A few thoughts on WGN

When I was a child my grandparents would babysit me over the summers at the old family home that belonged to the Martinez clan for 30 years. Memories were cultivated in and around that house; first wiffle ball homerun, first bike ride etc etc. One of the fonder memories centers around WGN, baseball, and my grandfather.

We are a White Sox family. When my grandfather emigrated here from Mexico to find work in the United States he settled in, with his young family, on Chicago’s lower west side. My grandfather played baseball in Mexico when he was there and raised his sons as White Sox fans as Comiskey I was a short drive away from Little Village.

During the 80s the White Sox decided to experiment with Cable TV and it completely turned my grandfather off. He was a bit of a socialist and believed that sports should be available to everyone. He turned to the one completely free source of baseball Chicago still offered

He turned to WGN and the Chicago Cubs.

So in my youth I was raised as a White Sox fan by my uncles, and I watched the Cubs with my grandfather in his hot bedroom during those brutal Chicago summers (there was no AC in his room).

I bring this up because the Cubs are rumored to be leaving WGN. I’m not unique in my story by any means but I tell it to illustrate the next point.

While I understand, deeply, how troublesome the Cubs potential move away from WGN can be for fans I also fully understand the business end of the whole deal. Baseball as a game can still adhere to the idealogical principles we assign to it. Baseball as a business is a completely different model. Teams across the league are rolling in the cable money, most notably the Dodgers who were filing for bankruptcy just a few years ago.

It’s not ideal, but acquiring the best possible deal for broadcasting games is a must for the Cubs. It won’t do for ownership to hang onto nostalgia at the cost of potential earned income. Memories are for the fans. My grandfather would be upset if he were alive to see this happen today but I still have the memory of us watching the Cubs together on WGN.

A new TV deal won’t take that away from me.

Filed under: Cubs Nostalgia

Tags: Baseball, Cubs, WGN


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    I dig it

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    I started following the Cubs in '69. Come home after school, turn the TV on while changing out of my school clothes and watch the end of the game before going out to play. Every game was televised. When I couldn't watch them on TV, I listened to Vince and Lou on the radio. I became a fan because the games were easily accessible. As Cub games are becoming less available on free TV, the team is losing, and will continue to the lose, young fans. Young fans turn into life-long fans. I appreciate that the Cubs feel they need more revenue to keep pace in today's MLB, but what they'll end up with is more money and less true Cub fans.

  • In reply to Ray:

    I don't know. Maybe Clark and a jumbo will bring in more young fans these days. My grandkids have no interest in watching the Cubs on WGN, but enjoy the mascots and cartoons on the big screen.

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    Well said. I think all of us have a WGN story like this. For me, it was my grandmother, watching games in her kitchen while she smoked cigarettes and yelled at Leon Durham striking out TV.

    That was 1984, so of course I was hooked.

  • In reply to Phil James:

    Other than the cigarette smoking part - sounds like your grandma and my grandma would have gotten along famously.

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    She's still the most interesting person I've ever known. Margaret Helen James.

  • In reply to Phil James:

    For me it was my mother. I had liked the Cubs for as long as I could remember, but living in St. Louis, we only saw the Cubs when the Cardinals were in Chicago, as Gussie Busch didn't air Cards' home games back in the 80's. During the summer of 1987 my mother broke down and ordered cable...For no other reason than the fact that we would get WGN. So as a 6 year old, I got to watch the 2nd half of Andre Dawson's MVP season.

    So for nostalgia purposes, I want to see the Cubs on WGN. But I also don't want to see the Cubs at a competitive or financial disadvantage in terms of their TV money. So if it's best for the club to go elsewhere, I'm okay with it.

  • Might be a while before I can see many Cubs games again. I don't subscribe to cable TV and I won't start because the remaining games are moved to the pay format. I'd pay for the games individually (MLB.tv seems like the logical solution once the cable model dies and baseball can market itself directly to fans), but I won't buy 40 channels I won't watch in order to see the Cubs.

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    Grew up watching the Cubs on WGN. Grandfather "turned" me on to them. Back in the day only two channels. My brother and me were the remote controls. After a few innings my grandfather would get pissed at the Cubs and have us change the channel. Priceless. How many people are Cub fans now because of WGN?

