Now Play Ball . . . On the Radio?

NHPRC logoThe Picturing 1930s St. Louis: Sievers Studio Collection Project is made possible by an NHPRC grant from the National Archives.

Black-and-white photo of crowd listening to radio broadcast of game 4 of the 1931 World SeriesCrowd gathered in front of Hunleth Music Company (516 Locust St.) to listen to game 4 of the 1931 World Series between the Cardinals and the As, October 10, 1931. Photo by Harold Sneckner. Missouri History Museum.

What could have captured the attention of this many St. Louisans in the early years of the Great Depression? Cardinals baseball, of course! In this photo taken for the Sievers Studio by Harold Sneckner, fans gathered outside of the Hunleth Music Company to listen to game 4 of the 1931 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Athletics. Look closely and you’ll see the radio perched on the fire escape. Something we take for granted now—listening to baseball games on the radio—was considered fairly cutting edge in the early 1930s. It was also somewhat controversial.

The first radio broadcast of a baseball game happened on August 5, 1921, when KDKA in Pittsburgh broadcast the Pirates defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 8–5. Two years later the Chicago Cubs experimented with broadcasting games for a 30-day trial; the radio games were so popular with fans that by 1925 they decided to broadcast all of their home games. Under owner Sam Breadon the Cardinals followed suit in 1926, airing games from Sportsman’s Park. Most other team owners, however, were reluctant to broadcast their games for fear that the ballpark crowds would evaporate. This fear led them to nearly ban all radio coverage of games during a 1931 owners meeting.

In St. Louis the Cardinals and the Browns alleviated attendance concerns by coordinating their radio schedules to ensure that no games would be broadcast when the other team was playing at home. But by 1934 they too feared declining ticket sales and once again joined forces—this time to ban all game broadcasting. St. Louisans wanted to listen to the games on their radios, though, and they made this known. Ultimately the increased exposure expanded interest in the teams beyond the folks frequenting Sportsman’s Park. The Cardinals wound up starting regular radio broadcasts of their games the following year, helping spread the Cardinal Nation as far as the airwaves could reach.

Black-and-white photo of the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals advertising Grunow RadiosThe 1934 St. Louis Cardinals take a moment before game 4 of the World Series to do a quick advertisement for Grunow Radios. Photo by Isaac Sievers. Missouri History Museum.

As it turns out, radio, baseball, and local businesses were a match made in heaven. KMOX broadcast the early games in St. Louis, and Garnett Marks was the first local announcer to work for the Cardinals. That name was likely unfamiliar to his listeners though. Station sponsors preferred he use on-air names related to them, so most listeners knew Marks as either Rhino Bill (for Rhino Tire Stores) or Otto Buick.

Other photos from the Sievers Studio Collection show the budding relationship between radio and baseball celebrities in advertising. A 1934 photograph of the once-again (not that we’re bragging) World Champion Cardinals shows members of the famous Gashouse Gang gathered around a Grunow radio display. This photograph and the Hunleth Music Company image perfectly illustrate how businesses involved in selling a hot new technological product, the radio, sought to use the heroes of America’s favorite pastime to promote their sales.

Black-and-white photo of Gashouse Gang members helping advertise Grunow RadiosStars of the Gashouse Gang (L to R: Frankie Fritch, Dizzy Dean, Paul Dean, and Pepper Martin) show their enthusiasm for the Grunow Radio that “stops you at the stations of the world,” 1934. Photo by Isaac Sievers. Missouri History Museum.

Now, more than 90 years after the Cardinals broadcast their first game, we still listen to baseball on the radio despite the options to watch the games on TV or online. And despite 1930s owners’ fears, we still go to the games on a very regular basis too.

—Amanda Claunch, Archivist, Photographs and Prints

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