History of Steelers Broadcasting….

Since the Steelers inaugural season in 1933, the team has had a steady presence on radio. After all, Pittsburgh was the birthplace of broadcast radio. In October 1919, Frank Conrad, a Westinghouse electrical 10-31-20-radio-ad-election-resultsengineer operating a radio station (8XK) from his garage, captivated amateur radio enthusiasts when he first broadcast music from his record collection over radio. Conrad’s musical broadcasts became so popular that in September 1920 local Pittsburgh department store Horne’s installed a radio receiver in its downtown store to receive amateur broadcasts, and became the first department store to advertise and sell radio sets. A month later in October 1920, Conrad’s employer Westinghouse Electric capitalized on the increasing popularity of his amateur broadcasts by establishing the first commercial radio station (KDKA). KDKA’s first broadcast was on the evening of November 2, 1920 when it announced the election results between Warren Harding and James Cox to an audience of about 1,000 listeners. KDKA was officially launched on December 22, 1920 when it started daily programming. A year later, Westinghouse was producing radios that were marketed and sold throughout the city.

The first major league baseball radio broadcast was on August 5, 1921 when the Pirates defeated the Phillies 8-5harold-arlin-photo at Forbes Field. A couple of months later on October 8, 1921 the first college football live radio broadcast took place at Forbes Field when the University of Pittsburgh defeated West Virginia University 21-13. All Pitt home games that year were broadcast on the radio. These historic sports broadcasts were announced by KDKA’s Harold Arlin, considered radio’s first broadcast announcer. Arlin was an engineer at Westinghouse when he applied and got the job to be KDKA’s full-time announcer. He left the world of radio broadcasting in 1925  when he accepted a promotion within Westinghouse, but he pioneered a field that would produce Pittsburgh sports broadcasting legends like Rosey Rowswell, Joe Tucker, Bob Prince, Mike Lange and Myron Cope.

The Steelers are currently in their 84th season, and since their founding in 1933 they have had four flagship radio stations: WWSW, KDKA, WTAE and WDVE. For the first six seasons on radio station WWSW (1933 through 1938), only Steeler away games were broadcast. The team thought that broadcasting home games would keep fans from coming to the ball park. The broadcasts were not live from the ballpark, because in those days many radio stations lacked the technology or sponsorships (budget) to do live game broadcasts. Instead, WWSW would re-create the games remotely in studio, where the announcer and sound engineers received play-by-play game action over ticker tape (the wire) from a telegraph operator at the ballpark. Sound effects like crowd noise were added in the studio to make the 12-31-49-wwsw-ad-joe-tucker-bob-princelistener feel like the broadcast was coming directly from the stadium. The first Steelers broadcast on WWSW was October 15, 1933 when the Steelers played the Packers at City Stadium in Green Bay.

In 1939, KDKA became the primary station for the Steelers. For the first time, all Steeler games were broadcast, both away and home. In addition, KDKA had the technology to broadcast direct from the ballpark. However, the quality of the live broadcasts often suffered from technical difficulties, so as a backup WWSW still re-created the games in studio via ticker tape (telegraph) and broadcast simultaneously. If the live game broadcast was interrupted on KDKA, fans could switch to WWSW and not miss any of the action. The opening game between the Steelers and Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field on September 14, 1939 was the first live Steeler broadcast direct from the field (the Steelers scheduled opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on September 10, 1939 was postponed). The following week on September 24, 1939 the first ever Steeler home game was broadcast locally in Pittsburgh when the Steelers played the Chicago Cardinals at Forbes Field.

10-2-39-kdka-wwsw-direct-from-field-broadcastIn 1940, the Steelers returned to WWSW. The station now had the ability to broadcast direct from the field. KQV served as the partner station that re-created the games and broadcasted them simultaneously alongside the WWSW live broadcasts. Again, all Steelers games (both home and away) were broadcast, which would be the case moving forward. Starting in 1941, only live Steeler broadcasts direct from the ballpark were carried on the radio; re-created studio broadcasts were officially phased out.
In the broadcast booth, the Steelers had frequent turnover for the first few years of their existence.  In the Steelers inaugural season of 1933, Ed Sprague called the games. In 1934 and 1935, Al Helfer was behind the microphone. In 1936, Jack Craddock replaced Helfer and did the play-by-play until he left the station in November 1936.  Joe Tucker replaced Craddock and continued behind the microphone for the 1937 & 1938 seasons. When KDKA became the main Steelers flagship station for the 1939 season and started broadcasting live from the field,  Russ Hodges was the play-by-play voice (Hodges later became famous for calling Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” game-ending, pennant-clinching home run against the Dodgers in 1951 when he cried repeatedly “The Giants win the pennant!”).

