Our Daily Dread: The warmth of a Dodger retro radio

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There was probably a time in my kidhood when my mom wondered if I’d grow up to be the next Tommy Dorsey instead of Tommy Davis.

She’d come into my bedroom and hear the big-band music coming from my transistor radio. She’d find the battery-operated noisemaker that was probably keeping my other two brothers awake — we shared one small room — she’d shut it off and put it on the dresser.

The music only meant one thing: I had fallen asleep after taking the transistor radio to bed with me to listen to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett do the final innings of the Dodger game, sometime in the 1960s and ’70s.

The games were on KFI-AM (640). And after the Dodger game ended and Scully had signed off, there was no “DodgerTalk.” The station had a show with host Chuck Cecil called “The Swingin’ Years,” featuring all that big band music from the ’30s and ’40s. (We are surprised and content to find out Cecil still does the show, for the Long Beach State campus jazz and blues station KJAZZ-FM 88.1, each weekend, linked here … you can even stream it on your iPhone).

The radio I had looked similar to the one that the Dodgers will give away to the first 30,000 at tonight’s contest at Dodger Stadium. This one looks so retro, you kind of expect to hear the voices of Scully and Doggett calling tonight’s game, giving away Union Oil auto script to Billy Grabarkewitz for his home run, and $100 worth to the Boys and Girls Club of La Habra.

Kids today … don’t get me started. They should all have a transistor radio in their arsenal of iPods, cellphones and whatever else they’re sticking in or close to their ears. If only for what the transistor provides — it’s a true science experiment. I don’t know how many times I took mine apart, not just to put in a new Ray-O-Vac 8 volt battery. But to see the circuit board, with all the diodes and things soldered together. The wires leading to the speaker that looked as if it was made of paper. All the colors, and the nimble fingers it must have taken to put that scematic process together.

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As a public service, the transistor radio gave you a sense of what everyone was listening to, not what you wanted to listen to. A rock station would play a certain play list that everyone was on board with. A news station would provide the information that everyone needed to know. And it had the sporting events — each team had their own identity with their own station. You came to L.A., you had to learn the freeways first, then the layout of the radio stations to find on the dashboard so your trip on the freeways were more in tune to the city’s pulse.

We’re all for individualism, but the transistor brought people together on the same note. It’s probably why I’m still addicted, all these years later, just as I am to the newspaper. It’s not just a nostalgic pull to the past. It’s what’s comfortable in a world that keeps wanting to chance, supposely with technology that makes things better and more efficient.

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In its day, the transistor was a huge technological invention, by the way. It united Dodger fans to this team that had just moved from New York. It allowed us to sit in the stands and listen to Scully introduce us to the game, the players, the history, the context.

The coolest thing to see tonight will be a kid who is given this radio, goes to his seat, turns it on (there’s a battery already in it) and listens to Scully do the first three innings. Scully’s voice will resonate around the park, and that echo effect will be amazing.

Almost as amazing — if you’re only looking at Dodgers’ English-speaking play-by-play and colormen who’ve been on the team’s radio broadcasts since it moved to L.A. in 1958, there’d be … eight.

Scully, teammed up with Red Barber and Connie Desmond in 1950, had Doggett join him in 1956. Just the two of them came to L.A. in ’58 and it stayed that way for nearly 20 years.

Ross Porter joined to make it a threesome in 1977, and they were together until 1987, when Doggett retired (and later passed away in 1997). Don Drysdale replaced Doggett and remained until his passing in the middle of the 1993 season. Rick Monday replaced Drysdale and remained teammed up with Scully and Porter through 2004.

In 2005, Charley Steiner replaced Porter. Al Downing and Jerry Reuss were also used as radio partners for Monday for the last three seasons until Steiner-Monday were made a permanent radio team.

Steiner-Monday join the game after Scully does the first three innings of a simulcast (with either Prime Ticket or KCAL-Channel 9) on KABC-AM (790), which is sponsoring the radio giveaway tonight. KABC was the team’s flagship from 1973 to 1997. KFWB-AM 980 (2002-07), KXTA-AM 1150 (2001-1998), KFI-AM 640 (1961 to ’72) and KMPC-AM 710 (1958-60) were the previous radio homes. In Spanish, the team’s current home is on KWKW-AM (1330) with Jaime Jarrin, Pepe Yniguez and Fernando Valenzuela.

How’s that for creating an intimate connection between team and fan? It’s a lesson sports-talk programmers could learn — stop switching things on the listeners so often and let them settle in for a relationship on the radio. Even if you think the ratings drive the show, allow the thing to breathe and develop. A broadcaster can adapt and evolve; the listener can create the habit of going back to the storyteller because they’ve formed a connection.

Here’s some more reading from the L.A. Times blog by Larry Harnish you may want to do on the subject (linked here).

That’s info for the kids, who haven’t seen a game on the radio. Live and learn.

Comment here or at thomas.hoffarth@dailynews.com

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  • para’s

    Thanks, Tom, for the journey down Memory Lane.

  • SportsRadio101

    Hey Tom nice piece but there is an error. The spanish broadcast with Jaime and Fernando is no longer on KWKW. It is now on KHJ La Ranchera 930AM. Other than that, nice piece!

  • http://www.blackjacksonline.com/blackjack-online-free Jay

    This statement made me remember being a child “The music only meant one thing: I had fallen asleep after taking the transistor radio to bed with me to listen to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett do the final innings of the Dodger game, sometime in the 1960s and ’70s.” I have some memories which just came pouring back.

    Thank you so much for this.