100 Years of MLB Radio

By Chris Ricchetti

August 5, 2021—Today marks the 100th anniversary of the first live broadcast of a major league baseball game over commercial radio.

At 6:00 pm, on the evening of November 2, 1920, Pittsburgh-based station KDKA had aired the first commercial radio broadcast—coverage of the returns of the Warren G. Harding-James M. Cox presidential election (the first in which white women were allowed to vote), announced by Leo Henry Rosenberg (1896-1988), to a small audience of shortwave radio listeners. The eighteen-hour broadcast—originating from the top floor of one of the buildings at the two-million-square-foot Main Works of the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company in East Pittsburgh—lasted until noon the following day. Real-time information about the election was supplied to KDKA via telephone by reporters at the Pittsburgh Post and the Pittsburgh Sun.

Then, on April 11, 1921, KDKA broadcast the first live sporting event—a boxing match between Johnny Ray and Johnny Dundee—originating from Motor Square Garden (Pittsburgh).

These events led up to the first baseball broadcast, on August 5, 1921 from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The play-by-play coverage of the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies was voiced by Harold W. Arlin (1895-1986), who had been the primary announcer on KDKA’s evening broadcasts during the previous months. The twenty-five-year-old Arlin announced the game using a repurposed telephone receiver as a microphone, and other makeshift equipment, situated behind home plate. The Pirates—who went on to finish second in the National League standings with a record of 90-63—won the August 5th game by a score of 8-5.

The 1921 Pirates roster included the colorfully named infielders, Rabbit Maranville (5’5″, 155#), Cotton Tierney (5’8″, 175#), and Pie Traynor (6′, 170#), and outfielder, Possum Whitted (5’8½”, 168#).