The Oakland Athletics added a wrinkle to this already weird season, becoming the first MLB team since 1938 to have no local radio broadcasts of games in English.
They still employ Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo as radio announcers, and the games will be on the air outside the Bay Area. Amaury Pi-González and Manolo Hernández-Douen will still keep Spanish-speaking fans informed over the air.
But if you are an English-only speaker and you live in the surrounding counties, your option is the TuneIn app on a smartphone, tablet, or computer — or hope that the wind is blowing the right way and you can get a signal from Sacramento.
The TuneIn games are free to listeners in Northern California.
Pew research shows that about four out of five Americans owned a smartphone in 2018. More than 90 percent of Americans have access to the Internet.
Still a sizable number of people who won’t be able to hear the games. I am someone who grew up with baseball on the radio. In flyover country, we got the NBC Game of the Week, a handful of other games on NBC or ABC, a Giants, and Dodgers Sunday afternoon game in some seasons. That was it.
But Vin Scully was always there with every Los Angeles Dodgers game. Would I be a fan of the game today without those broadcasts? I don’t know.
Of course, if you are a kid with only access to a radio in the Bay Area, you can always listen to the San Francisco Giants.
Then there is listening to the game in the car. It is still possible with TuneIn, and it looks relatively easy if you have a car with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. If not, you must work through another app. For people who struggle with technology, listening to the game may not be worth the hassle.
I hope other teams don’t follow suit. I don’t think this is good for the game.
A New Day
The Athletics say they are breaking with tradition to pioneer the future. The team has enjoyed success with its podcast on the app. The team’s customer relations people used the podcast to offer special deals to listeners.
The games were available in the Bay Area on TuneIn last season in addition to the radio.
“We felt it was really important this year that we continued to amplify the partnership with TuneIn,’’ Athletics president Dave Kaval told The Mercury News in February when the deal was struck.
“The primary motivation for this endeavor is around fan development, marketing, and really understanding how that can acquire new fans… I think this is the direction of the future. We’ve always been an innovative organization.”
The Sagging A’s
Columnist Dieter Kurtenbach of The Mercury News pointed out that, given that Athletics games are on terrestrial radio in places such as Redding and Fresno, the team is not moving into the future but just putting a happy spin on the TuneIn deal.
“No, sadly, it’s a sign of how irrelevant the A’s have become in this market,’’ Kurtenbach wrote.
The A’s TV rating fell 18 percent last season despite winning 97 games.
With no fans allowed in the stands in Oakland, the team reportedly had second thoughts about only streaming games, and in the past month, the club explored the idea of going with a local terrestrial station. But that would put a crimp in the contract with TuneIn, which paid for the exclusive local rights. No local radio deal was struck.
No figures are available for the size of the TuneIn deal for exclusivity, but the club needs every bit.
Forbes pegged the Athletics’ revenues at $225 million, ahead of only the Miami Marlins in MLB.
Rocky Road in Radio
The TuneIn deal ends a tumultuous time for the A’s and local radio. Two years ago 95.7 the Game and the team ended their relationship on a nasty note. The station was also the local radio home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, who were riding high at the time. When Warriors and Athletics’ games conflicted, the station gave the basketball team’s games priority.
The Athletics publicly asked their fans if the team should stay with 95.7 The Game.
When the Athletics’ deal with the station ended, the team tweeted, “It’s not us, it’s you” with a video of the team moving its equipment out of the station with “Celebrate” by Kool & The Gang playing in the background.
Then it was on to KRTB, which didn’t sit well with many fans because of the station’s conservative talk programs before and after the Athletics games.
The team has had five flagship radio stations since 2000 and 12 since moving to Oakland in 1968.
In a way, the franchise pioneered the radio-silence concept more than 40 years ago. For the first month of the 1978 season, owner Charlie Finley chose KALX, a 10-watt student station at the University of California in Berkley, as the team’s flagship station.
A fan would be lucky to get a signal inside the ballpark 11 miles away from the campus. The phone played a role then, too.
It may be just an urban legend, but, supposedly, frustrated Athletics fans would call up relatives in Berkley and have them put the receiver next to the radio.