October 22, 2013

Red Sox radio voices silenced in most of Maine

Because of contractual obligations, ESPN radio will tune out Boston announcers Dave O’Brien and Joe Castiglione.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Around here, favorite voices Dave O’Brien and Joe Castiglione will be benched by ESPN Radio.

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Finn Dierks-Brown, 12, says the Red Sox don’t lose when he listens to WEEI broadcasts, and hopes the team won’t be jinxed by ESPN Radio coverage of the World Series.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Hardcore baseball fans will tell you how dangerous it is to mess with a streak.

And 12-year-old Finn Dierks-Brown of North Yarmouth has been on a streak this baseball postseason. Every time he listens to veteran Boston broadcasters Dave O’Brien and Joe Castiglione call a Red Sox game on the radio, the team wins. When he doesn’t, the Sox lose.

So here’s the problem: Finn can’t listen to his favorite broadcasters for the World Series, which starts Wednesday with Boston hosting the St. Louis Cardinals.

ESPN Radio holds the exclusive radio rights to the series, so the home radio team of “Joe and Dave” will be heard only around Boston and blacked out to the rest of New England.

That leaves legions of fans who listen to their beloved Sox on radio all season long suddenly without the comfortable voices and familiar phrases of O’Brien and Castiglione. Old friends “Joe and Dave” won’t be there to get them through the irrational pitching changes, the costly errors and the tense ninth innings.

Fans like Finn will listen to the ESPN Radio coverage of the World Series, broadcast on Maine stations, because they feel they have to.

But it won’t be the same.

“Joe and Dave are what I think of when I think of the Red Sox on the radio,” said Finn, whose family doesn’t own a TV. “I’m sad because those are the guys I like. They are the ones I know.”

Listening to baseball on radio, for many fans, is better than watching on TV. It requires imagination and a love of words, and it promotes a kind of inner peace that watching baseball on a 60-inch HD screen can obliterate. It allows freedom of movement while following your team, and it reminds many people of their childhoods, listening to the Sox on a transistor radio while on a porch swing or out by the lake.

“I love baseball, and I love fiction. I love novels because they allow you to visualize something that’s not in front of you,” said Caleb Mason, 57, of Portland, who runs the ebook publishing company Publerati. “And I think that’s the same with baseball on the radio. There’s more imagination.”

Mason’s love of baseball on radio goes back to his childhood. He was growing up in Providence, R.I., during the Red Sox “Impossible Dream” season of 1967. He has fond memories of staying up later than allowed, and listening to the Red Sox on a transistor radio that he smuggled into his bed.

Castiglione and O’Brien know listeners like Mason, and all listeners of Red Sox Nation, on a far more personal level than ESPN Radio’s team of Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser ever could. Castiglione is the man who coined the now magical phrase “Can you believe it?” after the Sox ended their fans’ 86 years of epic suffering by winning the 2004 World Series.

And O’Brien, a native New Englander, often peppers his radio commentary with childhood stories about meeting Luis Tiant in a hardware store in Marshfield, Mass., or some similar encounter.

“I dislike (the national broadcasters). I think it points out how fortunate we are to have the broadcasters we have. I think they are just better,” said Mason. “If the option existed, I’d watch the World Series on TV and turn on the local radio broadcast. But now that’s not an option.”

Another great thing about baseball on the radio is that you can get things done while listening. And that’s important to Mainers.

“You can do a lot of things while listening to baseball on the radio. Cook, split wood, sit around a campfire,” said Billy Voisine, 42, an alternative-education teacher from Deer Isle. “If I have a choice of watching on TV or radio, I’ll choose radio. I find it less stressful.”

When someone on the Sox makes a costly out, you hear it once on radio, Voisine said. On TV, you relive the mistake six or eight times, in HD.

Red Sox radio listeners around here will be deprived of their regular radio team because ESPN’s contract with Major League Baseball says the network has exclusive rights to broadcast the World Series around the country. The only exception is that the “flagship” radio station of each team in the World Series can use its own broadcasters to broadcast the games in its immediate area.

That means the Boston station that employs O’Brien and Castiglione, WEEI (93.7 FM), will still broadcast the World Series games and still use O’Brien and Castiglione. And since the station’s signal is fairly powerful, some listeners in southern York County may be able to hear it.

But most fans across New England listen to WEEI’s Red Sox broadcasts on a network of more than 50 affiliate stations. In Greater Portland, the station that carries the games is known as The Big Jab, heard on 96.3 FM and 1440 AM. At least 10 other stations scattered around Maine carry the Red Sox most of the time.

The Big Jab’s general manager, Jon Van Hoogenstyn, said WEEI’s coverage of the World Series has been blacked out outside Boston for as long as he can remember. It just doesn’t come up as an issue every year because the Red Sox aren’t in the World Series every year.

He said that because of ESPN’s contract, his station wasn’t allowed to carry WEEI’s broadcasts of the World Series in 2004 and 2007, both of which were won by the Red Sox.

“I don’t recall too many complaints, but sometimes callers (to the station’s sports talk shows) will ask if we have the right feed. We tell them the ESPN feed is the only one we can get right now,” said Van Hoogenstyn.

He said his station will still air WEEI’s pregame show during the World Series, but will switch to ESPN Radio coverage when the game starts.

But when (not if, when) the Sox win the World Series, most Mainers won’t be able to hear Castiglione and O’Brien describing the moment. At least not live.

For 12-year-old Finn Dierks-Brown, listening to the Red Sox on radio during this unexpected postseason run has been a rare treat. He started really following the Sox only around 2009, and this is truly the best the Sox have been during that time.

The Red Sox are now just four wins from ending this fairy tale of a season with a championship.

And Finn and many more fans in Maine will have to hear how the story ends from strangers.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

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