Forum: Blue Jays radio booth

Forum: Blue Jays radio booth

by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email


Quick post to get some discussion going on the subject of the Blue Jays radio pairings.


As I wrote here, I thought Mike Wilner was not treated especially well by management during the hiring of the excellent Ben Wagner. It seems someone listened, as Mr. Wilner has been quietly promoted to traveling radio guy, as opposed to being the third man in for home games.


In case you need a memory jog, the first month of the season featured Wagner and Shulman, Wagner and Kevin Mae-Barker, Wagner and Josh Thole. Thole left for other opportunities and this seems to have created a vacuum in the Sportsnet depth chart, leading to Wilner’s promotion. This despite the fact that the season opening press release claimed there would be a rotation of analysts joining Wagner. It’s unclear who they had in mind, if anyone, beyond Thole.


The current pairing is Wilner and Blair. The cynical part of me thinks that this is an attempt to get Blair some reps in a format where he can’t take 5 minutes to tell a 30 second anecdote. The more realistic interpretation is that Moore et al are having a hard time attracting a qualified candidate to take over the chair next to Wagner’s.


Part of that is due to the timing: Jerry’s sudden departure left the team at 590 scrambling. That is not great management since his health issues have been a public matter for several years now. Another part is money. Sportsnet just finished Year 4 of their massive NHL deal and ratings have been well below projections. The lack of cash can be seen in all aspects of their hiring decisions (outside of PTS) over the last couple of years.


What does this all mean? It’s going to be the summer of George! Look for every male Sportsnet name to get a shot at participating in the Jays radio broadcasts over the next few months. Presumably at some point they will convince a JP Arencibia or Robbie Alomar or David Wells to come in for the rest of the season.


My own opinion is that their current strategy is deeply devaluing the brand that 590 built up with Tom and Jerry over the last 25+ years. Think of the familiarity all Ontarians have with 590. The station has been the sound of summer on lakes and cottages across thousands of kilometres and several generations. Now they have lost all of that familiarity and substituted it with more airtime for the only Jays personality whose brand involves demeaning the fanbase. That might play well with some subset of the listenership, but I’d argue not with the majority.


A much safer strategy would have been to keep the affable Siddall in his previous role and to allow fans to get used to him and Wagner. Siddall has the Howarth stamp of approval and operates in a similar family-friendly ballpark. However Scott Moore is known for shaking things up so this state of affairs is consistent with past management decisions at HNIC.


Over to you: is the lack of consistency on radio affecting your listening? Has any pairing jumped out as the obvious way forward? How much money can Alan Ashby possibly cost?




thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

photo credit: Toronto Sun


  • comment-avatar
    Joeybutts3 years ago

    I don’t mind Wagner-Wilner but I wish they would stop flip-flopping calls every third inning.

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    Long Winded Mitch3 years ago

    Wilner straight out screams into the mic every big play. He is the worst, least nuanced, most unsophisticated baseball play by play caller I have ever heard. Silence the screaming!

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    Mitch, complaining? shocked!

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    Jerry’s a legend, but I wasn’t enjoying his pairing with Siddall that much. I think Jerry needed to be paired with someone with a harder edge or it all sounded a bit too smiley and old fashioned. And a bit dull, honestly. I actually prefer Ben and Mike so far. Just sounds a bit younger and a bit more fun.

    You’re making it seem like now they’re trying out Blair as a play by play guy. I really don’t think that’s the case. Based on Blair saying this was a ‘bucket list’ thing on twitter, I think Wagner probably just had to miss a series and Blair stepped in as a fun one off. They don’t really seem to be trying anyone out anymore, seems as though they’ve more or less settled on Wagner/Wilner going forward.

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    Steve in Waterloo3 years ago

    I think Siddall is underutilized in the television format, and would welcome his return to call with Wagner. Jays central is boring in it’s current format.

    I respect Wilner, but I do think he is best as the 3rd voice in the booth and post game show.

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    Just can’t understand why they let Wilner on the broadcasts, it’s not like he really has any kind of baseball background, never played and a degree in journalism doesn’t give him any baseball knowledge. Hell, I’ve followed the game longer than he has and would put my knowledge against his anyday. True play by play guys always have anecdotes from past experiences and don’t just rhyme off a bunch of stats from some sheet of paper. Too bad they couldn’t bring back Alan Ashby but Siddall is fine, put him back in the booth. Also great to have Shulman on tv, no insufferable get up ball get up calls

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    Wilner and Wagner is no Tom and Jerry or even a Jerry and Alan Ashby. But i’m surprised how good they are.

    Decent, with a chance for improvement.

    Mike is much better than expected. Ben Wagner is a little bland, but there are some signs that he might be loosening up a bit.

    I like Joe Siddal a lot better on TV. He’s too teachy on the radio. He isn’t a story teller, and doesn’t have the right pace for radio.

    I missed Blair, so can’t comment. Happy to never hear Josh Thole again – not sure what they were thinking with that choice. Barker is an interesting person, is a story teller, but still needs some practice. Would help if he slowed down and forgot that he is an ex-player for an inning or two.

    In short, I am pleasantly surprised.

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    Oh, yeah – Shulman is great. Tough to find someone better than Dan.

    Howard, you can’t have it both ways – Shulman didn’t play and doesn’t have anecdotes from his playing days. He’s a guy with College radio experience from when he was studying to be an Actuary. I think you’ve just got an axe to grind with Wilner from Jays talk. He’s a very different guy on the Jays broadcast.

