Ratto: The A's, the radio, and how it went all weird

Ray Ratto
February 19, 2020 - 1:21 pm
The A's, the radio, and how it went all weird

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

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The Oakland Athletics announced Tuesday that they were abandoning traditional radio in the Bay Area and going all streaming. They are embracing a future that could redefine the nature of the aural baseball experience in a world of changing media and audience.

Or it could just be one more admission that the A's just can't get the foothold in the market it once had, and that like feet, cars, wallets and hearts, the resistance to them is deep-seeded and enduring.

Now here's where you rise in outrage and shriek that this radio station had abandoned them or that the A's abandoned the station. I wasn't here for any of that, I'm not in Corporate, and the radio business is also a changing one.

But in looking at the A's radio history since moving to Oakland in 1968, KGMZ held the rights longer than all but one of the other permutations of the team's broadcast rights, eight years. It jumped from KNBR to KEEN and back to KNBR. They went to KALX, KNEW, KKIS and KDIA. They returned to KSFO, then KABL and KFRC, then KYCY and then both KFRC and KYCY. They went to KTRB, then this happy operation, then KTRB again and now . . . poof. Gone.

They've been on sports stations and news stations, country stations and conservative talk stations, classical music stations and a college radio station. They've never found the match and the match never found them.

In short, this looks in many ways like just a sixteenth move in what seems to be an ongoing series. It's what happens when the media choices get hard and the road runs out of pavement.

I don't know where anyone else lands on this subject, but anything that promotes the continued health of two teams in the Bay Area is by definition good. Three hundred twenty-four games mean more than 162, 52 players are better than 26, etc. etc. If this A's group, one of the most interesting in its history, can finally find an audience sufficient to their desires, all is good.

And whether or not this is just about the A's not finding a station that loves them, or a market more open-minded about the amount of baseball it chooses to absorb — well, that matters only to a few folks in Marketing and a few angry villagers who believe the Giants are truly more evil than the Astros.

The rest of it is about the A's trying to end-run a medium it could never fully grasp. In the early years, it was Charlie Finley being Charlie Finley. Then it was bad baseball. Then it was great baseball, decent signal. Then  it was new formats and more bad baseball. Then... well,  you get the idea. This isn't St. Louis. The A's have only succeeded by being the counterculture team, the one going fingers-up to conventional behaviors. Thus, the exclusive channel on TuneIn is their post-modern twist on a failed idea they had before, buying their own A's-centric radio station.

But had they developed their media rights well enough and early enough in their local history — like, say, during time after the World Series years, they probably wouldn't be here. Even at this late stage in the technology game, only one other team in North American pro sports doesn't have a traditional radio outlet (the NHL's Los Angeles Kings). The lesson: Ignore the small stuff now, it gets big later. If the A's had a choice, they'd still have a local flagship station just like all the other kids.

But it's a little late to yell about who did what to whom and when it got done. This is what the A's have now, and they'd better find a way to make this work, because if it doesn't, the silence will be deafening.

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