By Hillary Atkin
“Chicago’s Official Summer Baseball Station”-that’s how WGN-TV bills itself, as another summer of baseball coverage in the Windy City comes to an exciting conclusion.
Long known as the home of the Cubs and available in 61 million homes outside Chicago the superstation will have aired 79 Cubs games this season as well as 30 outings of the crosstown interleague rival Chicago White Sox-all for the first time in HDTV. Both teams’ early-season pennant dreams seem to have faded down the stretch, though the Cubs, and to some extent the Sox, are still in the hunt for wild-card playoff spots.
WGN’s association with the Cubs goes all the way back to the early days of the television age, when the station went on the air in 1948 and everything was live. It’s a long and proud tradition that brought viewers the first night games at historic Wrigley Field, where lights were installed in 1988, and the reign of beloved Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, who died in 1998.
“I don’t think it’s an understatement to say if you ask anyone what WGN means, it’s Cubs baseball,” said Bob Vorwald, executive producer of WGN sports. “We are mindful of the fact that Cub fans consider us part of their family. So we think about that as we approach every game. We have a national fan base with people who watch us on satellite, and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously. It’s a wonderful heritage to have to live up to.”
Play-by-play announcer Chip Caray, grandson of the legendary Harry and son of TBS baseball broadcaster Skip Caray, is very aware of the role tradition plays in WGN telecasts. “A lot of people say our broadcast is old-fashioned. I can’t think of a higher compliment,” said Mr Caray, who shares the booth with color commentator Steve Stone.
“When people enter Wrigley Field, they’re walking back in time to the way baseball was played 75 years ago. When you go in for the first time, you keep waiting to see Al Capone and guys with fedora hats. It’s just a remarkable place that a lot of people view as a national treasure.”
Across town at U.S. Cellular Field, play-by-play announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and analyst Darrin Jackson are in their fifth season together on WGN’s White Sox team. The station has been doing Sox games for about 15 years.
Mr. Vorwald said he takes pride in the station’s ability to handle both teams, especially in light of the rivalry between Dusty Baker’s Wrigley boys and Ozzie Guillen’s team from the South Side of town, which is such a large part of the fabric of Chicago sports life. “They’re separate but equal,” he said. “It’s very equitable in that we make sure what we’re doing at one place we’re doing at the other. They both trust us, we have great relationships with them and we’re at a wonderful point now where the ratings are up for both teams.”
In fact, two interleague games in late June drew the highest rating ever for a weekend crosstown series on WGN, an average 13 rating and 30 share, Mr. Vorwald said.