  • WGN brought the Cubs into a lot of people's homes around the country via the Super-station. Before there were teams in places like Arizona and Colorado, people became Cubs fans because they were the only team on their TV. To me, the nationwide network of Cubs fans will always be the WGN legacy. People in Chicago will always have some level of exposure to the team. It's the out of town fan, who makes an annual pilgrimage to Wrigley, that you risk losing by leaving WGN.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    Im one of those-I live in AZ, so Im familiar with the Snakes , but I grew up a Cubs fan and always will be. WGN is one of those reasons.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    You're right! WGM broadcast have had much more value than just nostalgia. While I'm a Cub fan because my father was, and not because of WGN, it's not an accident that whatever ballpark in America that the Cubs show up in, there will be hundreds or even thousands of Cub fans their rooting for them. That may fade away if the WGN broadcasts end up going the way of the dodo bird.

  • Summers as a kid in the late 60s and early 70s were all about WGN Cubs games and the 1:20 starts. We always missed the start of the game because Mom watched the "Newlywed Game" on Ch. 5 from 1 to 1:30. I loved the fact that the visitors bat first in baseball, which met my brothers and I usually didn't miss Kessinger, Beckert, Billy -- and maybe even Ernie and Ronny -- in the bottom of the first.

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    Living in Indianapolis I won't have access either but if it means more revenue and more resources for Theo or his successors I'm all for it. More night games will bring more young people too when they're out on summer break. And most of the people I know who grew up watching the Cubs just because they're on WGN don't even like baseball anymore. People can't complain about the lack of spending and then complain when the Cubs aren't trying to squeeze every possible dollar they can. It's a new era in MLB.

  • I grew up watching Bozo the clown then the Cubs. Need more
    money to keep playing with the big boys

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Romper Room, Bozo the Clown, and Cubs. I still have a Pavlovian response to the Andy Griffith Show because when it came on WGN in the afternoon it meant no Cubs game.

  • If the team expects to compete, we cant stop progress. Revenues are now at the point where a regional sports network makes more financial sense, and helps promote the ability to compete. Look at the Angels-Anahiem is nowhere near the size of Chicago, yet there are close to even the Dodgers in terms of ability to compete, largely due to there TV revenues.

  • I feel for out of town fans but the Cubs make more money by doing this and the nostalgia of Wrigley will continue to fill seats, especially once the rebuild enters the next phase.

  • What is WGN's reason for being if not for the ballgames?

    Without the Cubs I see them getting busted off cable outside of Chicago unless they diversify in a big way ala TBS.

  • Unrelated, but a fun read on the Cubs home page about 15 prospects brought to Chicago as part of their development. They met with Theo, Tom, and Ricks Renteria and Sutcliffe. Also took hitting practice from Bill Mueller at Northwestern.

  • My WGN story comes from watching the Cubs game after school against the Pirates. Sad Sam Jones was throwing a no hitter and entering the ninth inning he walked the bases loaded, and then proceeded to strike out the side. One of those final three batters was Roberto Clemente,amazing in my young eyes.

  • The next logical step is then to apply the same argument you make for a new TV deal to Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field is just as nostalgic as WGN, but does it really maximize the Cubs revenue potential even if all the improvements are made and is it the most conducive location to the Cubs ever winning a World Series?

  • In reply to Cleme:

    Yes it does!

  • In reply to Cleme:

    No, it really doesn't. I think we're getting ready to move into a new Cubs era w/r/t all of the revenue streams and new proposals.

  • In reply to Mauricio Rubio Jr.:

    Maybe some day, but Ricketts wouldn't be renovating to move out. Good news for most of us because we love Wrigley and Wrigleyville.

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    I get the economics of the deal, but for nostalgic reasons and future fans, I hope they can keep Sunday games on WGN at least. I think there will be alot of smart people in the room and I hope this is an option they can work with. They will definitely not be poorer, but I think both sides will be less off if they don't.

  • Hey, Hey. The Cubs gotta do what they gotta do. If they feel they can get a better return on their assets elsewhere, they would be silly not to pursue it.

    The problem is that their product does not place them in the best bargaining position. Good luck trying to negotiate a premium deal based upon the promise of a group of guys playing AA ball. With people losing interest, it ain't gonna happen.

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    If it weren't for WGN, this kid who grew up in southern Oregon would probably be a Braves fan or something else. The Mariners and Giants were non factors in the early 80s and the magic of Ryno, Harry, Lee Smith, Jody Davis, Bull, etc grabbed me in 84. The brand was established there. My cable options do not include it where I live now, but my parents still have WGN and when I am there I try to catch at least one game.

