitude modulation waves coming from WTIC 1080 in Hartford were my main exposure to the Red Sox for a good portion of my life. I’ve said before that I started following the team in 1975, which was good and bad. Good, in that it turned me into a fan. But bad in the sense that I expected the team to be post-season good year in and year out. I’d watch some games on TV with my dad and siblings, but not that many. I’m looking at a yearbook from 1976 and back then Channel 38 only broadcast road games and weekend home games. We were out in the hinterlands. I think that Channel 22 out of Springfield was the closest affiliate we could receive and they didn’t carry all the games that WSBK did. So radio it was for most of the games. My dad would turn the radio in my parents’ bedroom to a volume loud enough so that I could fall asleep to Ned Martin and Jim Woods calling the game. He did the same during the winter, but I never got into the Whalers. I would become a Bruins fan once I married one and I still like “Brass Bonanza,” but the Whale were never a big part of my life.
More games would be televised, over the years but a great many were on NESN. My parents never got cable. We lived on a hill and could pick up stations from Hartford, Springfield, and New Haven. Occasionally, we could even pick up channel 19. That was a repeater station for Albany’s channel 10 based out of North Adams, Mass.
This may be Nutmeg pride getting the better of me, but I think a sizable portion of Red Sox Nation got their Bosox fix via WTIC. This would be especially true of those of us on the frontier in Connecticut and the diasporas beyond. WTIC is a clear-channel station in the sense that they don’t share that frequency with any station closer than Dallas.
Eventually, WEEI became the flagship station of the Red Sox radio network. They started buying repeater stations in Rhode Island and western Mass and we were able to listen to games in FM and Joe Castiglione’s vice sounded less tinny.
Nowadays when the Red Sox go into a rain delay, the radio broadcast goes from the park to the studio where John Ryder fields phone calls. It was that way when John Rich was the studio host (until he left the business earlier this year to go into software.) This goes back at least to the days when Ted Sarandis was at WEEI. IIRC, Ted would plead for the Red Sox to build a new stadium or put a retractable roof over Fenway. But it wasn’t always that way.
Right after World War II, WHDH was broadcasting Red Sox and Braves games. The station had a disc jockey named Bob Elliot and a newsreader named Ray Goulding. The pair would be teamed on the air during rain delays and they would ad lib deadpan satires of that era’s radio. Soap operas, game shows, commercials, and announcers were all fodder for the two. It was like SCTV, only for radio. Eventually, WHDH gave them their own show, “Matinee with Bob and Ray.” They’d go on to the NBC radio network and TV; working together for 40 some odd years.
When I was a kid growing up outside of Hartford, Connecticut, WHCN was one of the AOR stations. When I wasn’t listening to Sox games, I was listening to them or WCCC, or WAQY out of Springfield, or WPLR out of New Haven. One of the first rock albums I ever owned was ZZ Topp’s Deguello. I won it from ‘HCN when they misfired on Doubleshot Thursday. They only played one tune by the bearded Texans and I was the first caller. This may be the only time I ever won a contest in my life. My friend Kevin and I took the Z bus into Hartford to pick up the album. We met Barefoot Bob, one of the DJs, while we were at the station. He probably made 20 grand a year, but we were thrilled. He was a local celebrity and folks all over central Connecticut heard his voice.
On Sunday nights HCN would run The Comedy Hour from 9 to 10. They would play stand up routines from the likes of George Carlin, Bill Cosby, and Woody Allen. They’d play studio-based comedy from the likes of Cheech and Chong or The Firesign Theater. They’d also play some Bob and Ray bits. Despite being old enough to be World War II vets, the two radio guys did have some appeal with the rock and rollers a generation younger than them. I was a kid and I didn’t get their humor. It was sort of an acquired taste. In fact, when Bob and Ray were on TV, the live studio audiences, unfamiliar with their humor, would boo the duo. There are a few bits online here and elsewhere. Bob Elliot’s son, by the way, may be better known among RLRSers. Chris Elliot was a frequent guest on Letterman and starred in the TV show “Get A Life” and movies like Cabin Boy and There’s Something About Mary.
Until this year, I had no idea Bob and Ray got their start as rain delay filler. Now you know, too.