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My first real training for the Mets' announcing job came when I went to Dallas to join Gordon McLendon's Liberty Broadcasting System in 1951. McLendon, an ardent sports fan who couldn't get a job with any of the existing radio networks after World War II, solved the problem by starting his own. With a minimum of cash and a maximum of nerve, ingenuity, enterprise and imagination Gordon ran his Liberty network up to a fantastic 458 stations before it collapsed about a year after I arrived on the scene.
The foundation of the Liberty network was built on a system of broadcasting ball games known as re-creations. This was handled by an announcer in a studio relaying telegraphic reports to his own audience over the air. The reports, direct from the ball park where the game was being played, consisted of the barest information transmitted in a simple code that any baseball fan could easily interpret.
In the network's early days Western Union would furnish a telegraphic description of any major league game for a flat rate of $27.50, as long as you had the permission of the home team. Ball clubs, after some early resistance, agreed to let their games be broadcast to far-off communities. It was, after all, good publicity not only for the team but for its city, and it certainly wouldn't hurt the attendance.
McLendon sold his re-creations for something like $10 a game, with the station also paying its own telephone line charges. The more stations, the lower the line charges for any individual station, because each had to pay the charges only to the nearest city already getting the re-creations which, in turn, paid only to its nearest city.
This was the first time major league baseball on a day-by-day basis had ever been available by radio to cities off the big-league beaten path. None of the franchises had yet been moved, so the big leagues were still confined to the northeastern part of the country. All the rest was wide open. McLendon simply moved in and took over the West Coast, the Southwest and the South, where he and his network soon became better known among sports fans than far more famous announcers and far more solid companies.
McLendon became popular by the original manner in which he and his staff re-created games. Some announcers around the country played them straight, simply repeating to their audiences the bare facts that came over the telegraphic wires. This, of course, resulted in dull presentations with long gaps between pitches or plays. The better announcers tilled the gaps with comments about the game and the players and other bits of information.
Gordon went further. By using all sorts of mechanical devices, he made a re-creation sound as if the game were being broadcast direct from the ball park. He got so excited—and demanded the same excitement from his announcers—that Liberty's re-creations were often more interesting than broadcasts direct from the scene.
There were always four turntables of recordings going in the studio, two with general crowd noises and two with excited crowd noises. The audio engineer would fade these in to fit the narration. The announcer wore a headset so he could hear the crowd, which had an amazing effect on him. As the crowd got excited, he got excited. His voice rose automatically, and he would transmit his own excitement to the audience. Sometimes the engineer would beef up the crowd noise even if nothing happened on the field to justify it. The announcer then had to invent a reason—perhaps a spectator making a sensational catch of a foul ball into the stands, or a peanut vendor falling downstairs, or a couple of guys getting into a fight.
In the interest of accuracy McLendon sent an engineer to every ball park in the big leagues to tape the playing of the national anthem and other local music, as well as crowd sounds. When, for example, somebody yelled above the crowd at Fenway Park it was in a Boston accent and would be used in a Red Sox re-creation. When a Liberty announcer told his audience that Gladys Goodding would play The Star-Spangled Banner on the organ from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, listeners actually heard organ music played by Gladys Goodding from Ebbets Field.
When McLendon began re-creating oldtime games he referred to himself as "the Old Scotchman," to perpetrate a character of such ancient vintage he could recall the incidents from personal memory. At the time Gordon himself was not yet 30, but millions of listeners pictured him as a very old man. Even when broadcasting a modern game, Gordon liked to identify himself as the Old Scotchman.