By Ken Reitz
From the June 2003 issue of Monitoring Times
Each summer for years I've been writing about my favorite summer time radio listening: Major League Baseball. Each year I list the flagship stations for each team. And, each year I have something unkind to say about MLB (you know, denouncing the owners for their schizophrenic views of Socialism and Capitalism) and Commissioner Bud Selig, in particular, for his apparently random captaincy of the whole listing ship.
In last year's exciting episode I bemoaned, "...Two years ago you could have listened to the games on your computer for free...Last year  Major League Baseball saw fit to take control of the broadcasts and charged fans $10 to sign up for the season...This year  they're charging $15. Want to guess what it'll be next year?" Well, fans, it is next year and, sure enough, the same package is now $20.
Succumbing to Temptation
As an avid baseball fan and radio listener I've done everything I could to improve baseball listening at my location. I have an array of receivers and DX enhancing devices. I've tried nearly every type of antenna in the book from tuned loops to terminated Beverages. But, there are still big problems with trying to satisfy my thirst for listening to the grand old game. I remain limited to listening to stations within a 500 mile radius of my location at night. And, it's impossible to listen to daytime games other than the occasional one played by the Orioles, which is tolerable AM listening at best.
The problem with night time listening continues to be the volatile summer storms, the fading, the adjacent channel interference and the fact that I'll never be able to hear the west coast games or the low power Spanish language stations, no matter how good conditions are or how fancy my receiving gear is.
Opening Day found me listening to the Orioles on WBAL and as I did so I found my web browser had wandered over to the Major League Baseball web site (http://www.mlb.com) and I was mesmerized by the chart under the banner "Game Day Audio: Listen Live." This chart listed every game to be played that day, the time, the teams, and the stations on which they could be heard. Under that banner the hook hung with the juiciest bit of bait imaginable: Sign Up Now for the 2003 Regular Season for Only $19.95.
I whipped out the calculator and found that, assuming I could listen to all 2,430 regular season games, it would cost under a penny each. I was actually able to resist for more than a week. But, during the second week I could no longer restrain myself from signing up. I was more than a little wary of how this would work. Mine is not the latest computer and I can never log on to a line faster than 32 kbs. After some initial hysteria concerning loading the latest version of RealPlayer (RealOne Player is required for listening) and the forgotten password, I was ready to start streaming the national pastime.
Baseball Fan's Paradise
With my current multi-band radio I have the memory presets lined up so that, just by rotating the preset knob I can click from one game to the next. With the combination of the radio, a selection of various antennas and the MFJ Noise Canceling Signal Enhancer, I can tune in as many as eight MLB broadcasts on any evening. But, with MLB GameDay Audio I could hear them all, including the very elusive cross continental flagship stations and the Spanish language broadcasts which are impossible to receive from the other side of the country.
I was reminded of a time as recent as five years ago when most MLB teams broadcast their radio feeds via analog Single Channel Per Carrier transmissions on C-band satellite. With a cheap TV band radio coupled to the composite video out on the satellite receiver, it was possible to tune them all in. Today these transmissions are made via a digital SCPC signals which cannot be received on analog SCPC receivers. There are currently no analog SCPC baseball feeds of which I am aware.
So, what about my computer audio concerns? GameDay Audio is sent at such low bit rates, typically 11 to 20 kbs, that there is no problem with dropouts. Unfortunately, such a low rate also means that high fidelity is not possible, giving the broadcasts the sometimes distorted sound of a cell phone call.
Despite the low bit rate, the audio, for the most part, is on par with AM radio broadcasts. Some audio improvement can be had with a better set of speakers. The biggest problem is the data buffering which creates a lag between real time and on-line broadcast. This makes it impossible to watch the game on TV while listening to the broadcast on-line.
Another problem is taking calls on your computer while the game is going. You can adjust the settings in your dial up connection to allow in-coming calls to interrupt the connection if you have call waiting. However, some modems (mine for instance) won't drop the connection despite the settings, in which case you can use Catch-A-Call, available at Radio Shack, or similar product which allows you to take calls on the same line for up to 30 seconds before it drops the on-line connection. These units typically cost $50.
MLB Marketing Explosion
MLB Advanced Media is the name of the company charged with operating the on-line video and audio products offered through MLB. According to spokesman Jim Gallagher, the first year was beset with technical glitches and consumer resistance, because fans had enjoyed the previous year's games for free. Having worked out the technical problems and worn away fan reticence, MLB Advanced Media finished the second year with a million subscribers and actually turned a profit. So far this year, Gallagher says, subscriptions are doing well.