  • I've been a Cub fan ever since 1958 when Ernie Banks was tearing the cover off the ball. As an out-of-towner, yes, I've really appreciated WGN radio and television broadcasts of the team. However, I am a CUBS FAN, and I want the team to be competitive and forward looking. So I'm all in favor of a new Cubs network, the jumbotron scoreboard, and Clark the new mascot. Wrigley Field may be historic, but it is not a museum. There will be no Wrigley Field if the Cubs were to leave, so bring on the jumbotron in a tasteful way. Bring on a new Cubs network. If WGN is not competitive for the Cubs, then the Cubs need to do what they need to do in order to get their product out there. Otherwise, they will always be cellar dwellers. Bring on Clark. For Pete's sake. He's for the littlest kids, and they are the Cubs fans 10 and 20 years from now. He'll be part of THEIR growing up experience as a Cub fan, and they will remember their Cub youth, just as I do. The Cubs have to move forward, and us Cub fans have to keep up! I'm there now as I have always been, and I'll be there tomorrow! Go, Cubs, Go! Change the words to the song if WGN doesn't hold onto the broadcast rights. I'm a little mad at them anyway. I refuse to listen to Ken Harrelson anymore. I subscribe to MLB.TV just for that reason. I get more Cubs games and less Harrelson. He gone!

  • Let's not forget the quality of the WGN broadcasts back in the day. I believe WGN was one of the first to have a centerfield camera so you could call the balls and strikes with the ump. It was a drop off to watch the game of the week. Arnie Harris was a pioneer!

  • I grew up watching the Cubs on WGN as well - although from my northern Indiana hometown just across the lake from Chicago (if you went to the lakeshore about 10 miles from that town you could see the Sears Tower and Skyline on a rare clear day) we got the broadcasts via our external antenna.

    Enjoyed watching Cubs (and Bulls games for that matter) most of the 1990s via WGN on my Kansas cable network. Although they dropped WGN sometime about 2000-2001.

    Don't get WGN via the local cable network here in the DC area anyway, so if I were to begin watching games regularly on TV I would have to get piped into one of the team specific or league specific packages anyway.

    Other than the nostalgia factor - doesn't make too much difference to me where they are televised or radio broadcast (I regularly stream broadcast audio via internet).

  • I have same memories as you have with WGN. That is how we got hooked on Cubs, that is how I have gotten my 3 yr old daughter hooked on the cubs. Some of her first words were go cubbies. I just don't have a good feeling about cubs turning there back on WGN. One can say the money will help. Management has raised ticket prices over the past years, have Under Armour and Toyota ads in Wrigley and have hosted concerts in Wrigley to "raise money" for the club. Where has that money gone the past off seasons?

  • I understand and support the financial incentive behind the move, but for selfish reasons, I hope that the reported deal with Fox isn't strictly a local agreement (though I assume it is).

    I live in Iowa and am lucky enough to receive both WGN and CSN through my cable package. However, if WGN games went to a Chicagoland affiliate, those of us living in Iowa would lose the option to see those games.

    I would gladly pay for MLB.tv to pick up those games, but unfortunately the Cubs are one of six teams (White Sox, Brewers, Twins, Cardinals and Royals are the others) that consider Iowa part of their territorial right, and thus have their games blacked out through this service.

    I have long thought MLB has needed to change its outdated blackout restrictions since they were put in place before the internet became what it is today. All MLB is really doing is limiting the number of customers who would otherwise gladly pay for the ability to watch their favorite team. I know it isn't quite as simple as I make it out to be (advertiser/local affiliate concerns, etc.), but you would think there would be some sort of solution to change this archaic system. But I digress...

  • The Cubs have to maintain -- no, GROW -- that national fan base some way. I'm not sure WGN Superstation is the future in terms of reach, let alone programming other than the Cubs. It's become a bad TV station. The 10th Inning is awful ... all commercials with Len interrupting the ads to talk about the game for maybe 20 seconds.
    The cable world has only just begun to grow and mature. Who knows what the future will bring? WGN is a thing of the past. It's a bit sad (I've been watching it for almost 60 years), but I think true.

