Yanks' radio voices in limbo
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
NEW YORK – Among the list of Yankees' off-season considerations is their expired radio contract with WCBS-AM and, by extension, the fate of broadcasters John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman.
Wherever the Yankees land on the dial in 2012, the club retains the right to approve their announcers – indicating a healthy possibility for the duo's return to the booth.
A decision on the Yankees' radio home could be made shortly after the World Series.
But until the rights holder is revealed, there's not much the club or its high-profile announcers can say on the matter.
Yet, the notion that Sterling or Waldman might have worked a final game as a Yankees announcer wasn't part of the personal reflection after the Detroit Tigers' clinching ALDS victory Oct. 6.
"I was very disappointed in the way the season ended, in many respects," Waldman said. "But none of them had anything to do with me."
Like any stunned Yankees fan, Sterling lamented the club's various missed opportunities.
"It was unbelievably disappointing, because they were so close – they were a base hit away," Sterling said of the Game 5 aftermath. "You thought that with the game in your ballpark [they could advance]. The pitching actually was very good, but they just didn't get the hit at the right time."
In Philadelphia, as Sterling noted, "they're probably saying the same thing."
But in the Bronx, at least part of the hot stove discussion is about broadcast teams and radio terms.
In their last contract with WCBS, the Yankees reportedly received $13 million per year for their radio rights. ESPN-AM 1050 has been mentioned as a possible landing spot, although the station might have to utilize other radio outlets to compensate for its weaker signal.
Clear channel, 50,000-watt WCBS has been the Yankees' flagship station since the 2002 season.
Sterling hasn't missed a game since he entered the Yankees' radio booth in 1989, while Waldman's Yankee association dates back just as far – first as a beat reporter for WFAN. Their broadcast partnership began in 2005.
Compared to the millions generated by the YES Network, the club's own television base, the radio operation is a relatively minor consideration.
Seton Hall professor Rick Gentile believes it's in the Yankees best interest to continue its association with WCBS, assuming the club isn't completely blown away by another offer.
"They're always in the driver's seat. But I think it'd be their inclination not to change anything. I'd be very surprised if they moved," said Gentile, director of the Seton Hall University Sports Poll as well as an Emmy-winning sports broadcaster and former CBS Sports executive producer.
"I can't imagine there's some lucrative radio deal out there that would make this deal look like a real bad one," Gentile said.
WCBS's strong signal and the fans' familiarity with its location on the dial are the primary reasons to keep that marriage intact. However, Gentile puts less stock in the broadcast team as vital to the operation.
With current exceptions such as Hall of Famer Vin Scully, who began with the Dodgers in Brooklyn and whose voice could be heard on transistor radios around Dodger Stadium, Gentile believes there's less of an attachment among fans and their favorite club's radio announcers.
Still, there's certain value in having someone who "bleeds Yankee pinstripes" like Sterling as the club's signature voice – with his well-mimicked home run calls and familiar personality.
"There is a comfort level," Gentile said. "He's their guy."
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