Does this mean we can look for another price hike next year? If so, how high can the price go before turning off fans? Gallagher was not hesitant. "If we find ourselves at the end of the season with 2 million subscribers, sure, there could be another $5 price increase. As to the future, it's hard say." Well, not too hard, I'm sure.
However, these days GameDay Audio is just a side line. MLB has devised a product line-up to appeal to all levels of baseball addiction (see chart). New this year is MLB.TV which allows subscribers to watch live "out-of-market" games on your computer. You also get full game replays of games you might have missed. Cost is $15/month, but you'll need a 300 kilobit high speed connection. Baseball's Best lets you listen to vintage radio broadcasts from the '30s to the present. Even GameDay Audio has two levels: Follow all games by all teams $19.95/season or follow your favorite team for $9.95/season.
But wait, there's more! MLB.COM BROADBAND (300 kb required) offers the veritable cornucopia of baseball audio and video including: PostgameTV which lets you watch up to 15 specific game highlights every day; Condensed Games where you can watch all the highlights from all the games in a video package which lasts about 20 minutes; Highlights Direct where you choose which team highlights you'd like to see and they'll show up in your e-mail box; Custom Cuts which lets you look at any of the days highlights you want see; and Press Pass which sends the pregame media notes to your e-mail box. Yes, you get all that for just $19.95/month. Is anybody still actually working at their desks?
Back to the 20th Century
All the on-line action is fine, but it does have its limitations. For instance, it's certainly not portable, the audio is not necessarily where you want to be, it requires your computer to be running for hours, and it slows down any other on-line activities you may be doing.
That means that there's still room for old-fashioned 20th Century style listening. You don't need anything fancy. A simple AM radio and the Radio Shack loop (RS# 15-1853) will let you listen in on games within a 250-500 mile radius.
A more effective system is to have a serious DX radio attached to a Beverage antenna. The Beverage can be a long wire only 6-8 feet off the ground running in a straight line in the direction of the target station. It should be at least 300 feet long to be effective; 1,500 feet to be really effective. If it's terminated at the end by a 400-600 ohm resister, it becomes unidirectional in the direction it's pointed. If not, it becomes bi-directional. The big advantage to the Beverage, besides being directional, is that they are much quieter antennas than higher mounted random wire or ham type multi-band dipoles. This is particularly important as the summer storm season gets under way.
In the end, tuning in via subscription to GameDay Audio will probably end up like satellite radio. For some it's the answer to a longtime frustration of poor radio reception and well worth the price. But, for most of us it's just another charge on something we were used to getting for free. Keep in mind that all prices quoted are for the regular season. The postseason is another game entirely.
Team Call Letters Frequency (kHz)
Anaheim Angels KSPN 710 XPRS* 1090
Arizona Diamondbacks KTAR 620 KSVN* 1400
Atlanta Braves WSB 750 WWWE* 1100
Boston Red Sox WEEI 850 WROL* 950
Chicago Cubs WGN 720
Chicago White Sox WMVP 1000
Cincinnati Reds WLW 700
Cleveland Indians WTAM 1100
Colorado Rockies KOA 850
Detroit Tigers WXYT 1270
Florida Marlins WQAM 560 WQBA* 1140
Houston Astros KTRH 740 KLAT* 1010
Kansas City Royals KMBZ 980
Los Angeles Dodgers KFWB 980 KWKW* 1330
Milwaukee Brewers WTMJ 620
Minnesota Twins WCCO 830
Montreal Expos CHUM 1050 CKAC (French) 730
New York Mets WCBS 880 WADO* 1280
Oakland Athletics KFRC 610
Philadelphia Phillies WPEN 950
Pittsburgh Pirates KDKA 1020
San Diego Padres KOGO 600 XEMO* 860
San Francisco Giants KNBR 680 KZSF* 1370
Seattle Mariners KOMO 1000 KKMO* 1360
St. Louis Cardinals KMOX 1120
Tampa Bay Devil Rays WFLA 970
Texas Rangers KRLD 1080 KESS* 1270
Toronto Blue Jays CJCL 590
*Spanish Language Flagship
GAMEDAY AUDIO 1) Listen to every game of your favorite team. $9.95/season
2) Listen to every game of every team. $19.95/season
MLB.TV Watch live out-of-market games on your computer $14.95/month
BASEBALL'S BEST Hear vintage radio & classic TV from the 30's to today $4.95/month
MLB RADIO Listen 9-5 ET M-F to "the only all-baseball radio network" $9.95/season
MLB.COM BROADBAND Includes GameDay Audio, MLB.TV, PostgameTV, Condensed Games, Highlights Direct, Baseball's Best, Custom Cuts, MLB Radio and Press Pass. $19.95/month.
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