  • In reply to Floyd Sullivan:

    I do not care about the 10th inning show. I care about being able to watch the games.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    There are those of us who grew up on the 10th Inning, when Jack Brickhouse would actually interview players or personnel at length. It was part of the game broadcast. The way it is now is irritating and alienates a certain % of fan base, perhaps not you, but others including me. I'd rather watch the game on Comcast and watch Kap or whomever after. WGN and the Cubs shouldn't be alienating any percentage of their fan base. It means an erosion of viewership.

  • In reply to Floyd Sullivan:

    That was cool on Brickhouse. Guess I didn't realize 10th inning show goes that far back. I just believe WGN made the cubs popular all over america and to take that away is a negative.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    I agree, but I don't think WGN will fill that role as effectively as before. WGN used to be the only baseball option in many places. The way cable and the Internet are going, I doubt that it's the same situation now, and will probably be less and less so in the near future.

  • I think moving away from WGN will be a big loss for the Cubs in terms of building and maintaining a loyal fan base across the country. They shouldn't underestimate that unique fan loyalty, based on years of watching Cubs baseball on cable, of folks who live away from the Chicagoland area.

    Many of us don't live in Chicagoland or get FSN Chicago on our local cable, and as a result, would not be able to follow the Cubs if they left WGN. I know there would be other sources (like MLB Gameday etc.), but it just wouldn't be the same thing.

    The Cubs have to do what they have to do, but this fan would be highly disappointed if they moved away from "free" cable access (whether that be WGN or some other cable station).

  • When I lived on the Illinois side of the river in Cardinal country, the local cable company tried to drop WGN. So many Cub fans in the region dropped thier service that they reconsidered. My guess is that there is a trade off effect. I assume that that fact has been weighted.

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    OT, good news from Ken Rosenthal this morning: Sources: #Cubs pushing hard for Tanaka. #Angels remain involved, along with others previously mentioned - #Yankees, #Dodgers, etc.

  • Living in California, WGN has been my main source of Cubs games. If they move to another station, I'll just sign up for MLBTV.

    Without the Cubs, there's no reason to watch WGN anyway. All they will have left is stale reruns of old sitcoms. No reason for cable companies to carry them any more.

  • I grew up in southeastern Illinois and primarily followed the Cubs via WGN radio broadcasts with Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau. The only times I could watch the Cubs on TV were their rare appearances on the Game of the Week or when rare weather conditions gave us a snowy picture of the Sunday afternoon WGN games rebroadcast by a station in Champaign, which was over 100 miles away. I'll miss the WGN games if they go away, but I'll still follow the Cubs on XM radio.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    That's how I got hooked on the Cubs. I grew up in central Illinois (surrounded largely by Cardinals fans), but we got the Cubs every Sunday on the Champaign station--which was fortunately in my viewing area, so the reception was great. I got most of my Cubs coverage from WGN radio, with Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau. By the 80's, I had moved to North Carolina and was starved for the Cubs (not available on TV or radio), but eventually the local cable picked up WGN, and I was able to watch more games than I could growing up in Illinois.

    I have very mixed feelings about this. I want the Cubs to get the big TV money like other teams have. But I would hate to lose the games on WGN. If WGN could keep the Cubs on Sundays, as someone else mentioned, that would keep me happy. As it is, I hate the Sundays now when there's a White Sox game instead of a Cubs game on WGN. Sunday should always belong to the Cubs. And the national WGN coverage has definitely helped the Cubs grow beyond Chicago. That is a valuable asset.

    I know we've got other options now. But the cable baseball package is just too expensive. The other thing that bothers me about buying that is that I feel like I'm subsidizing other teams. I want my money going to support the Cubs, not the Yankees or the Dodgers, who are already swimming in money, and god forbid it go to support the Cardinals who don't need any more help. I feel the same way about the MLB online package; it's a lot more affordable, but I don't want to subsidize other teams. The problem with online is also that video isn't reliable here, and the video quality has gotten worse over the past couple of years. We can't watch youtube any more without it constantly hanging, so I don't know that it's worth paying for online baseball video when the reception may be poor.

    I do want the Cubs to get the most TV money they can, and I'll have to figure something out if they leave WGN. If they get some regional network, I guess I'll have to badger my cable company to add it to the lineup. After all, the Big 10 Network is available here in NC, if you want to buy their Sports Pass.

  • Who could forget those Murph's '76 commercials with goofy Nick and cute Jill? 162 games of them.

