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Crackerjacks in the Office

Publication Date: April 3, 2001

Hook Up Those Speakers

This week, I want to do another column imploring you to do something you'll probably enjoy, although this time it'll be something that sounds a little less nerdy than last time, when I encouraged everyone to head to the library.

One of the things I've noticed in doing this Web site and other online activities that preceded it is that only a small percentage of the people I hear from could really be described as fans of the game of college baseball; most of them are actually a fan of a specific team. There's nothing really wrong with that (I'm both, personally, which works out well for me), but it does kind of limit your outlook, as well as reducing the overall number of people interested in the game as a whole.

Now, I've argued before that the search for popularity has damaged the game in some respects, so I'll be the last one to promote it in ways designed to bring in casual one-week-a-year fans, but for those of you who do put some effort into things, I want to suggest something that I've been doing for the last couple of years that's really helped me to get a feel for what's going on around the country -- listening to Internet broadcasts of games from around the country. Consider it a scouting mission if you want to, but it can be a whole lot of fun -- it is baseball, after all.

Virtually every writer who grew up in the '50's and '60's has written about sneaking a radio into class to listen to a World Series game. I'm not suggesting that anyone get themselves fired over this, but there are afternoon college games three or four work days a week, and it's a wonderful experience listening to a game on headphones while working away. Equally, switching back and forth between games can be a pleasant way to while away an evening.

Audience Size

One nice thing about the dynamics of Web broadcasting is that it doesn't take a huge audience to justify the efforts of the station to broadcast over the Internet. One West Coast SID estimates that the Internet audience for one of their games probably numbers in the dozens, for example, which isn't going to make the Neilsen people blink but is enough of an increase to justify the effort for the station involved, since it means they can try to broaden the geographical base of their advertisers.

In David Brin's novel Earth, he spends a good bit of time talking about the effects of the global data network, quite presciently given that he was writing somewhere around 1989. His politics and science in the book weren't all that accurate, but on the effect of the increasing availability of information I think he was right on target -- instead of being the unifying force that some envision, it's a force for an incredible diversity of sources, each of them commanding a relatively small but loyal audience. I think of the audience for a college baseball team as being like that, and I think the potential for a cross-pollination of sorts as fans of different teams get more familiar with the teams can be healthy within those relatively small populations. If nothing else, listen to the opposing team's broadcast of one of your team's games some time; you'll be amazed.

Broadcast Quality

As far as the quality of the broadcasts themselves goes, I've been presently surprised. Technically, sound broadcasting over the Internet can be a bit dicey at this point, as anyone who's ever tried to listen to a radio station playing music over the Web on a dialup line can attest. It turns out, though, that spoken word broadcasts tend to be low-bandwidth enough to be immune to most of the pauses and skips. While sound quality is certainly not perfect, it's easily good enough not to be a distraction while listening.

As far as the production values involved on the broadcasts go, that varies quite a bit. Broadcasts being carried vary from what are apparently student-run who-wants-the-mike-this-week shows to full-scale numbers with professional engineers obviously running things.

Which leaves us with the broadcasters. As a general rule, I have relatively little use for sports announcers, especially for baseball announcers. The need to prevent dead air time doesn't lead itself to a great depth of thought, and most baseball announcers seem to come from a school of thought in baseball that's mostly been bypassed by more serious analysts. However, I admit that I've been presently surprised by some of the college announcers that I've heard; there seems to be less of the element of all of them reading from the same script that you get in the pro ranks.

It's interesting that the last two paragraphs, as far as I can tell, are completely unrelated. One of my favorite broadcast teams has been the Rice crew on KTRU, which seems to be completely comprised of students who throw it back to the control room for really bad alternative (no, I don't think that's redundant; they're just using too much testerone in making the choices) in between innings, while one of the worst is the Wake Forest duo, who spend too much time discussing their golf swings to bother keeping up with the game despite being in the midst of some quite professional production.

Anyway, I've put together a resource this season to help you out in listening to games -- my Audio Schedule and Links page. It contains links to all of the school audio schedules that I've been able to find along with a mostly-complete schedule of games for the current week. Go pick out a game and enjoy yourself.

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