As It Happens·Q&A

Blind Blue Jays fan calls foul as Sportsnet replaces radio broadcasts with TV simulcast

John Rae is a longtime Blue Jays fan. As someone who is also blind, he relies on radio broadcasts to give him the play-by-plays, bring him in on the action on the field and describe the excitement of the game.

'I have my radio on almost all day and that's my favourite medium,' says John Rae

John Rae is a long-time listener of the Toronto Blue Jays radio broadcast. (Submitted by John Rae)

John Rae is a longtime Toronto Blue Jays fan. As someone who is blind, he relies on radio broadcasts to give him the play-by-plays, bring him in on the action on the field and describe the excitement of the game.

But the upcoming season will no longer be the same for Rae. Starting April 1, Sportsnet has decided to drop the dedicated radio calls for Blue Jays games. Instead, they will simultaneously cast sound from the TV feed onto radio.

Sportsnet, which is owned by Rogers Sports and Media, said the decision was a way to minimize travel for its staff during the pandemic.

Rae spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off about the move, which he says will negatively impact fans like him. Here is part of their conversation.

I don't think that will satisfy either group of fans because either the announcer is going to have to talk more than TV viewers want or less than we who are listening to the radio want. And that's going to make both groups unhappy.- John Rae, blind Blue Jays fan

John, what is the difference between a radio broadcast and the sound on a TV broadcast?

On radio, we — and I'm blind, so I particularly need it — we need more description. 

We need the announcer to tell us what's happening on the field to create the atmosphere ... and radio broadcasters are generally very good at that. The Blue Jays ones, for sure, are excellent at it. 

People who are watching TV can see what's happening. They usually prefer the announcers to talk less. In fact, I know sometimes TV viewers will turn off the sound because they feel the announcers talk too much. 

For us who are radio listeners, they can never talk too much because we rely on our announcers for them to paint the picture of what's happening.

Is there a particular moment that you've heard on the radio and a baseball game that really hit home?

Oh, many. 

I've been a baseball fan since the late '50s, when I discovered the game. I was an elementary school student during the Braves and Yankees World Series way back then. You know, no hitters, or perfect games, or close plays at the plate, or close plays at second — these are all part of the great game of baseball.

And when we have radio to portray what's happening, people who are blind like myself can get a good picture of what's really happening on the field and what's happening during the play. Some broadcasters also can convey, better than others, the excitement of what's happening, because I think baseball is an exciting game.

Rae says radio announcers have to be a lot more descriptive than TV broadcasters when it comes to baseball games. (Steven Senne/Associated Press)

I'm old enough to remember when people did listen to sports on radio ... but listening to baseball, people would sit there for a whole afternoon ... you sit in the backyard and hear a game go by. And so there is a magic, even for those who are not blind. It's something that carries a spirit, doesn't it?

You've got the word — magic — and that's what a radio announcer needs to convey. And they do a fine job of it. So by simulcasting, Carol, I don't think that will satisfy either group of fans because either the announcer is going to have to talk more than TV viewers want or less than we who are listening to the radio want. And that's going to make both groups unhappy.

We think this is a callous move that was taken without any consultation with their fans. And not only do we hope this will get turned around — maybe it won't this year — but if this has to happen, we hope it will be just one year and then we'll go back to separate broadcasts. And we're also hoping that by raising this kind of issue, that other teams will not replicate what the Blue Jays are doing. It's bad enough if one team does it; we don't want this cancer to spread.

Well, Sportsnet, which is owned by Rogers Sports and Media, said the decision was based on the difficulties of the pandemic. It would be a way to minimize travel for staff. So do you think that means that possibly this is just temporary?

I hope so. But I don't buy that argument at all, Carol, because some of the broadcasters aren't travelling anyway. They are broadcasting from their home market like, you know, the Raptors. They're broadcasting from Toronto. They aren't travelling anyway. And so there's no reason why we can't have separate broadcasters that are aired right from Toronto.

So you're saying that the radio broadcasters are watching the game on a live feed and then doing the voiceover for that?

And they're doing a fine job of it, yes, that's what's happening.

Do you have a favourite?

Over the years, I've had three favourites. Mel Allen, who was the longtime voice of the Yankees; Vin Scully, the famous broadcaster of the Dodgers; and our own Dan Shulman.

It'd be sad if there weren't these radio broadcasts, not just for baseball, but for other sports, as you point out. I mean, a lot of cab drivers and people driving, they rely on that. But what does it mean for the blind and visually impaired to have this decision made about not having those broadcasts?

Radio is the ideal medium for us, whether it be for more in-depth news like we're doing right now, [or] for drama on the radio, [or] for entertainment.

In order to paint a picture or to convey information, the announcers need to provide a lot more information than what is necessary on TV. It's a totally different medium, Carol, as you know, since you work in radio. 

I have my radio on almost all day and that's my favourite medium.

Alright. Well, you're not going to get an argument from me, John.

I'm glad to hear that. But let's hope that by bringing some attention to this, we can either turn this decision around now or next year and hopefully prevent other teams from doing it.


Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by John McGill. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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