Listening in on Pittsburgh

Tim KingCorrespondent IMay 5, 2009

PITTSBURGH, PA- APRIL 10: Spectators watch opening day action between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the Pittsburgh skyline as a backdrop on April 10, 2006 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

(Pittsburgh, PA)—Once upon a time in the land of Rooney the teams were average and the broadcasters were not.  The Steelers hadn't sniffed the playoffs since Ike was in the White House but they had Joe Tucker behind the microphone (and their own TV contract in a day when Pittsburgh was still a top 10 market). 

The Pirates had pulled a rabbit out of their hat in 1960 but were pedestrian otherwise but they had Bob Prince, one of the last of the great radio baseball voices.

Some things change with time and some do not.  The Steelers became world-beaters but they found Myron Cope who left them laughing all the way and a battle flag to call their own, The Terrible Towel.

The Pirates showed Prince the door in 1975 and with it the magic that he brought.  They are still in search of that magic and a winning season. 

While bland has become the new normal in broadcasting, Pittsburgh has managed to hang onto a couple of originals and men who rise above the din such as:

Mike Lange—The Penguins might not have survived long enough to live in the shadow of Mario Lemieux without the Sacramento born Lange.  Lange's creative catch phrases such as "Get in the fast lane Grandma, the bingo game is ready to roll" and "Scratch my back with a hacksaw" have become legend as the Hall of Fame broadcaster rolls into his third decade with the club. 

Perhaps no broadcaster outside of Vin Scully and the Dodgers is more identified with his team than Lange in all of North America.

Steve Blass—While Pirate color commentator Blass has stepped back to part time work his game is as sharp as ever.  The man who pitched a four hit complete game in Game 7 of the 1971 World Series harkens back to a time when your grandfather listened to baseball games on a transistor radio sitting on the back porch. 

Blass isn't trying to fill every second of the broadcast with his own voice.  He still values the sound of silence in a baseball game.

Bill Hillgrove—Hillgrove rode side car in the never ending show that was Myron Cope but the Steeler and University of Pittsburgh broadcaster has survived long enough in a business that beats down its most experienced and eats its own young to have called three of the Steelers seven Super Bowl appearances and all of Tony Dorsett's college career. 

In a business where fewer and fewer understand the proper use of voice, Hillgrove conveys the emotion of the moment without rupturing the listeners eardrum.