Joe Tucker would return to the microphone in 1940 and would be the main play-by-play announcer on joe-tucker-photoradio and/or television for the next 28 seasons, eventually being forced out after the 1967 season. Tucker was the original “Voice of the Steelers” and the first of several long-tenured voices behind the microphone for Steeler broadcasts.

When Tucker returned to the broadcast booth in 1940, television was still in its infancy. Residents of Pittsburgh had just gotten their first glimpse of television a year earlier in June 1939 when local department store Kaufmann’s showcased the technology during a week-long exhibition at its 5th Avenue flagship store. Later that same year on October 22, 1939 NBC televised the first NFL game when it broadcast the Philadelphia Eagles and Brooklyn Dodgers.

The first televised Steelers game was on October 21, 1945 when they defeated the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds in NYC. However, Pittsburgh residents were unable to watch the game because the city didn’t have television service. On January 12, 1949 WDTV (a Dumont station) officially launched in Pittsburgh. In the weeks leading up to the launch, numerous department stores began advertising and selling television sets. On the evening of January 11, 1949 over 4,000 people filled the Syria Mosque concert hall to watch the inaugural live telecast that was broadcast to homes throughout Pittsburgh.

On September 25, 1949 ABC broadcast the first game from Pittsburgh when the Steelers opened their season by beating the New York Giants at Forbes Field. However, once again, local Steeler fans were unable to watch the game live on television. WDTV was restricted from carrying live broadcasts of Steeler games for the 1949 season. Atlantic Oil (now Sunoco and Arco) sponsored Steeler radio broadcasts, and they stipulated in their contract with the team that none of the games could be televised live. However, they did strike a deal where the games could be filmed and replayed later in the week. The games were boiled down to one-hour films and shown on Thursday nights at 10pm. Joe Tucker, who had been doing play-by-play for the Steeler radio broadcasts on WWSW, handled the same duty for the televised replays. Bob Prince, who joined Tucker on radio broadcasts in 1948, handled the color commentary and commercials.

For the 1950 season, in addition to being broadcast on the radio, all games were once again filmed and then converted into 30 minute highlight reels that were aired on Wednesday nights at 9:30pm on WDTV8-26-50-tucker-prince-wwsw-ad. Again, Tucker and Prince did the radio broadcasts for each game as well as the commentary for the televised highlights.

Finally, in 1951 local fans were able to see the Steelers live on TV for the first time when they faced the Browns in Cleveland on October 21, 1951. Five away games were carried live on WDTV for the 1951 season, while home were blacked-out. From 1951 through the 1972 season, the NFL had a league-wide policy where away games were televised in local markets while home games could only be heard on the radio. Much like when home games weren’t broadcast over the radio back in the 1930s, the league was concerned that fans wouldn’t attend home games if they could watch them from the comfort of their living rooms. Finally in 1973, the NFL ended this policy and allowed local markets to broadcast home games as long as those games were sold-out 72 hours in advance. On September 16, 1973 the Steelers first ever home game was televised locally in the Pittsburgh market when they defeated the Detroit Lions. From 1973 through today, the Steelers have had a weekly presence on local television and radio.

10-28-56-kdka-radio-and-tv-steelers-adJoe Tucker remained teamed up with legendary Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince through the 1956 season. When the Steelers played at home and were only broadcast on radio, Tucker did the play-by-play while Prince provided the color commentary. However, when the Steelers were on the road, Prince did the play-by-play on the radio while Tucker traveled with the team to broadcast the televised games. In 1955 ,the Steelers moved their radio broadcasts from WWSW to KDKA. Tucker and Prince were joined by Red Donley and Ken Hildebrand. While Tucker was broadcasting televised away games, Donley and Hildebrand worked alongside Bob Prince on the radio.

Prior to the 1957 season, Iron City Brewing Co. became the new sponsor of Pirates baseball radio broadcasts, while Duquesne Brewing Co. remained the sponsor of Steelers broadcasts. As a result of this conflict, Bob Prince (Pirates announcer) was removed from his double-duty as a Steelers broadcaster. For the 1957 season, Tom Bender was brought on to replace Prince, and he teamed up with Joe Tucker and Red Donley.

