Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Even in digital era, we still love baseball on the radio

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The rain fell harder, delaying a fake baseball game in a make-believe town, and there was nothing else to do on the Phillies' radio broadcast but open the phone lines.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The rain fell harder, delaying a fake baseball game in a make-believe town, and there was nothing else to do on the Phillies' radio broadcast but open the phone lines.

A barefoot Scott Franzke fiddled with a baseball, always stowed in his backpack for emergency joke purposes. Larry Andersen, who dipped into a red plastic cup, scanned ominous weather radar images on his iPad.

The diehards listening back home on WIP-FM (94.1) were rewarded. A rare direct line to Franzke and LA. Up next, Dave from Downingtown.

"How you doing, guys?" Dave said. "I'm just driving home. I have no particular question because I'm of the opinion that the Phillies are pretty much a lost cause for the next couple of years, even though I love them. I just wanted to say you guys keep me listening in spite of that. And I think a lot of people probably think that because it doesn't take that much talent to have a radio team keep you listening when you have a 95-win team. When you have a 95-loss team, you guys are the greatest. I really appreciate you guys. That's all I wanted to say."

"Well," Franzke said, "thank you, Dave."

"Thank you," Andersen said.

"That's nice of you to say," Franzke said. "We appreciate you calling. That's because of all the hard work Larry does, day in and day out, to prepare for these games. That's why we're able to do that for you."

Franzke, as he deadpanned, smirked at his partner.

"Yeah," Andersen said.

They laughed.

It is their 10th season as partners on Phillies radio broadcasts, and in the touchscreen digital age when anything visual is so accessible, we still listen to baseball on the radio in Philadelphia.

When Franzke and Andersen were paired, the Phillies were good. The winning carried the broadcasts. As it should. Little by little, it evolved. The Phillies lost more games than they won. Some were more unwatchable than others.

Now the odd couple fills the depths of bad nights using a particular brand of slapstick banter.

"Honestly, I think at its very core, we're trying to entertain ourselves," said Franzke, 44. "I don't know whether that's the right way or wrong way to do it. I know it's not for everybody, the shtick. If we start out with the idea that we're going to entertain each other, that will carry over to entertaining our listeners."

"It's just natural," said Andersen, 62. "I don't think we try to do funny stuff. We both have a sense of humor."

Franzke, a native Texan who had pre- and postgame roles on Rangers broadcasts, interviewed in 2006 with the Phillies. We have this guy, they told him, who is generally the funniest guy in the room. But it needed to come out a little more on the air.

The bosses had moved Andersen from TV to radio. The former Phillies reliever viewed it as a demotion.

"Then I thought about it," Andersen said. "Maybe it's not a demotion. Then I met Scott and I was like, 'Yeah, this is a demotion.' "

Mike Robertson was born and raised in Northeast Philly. The 37-year-old, who works in client management for a health benefits company, has moved around the country in recent years. He talked to a friend as he ate lunch on April 1, 2011, and he devised an idea that started at 1:29 p.m. with two words: "Opening Day!!!"

The @FranzkeLA Twitter account was born.

Robertson called the account a "tribute" to Franzke and Andersen. He copied, at 140 characters at a time, amusing missives from the broadcasts. The following was small.

"Eventually," Robertson said, "as the team got worse, the account got more followers, and I made a much bigger effort to listen to as many games as possible. Which is tough when they lose 90 games a year, but that's usually where the best quotes come from."

Close to 7,000 users now follow Robertson's hobby, his so-called "dumb Twitter account." That, he said, is a testament to Franzke and Andersen.

"It's the best radio show on the air," Robertson said, "that just happens to be broadcasting a baseball game."

ANDERSEN: You ever hear people say they could smell the rain?

FRANZKE: Uh, yes.

ANDERSEN: What does that smell like?

FRANZKE: Well, I uhh . . . I don't know.

ANDERSEN: So how do they know?

FRANZKE: It smells like rain. That's what it smells like. Have you never smelled rain?

ANDERSEN: Is it a pungent smell?

FRANZKE: Pitch is a called strike. Well, I think that's kind of a matter of personal preference, isn't it? Burriss, taking a curveball there. Here's the 0-1 pitch, and it's down low. One ball and one strike. You certainly know what the rain smells like once it rains, right?

ANDERSEN: No, that's when I feel it.

FRANZKE: Here's a swing and a ground ball. A little skimmer out to second. Beckham's got this one as well. Another easy play. Two gone.

ANDERSEN: It's like you can't see the wind. I really don't think you can smell the rain.

When Franzke was growing up in Dallas, he listened to Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel do Rangers games. They were his Harry and Whitey.

"The most obvious parallel is that for the bulk of the time I listened to those guys do Rangers baseball, the Rangers were bad," Franzke said. "Yet they were still entertaining to listen to. That's something I remember."

The current broadcast is rife with inside jokes. He is surprised more of the traditional radio listeners have not revolted.

But he remembers how excited his friends and he were when they knew some of Holtz's or Nadel's jokes. Or when they heard about a recurring character, like the elderly woman who sewed the names and numbers on the backs of Rangers uniforms.

"We felt like we were part of the club in a way," Franzke said. "I don't know. I felt like the season was this big book. Nobody's with you for every minute of every game. You have the big book of your baseball season. Some chapters are good. Some chapters aren't so good. Some scenes are just biding time."

Franzke and Andersen carpooled the two-hour drive to Disney World because once there is baseball, they are seldom apart. The shtick infiltrated the ride in Franzke's rented Jeep.

"Ten years?" Andersen said.

"Yeah," Franzke said. "It is ... kind of hard ... to believe ... that Larry's still alive. Back then, I didn't see this outcome for you."

"Nor did I," Andersen said. "Well, 10 years ago, I was in self-destruct mode. And you rescued me."

In those 10 years, Andersen has remarried. Franzke became a father to three children. He quips that 90 percent of married couples who spend as much time together as they do for seven months would be divorced. Especially, Franzke said, if they were married to Andersen.

"I've heard a number of people say it doesn't matter what happens in the game," Andersen said, "they're just anxious to hear what's going to come out of our mouths."

Franzke believes there is a method to it all, one that requires he be serious about the product but not himself or his partner.

The rain-delay calls stopped at 8:22 p.m., when the game was canceled. The broadcasters packed for the ride back. It rained even harder. Rob Brooks, their boss, handed them trash bags.

Franzke and Andersen pulled the bags over their heads. They both ripped holes through the top, and dashed through a downpour to the rental car.