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    Original Mitch3 years ago

    Maybe its because the team stinks so badly and will be stinking for years to come, but boy did Rogers pick a bad time to give us MORE Mike Wilner. What a bush league radio broadcast it has become. Color commentators are supposed to, you know, bring COLOR to the analysis of the game. Not just sabermetrics they printed from Yahoo sports an hour before the game. Color commentators should ALWAYS be former players. It’s not rocket science. Play by Play is the dweeb sports journalist with the stats and color commentator is former player with stories and inside perspective. Who the hell wants to hear Wilner tell us about hitting a left handed pitcher!
    But since they appear to not have 1 of the 10 million former players waiting in the wings for the job, you know what the solution is? Have Wagner or Shulman go at it alone! That’s right, that’s how you deal with it properly. Don’t tell me Wagner or Shulman can’t handle it. They would be just fine. The guy who does the Canadian games in Vancouver is all alone. They should have hired him.
    Nope, we get a bunch of sycophantic talking heads who have never picked up a bat in their lives. What a time to be a Blue Jays fan!

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    I don’t listen on radio anymore so I don’t personally have any skin in the game. Commute via transit and I listen to live radio through TuneIn (where MLB audio is blocked). Have listened to Wagner only once or twice and liked what I heard.

    What I will say from the days where I used to listen to games on radio often is this: First, Wilner has improved tremendously from when he first stepped up to the booth and I rate him as a pleasurable in-game listen. Not ready to hand the reins over to him as he could still be more polished (from when I last listened regularly) but he deserves more time in the booth to see if he and Wagner can develop some good chemistry.

    Second, it goes without saying, but there really is no replacing Jerry Howarth. His voice and style exuded warmth, friendliness, and enthusiasm, with a delivery containing a certain tranquility that just sounded like baseball. That last bit – sounding exactly like baseball – can’t be fully explained or quantified, except to say that he’s like the Bob Cole of baseball for me. The timeless narrators of their respective sports.

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    Wilner and Blair – Wow I just couldn’t take it – Ben Wagner is pleasant and an easy listen – Pair Wagner with a competent colour guy and leave Wilner at home and Shulman for the TV – It seems that the powers that be want to end radio broadcasts – They are certainly doing a good job of it as I will not listen to the broadcasts as long as Wilner and/or Shulman are on the radio – Or perish the thought more Jeff Blair! – I never watch TV simply because of ‘get up ball get up”

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    BingoBangoBongo3 years ago

    The hate for Wilner is what it is, but it’s somewhat disingenuous to say he doesn’t have anecdotes or that you could do better. The guy has been part of the broadcasts for years and has been around the players throughout that timeframe. I get it. You hate him. But you’re also disrespecting everybody who does the job. It’s not easy. Some schmuck can’t just walk off the street and do a better job. Also, maybe have some idea of how baseball has been broadcast for a very long time. The best play-by-play in Blue Jays history was Tom and Jerry. Where did they play? Personally I think a lot of the bashing has more to do with Jerry’s retirement. He and Tom were a part of the fabric of the game, and the change is massive. But they’re not coming back, so get used to it.

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    If anyone needs a Jerry Howarth fix he was in studio for an hour on Blair’s show on Thursday June 7 (10 AM hour)

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    Podcast descriptions reached a new low. Not sure what the reson is but this was not an accident. I am against glomming 3 hours of a Pod into one desccription; less detsil, less reason to listen. And PTS reached a nee low tonight with no times associated with their show breakdown. #Failure.

    Today’s guests: Joe Siddall, Toronto Blue Jays Analyst, Katie Strang, The Athletic, Alan Doyle, Canadian Singer and Songwriter, Stephen Brunt, Co-Host Prime Time Sports and Rex Hoggard, Golf Channel. ( 1:30 -ish of Podcast)

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    I’m surprised both the column and the comments did not really allude to Ben Wagner sitting out the TB series. Strikes me as quite extraordinary for a “lead announcer” to miss an entire series at this age and career juncture. So I can’t help but wonder if the commitment is wavering in some way.

    I’ve been a Wagner booster from day one. But one thing I didn’t realize is his voice is quite thin for a big league announcer. You notice it next to Wilner, and holy cow next to Shulman it’s like man and boy. Yes Jerry was nasal, but his voice still had a strength and clarity.

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    The whole broadcast sounds like an unfinished product. Not a good radio experience.

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    I don’t listen to radio broadcasts so I can’t comment on that. But, and this may be an unpopular comment, I’m not really digging Shulman on tv. Yes, he’s absolutely better than Buck with regard to play-calling (Buck btw, is one of the best colour analysts out there, but an awful play-by-play guy). The problem I have with Shulman is his constant attempts to make even the most routine plays sound surprisingly interesting – “…and ANOTHER groundball out for Aaron Sanchez!!” “And it looks like John AXFORD is getting ready to come in!” I think someone may have mentioned to him to try to liven things up, understandably – considering what he’s working with (crappy team and Tabler…). But for me, Shulman seems to be forcing it too much these days. But yes, still better than Buck!

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    Gary M

    — I wondered about Wagner not being in the booth but I thought it had something to do with family obligations – Maybe he isn’t thrilled with how much PbP time he is losing to Wilner and Shulman – The few games I have tried to listen I didn’t think he was comfortable with Wilner and Shulman never shuts up long enough to gauge Wagners reaction good or bad – Too bad things are so screwed up because I find Wagner pleasant to listen to –

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    I am fine with Wilner not being a former player, the part I have difficulty with is the dual personality of bouncy play-by-play guy to acerbic post-game host. I feel the swithching hurts his credibility in both roles. Pick one and run with it

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    Great points, MontfromLondon. Last time Shulman was in the booth, I noticed Wilner chiming in a lot while Wagner stayed virtually silent. Also agree with Sperk 100%.

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    Why no afternoon Jays games on TV?

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    Mont: It’s a deal that MLB signed with Facebook. It gave Facebook 25 exclusive Wednesday afternoon games. I think today’s game was the last time the Jays have to deal with it.