The Steelers relationship with KDKA only lasted three years. KDKA was also the flagship station for the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the first several weeks of each football season (late August, September and early October) it was common for Pirate games to overlap with Steelers games. KDKA always carried the Pirate games live due to the club’s popularity and sponsorship obligations, and the station would tape and rebroadcast the Steeler games after the conclusion of the baseball games. The Steelers organization wasn’t happy about being overshadowed by the Pirates, especially since they were trying to expand their popularity and fanbase. So in 1958, the Steelers broadcasts moved from KDKA back to WWSW. Tucker and Donley remained on the broadcast team, while Bender stayed at KDKA. As a result, Jack Fleming was hired to replace Bender and assist Red Donley with the away radio broadcasts when Tucker was doing the television broadcasts.

At the conclusion of the 1961 season, Red Donley left the Steelers broadcast booth and became the play-by-play announcer for the Pitt Panthers. Starting in 1962, Jack Fleming replaced Donley and became the main play-by-play announcer for Steelers road games, and provided color commentary alongside Joe Tucker when the Steelers were at home. When Fleming was doing play-by-play, he was sometimes assisted by Steelers publicity director Ed Kiely who provided the commentary.

In April 1964, the Steelers once again left WWSW and signed a contract to return to KDKA. Since KDKA 7-5-66-kdka-new-contract-steelers-dan-rooneywas still the flagship for the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the main hurdles in the negotiations was avoiding the broadcast conflicts between the Pirates and Steelers when they played simultaneously. KDKA agreed to farm-out the conflicting Steelers games to other stations to broadcast live, rather than taping and rebroadcasting like the station had done during their previous stint as the Steelers flagship. So from 1964 through 1967, when the Steelers and Pirates played at the same time, the Pirates broadcast live on KDKA-AM, while the Steelers broadcast live on WWSW and KDKA-FM. KDKA-AM would also replay the taped broadcast of the Steelers following the Pirates games.

The Steelers put pressure on KDKA to keep Joe Tucker in some capacity, but Tucker was the sports editor at rival WWSW. To appease the Steelers, KDKA  allowed Tucker to continue broadcasting Steeler games on television (WWSW granted permission to KDKA to use Tucker), but his radio broadcasting days were over. KDKA’s Tom Bender returned to replace Tucker in the booth and teamed up with Jack Fleming, with Bender doing play-by-play and Fleming doing commentary.

joe-tucker-1981

Joe Tucker joined Myron Cope in the booth on 9/20/81 for the Steelers vs. Jets

For the 1968 season, Joe Tucker was removed from his television duties by CBS. He looked to join the KDKA radio broadcasts, but the station chose to stick with Bender and Fleming. After 32 years as the Steelers play-by-play man on radio and/or television, Joe Tucker was officially no longer “The Voice of the Steelers”. With Tucker out, KDKA severed their partnership with WWSW (who had been “loaning” Tucker to KDKA for the televised games). For the 1968 and 1969 season, whenever there were broadcast conflicts between the Pirates and Steelers, KDKA-AM would broadcast the Pirates live, while WJAS would broadcast the Steelers live. KDKA-AM no longer replayed taped Steeler games after the conclusion of the Pirate games.

In 1970, the Steelers moved from KDKA to WTAE. Dan Rooney had assumed greater influence within the organization in the late 1960s, and he was frustrated that the Steelers were second fiddle to the Pirates on KDKA. Rooney  made the decision to move the Steelers to a new flagship station, WTAE, for the 1970 season, which coincided with the Steelers move from Pitt Stadium to their brand new home, Three Rivers Stadium.

Fleming remained the play-by-play broadcaster, but Bender was let go. The Steelers and WTAE initially reached out to Dick Stockton to join Fleming, but Stockton declined as he wanted to continue pursuing 8-24-86 Cope Fleming Steelers Broadcast Adplay-by-play on television broadcasts. The Steelers then set their sites on local Pittsburgh sports personality Myron Cope. Cope had spent almost his entire life as a writer and sports journalist in Pittsburgh, and had been with WTAE for a couple of years doing sports commentaries. Cope accepted the job as the new color analyst for the Steelers, a position he would hold for 35 straight years until his retirement in 2005.

Fleming eventually retired at the conclusion of the 1993 season after 36 years in the broadcast booth (24 years teamed up with Myron Cope). For the 1994 season, Bill Hillgrove teamed up with Myron Cope as the new play-by-play man for the Steelers. Hillgrove had been a broadcaster for WTAE for 27 years, and was the play-by-play announcer for both Pitt football and basketball since 1974. For the 1995 season, WTAE added former Steelers running back Merrill Hoge to the broadcast team. Hoge spent two seasons in the booth providing analysis alongside Hillgrove and Cope. Prior the start of the 1997 season, Hoge permanently joined ESPN, and once again it was just the two-person broadcast team of Hillgrove and Cope.