    Who was the garage or shed company that sponsored the Lead-Off Man show before the home games?

  • In reply to Jim Hickman:

    Do you remember the Hamms beer 'Bearcats'?

  • In reply to 44slug:

    No, I can't say I do.

    In Danville we first got cable in 1967, but until sometime in the 70's we only got a very fuzzy picture of WGN (especially in the daytime), something to do with a territorial rights lawsuit and such.

    In the summers, I used to watch the afternoon games with the radio on and only turned up the TV sound to try to hear a Brickhouse "Hey, Hey" call.

    I do remember Lloyd Pettit and Jim West, hockey announcers who were Jack's baseball partners from year to year. Pettit was great at hockey, especially on the radio, but both he and West were not much at baseball.

  • In reply to Jim Hickman:

    Oh, how right you are about Pettit. I had about forgotten about him. Great hockey play by play. He made you think you were there watching the game. "A shot and a GOAL!!"

  • In reply to Jim Hickman:

    Danley's Garage Sales, I think. Everytime I hear "Jump" I automatically move into the Cubs pregame routine. "Brought to you by Union 76, go with the Spirit, the Spirit of 76." Classic.

  • In reply to BobMiller146:

    Right you are. Thanks.

  • In reply to Jim Hickman:

    It was Danley's. Those Murph's 76 commercials were like little movies :)

  • So much to read about the great Cubs farm system. Is there to
    much pressure to bring them up by mid year?

  • Average Yearly Tv Rights Fees / Expiration Year
    Reds $30 million / 2016
    Brewers $20 million 2019
    Pirates $18 million/ 2019
    Cardinals $25-$28 million / 2017

    Cubs get $50 million combined WGN/CSN

    Here's an explanation of the Yes Network and other NY sports channels


  • I grew up watching them on WGN in Chicago and continued watching them on WGN when I moved here (much better back in the 80s, early 90s when almost every game was on WGN with good old Harry). As an interesting side note, there are many Cub fans in the military because back then Armed Forces network refused to carry Braves games (because of Hanoi Jane Fonda) so the Cubs on WGN got lots of new fans!

  • Growing up, I always wanted to become an accountant so I could help Bert Weinmann Ford with their inventory issues - they were ALWAYS overstocked!

  • Oh! Oh! What about:
    - 588-0300! Empire! (boom)
    - Bullock Garage and their revolutionary garage door openers! Ok. I guess it was Danley's Garage Sales, as bobmiller146 points out above
    - Purple Martin gasoline ? I might be thinking of radio; and of course
    - G Heilimans (sp) Genuine Old Style Beer. What was the gingle? I always hated that the Cubs official beer had Wisconsin water in it. (!)

  • In reply to rickmonday:

    The 588-0300 is still on, only nationally now. I'm pretty sure the guy that runs that company wrote that jingle and he was in a barbershop quartet called "Chordiac Arrest". He wrote all these parodies with familiar old tunes and hilarious lyrics, i.e. "502, Where are You?" (acting as a flight crew) to "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue". If you want some great laughs, go to you-tube and watch these guys.

  • I can't wait to watch the Bud Lime Water Slide commercial 25 times per game again this year!

  • The only reason we subscribe to cable is because of my girlfriend's incessant need for mindless TV at night time.

    I used to cancel cable, and then start it back up during Cubs season. I've been watching a long time. However, I've always supported the free market model of television, namely, ala carte.

    If the Cubs go at it alone, they will have this subscriber. I would pay $100+ per year easily for access to all the Cubs games. And, I don't think they would even need blackout rules any longer under that scenario.

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    If WGN is within 10M per year or so then I think it is a no brainier to draw a national audience... It is for this same reason that I think they should not play weekday night games at wriglwy. Reserve those for weekends. Cubs fans are nationwide b/c kids like me grew up watching them on tv during their summers. I compare it to the NHL and their decision to move to obscure networks. It has driven it's popularity down and made their next TV deal less yet. The old adage a penny wise and a pound foolish comes to mind.

  • Great memories, guys. I think it was Jack Quinlan, then Vince Lloyd with Lou that hooked me as a kid. We only had an antenna in downstate Illinois, so WGN TV was mostly snow and would fade in and out. However, I could get the radio broadcasts and couldn't stand to not be listening. My mother used to get angry with me for listening to the game on the west coast instead of getting to sleep on school nights.

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