For the 1998 season, WTAE went back to a three-person broadcast crew when it hired former Steeler offensive tackle Tunch Ilkin to provide analysis alongside Hillgrove and Cope. The 1998 season would also be the final season of Steelers broadcasts on WTAE. After 29 straight seasons on WTAE, the Steelers moved to their new flagship WDVE on the FM dial starting in the 1999 season, and the broadcast trio of Hillgrove, Cope and Ilkin was retained.

At the conclusion of the 2005 season, Myron Cope retired after 35 years as the color analyst for the Steelers. The Steelers and WDVE did not replace the legendary “Voice of the Steelers”, and moving forward returned to a two-person broadcast team of Hillgrove and Ilkin, who continue broadcasting games on WDVE to this day.

Steelers Flagship Radio Stations:

  • WWSW from 1933 through 1938
  • KDKA 1939
  • WWSW 1940 through 1954
  • KDKA 1955 through 1957
  • WWSW 1958 through 1963
  • KDKA 1964 through 1969
  • WTAE 1970 through 1998
  • WDVE 1999 through 2018

Steelers Radio Broadcasters by Season:

Steelers Radio Broadcasters 1933 through 2016:

  • Ed Sprague (1 season)
  • Al Helfer (2 seasons)
  • Jack Craddock (2 seasons)
  • Joe Tucker (28 seasons)
  • Russ Hodges (1 season)
  • Woody Wolfe (1 season)
  • Bill Cullen (1 season)
  • Bob Prince (9 seasons)
  • Red Donley (7 seasons)
  • Ken Hildebrand (1 season)
  • Tom Bender (7 seasons)
  • Jack Fleming (36 seasons)
  • Myron Cope (35 seasons)
  • Bill Hillgrove (currently in his 23rd season in 2016)
  • Merrill Hoge (2 seasons)
  • Tunch Ilkin (currently in his 19th season in 2016)

Key Moments in Steelers Radio & Television Broadcast History:

  • 1933 – First Steelers radio broadcast locally in Pittsburgh on WWSW (10/15/33 – Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers – City Stadium)
  • 1933 through 1938 – Only Steelers away games broadcast on radio. All games are re-created remotely in studio; there are no live broadcasts direct from the ballpark
  • 1939 – All Steelers games now on the radio, both home and away. All games are now broadcast live from the ballpark. As backup in case of technical difficulties during the live broadcasts, a partner station re-creates the games and broadcasts simultaneously.
  • 1939 – First live Steeler radio broadcast locally in Pittsburgh on KDKA (9/14/39 – Steelers vs. Brooklyn Dodgers – Ebbets Field)
  • 1939 – First ever Steeler home game broadcast locally in Pittsburgh on KDKA (9/24/39 – Steelers vs. Chicago Cardinals – Forbes Field)
  • 1941 – Steeler games now only broadcast live from the ballpark. Re-created games are permanently phased out.
  • 1945 – First televised Steelers game (10/21/45 – Steelers vs. NY Giants – Polo Grounds)
  • 1949 – First televised Steelers home game (9/25/49 – Steelers vs. NY Giants – Forbes Field)
  • 1951 – First televised Steelers game available for viewing in the Pittsburgh market (10/21/51 –  Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns – Cleveland Stadium)
  • 1951 through 1972 – NFL black-out rule in effect. Steelers away games are televised locally in the greater Pittsburgh area. Steelers home games only available on radio, blacked-out on TV.
  • 1973 – First televised Steelers home game broadcast locally in Pittsburgh (9/16/73 Steelers vs. Detroit Lions – Three Rivers Stadium)
  • 1973 through 2014  – Revised NFL black-out rule in effect. Steeler home games can be televised as long as they are sold-out 72 hours prior to start time. All Steelers games (both home and away) televised locally in the greater Pittsburgh area
  • 2015  & 2016 – NFL suspends black-out rule. All Steelers games (both home and away) televised locally in the greater Pittsburgh area

2 thoughts on “History of Steelers Broadcasting….

  • January 29, 2017 at 10:16 am
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    Is it possible to access any of Screamer Joe’s old broadcasts? All I can find is an occasion in 1981 when he filled in for an ailing Fleming.

    Reply
    • January 29, 2017 at 12:52 pm
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      I haven’t been able to track any down. I imagine WWSW or KDKA have some archived radio broadcasts, but nothing they have released to the public to my knowledge.

      Reply

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