By Kevin Kelly and John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer
On many a night the past three decades, their voices delivered the Reds to the masses.
Along interstate highways and two-lane country roads. On front porches and at the neighborhood bar. Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall, via a 50,000-watt radio signal that dips into 38 states , have been there serving a reliable, comforting slice of Cincinnati baseball and culture to a generation of fans.
But change is coming.
In his 60th year with the organization, Nuxhall will broadcast 80 or so games on 700 WLW this season before retiring. The remainder will be handled by a yet-to-be-selected successor who is expected to take over full time in 2005.
"First of all, let me make it clear," says Reds chief operating officer John Allen, "Joe Nuxhall is a very special individual and means a lot to this community and organization. You don't replace that.
"But things change and we'll be putting somebody else in there. It's extremely important for us and it's very complex."
The Reds, who could make a decision as early as this week, are considering six candidates with different broadcasting backgrounds.
Chris Welsh and Tracy Jones are the only former major-league players in the group. Of the four other candidates - Dan Hoard, Jeff McCarragher, Joe Sunderman and Steve Stewart - only Sunderman, the play-by-play man for Xavier men's basketball, has no professional baseball broadcasting experience.
"They need to take a lot of time to make sure they get the right guy," says Andy MacWilliams, the former play-by-play man for Xavier men's basketball. "After one year, they're not going to want to make a change."
Selecting Nuxhall's successor is challenging for the Reds on many fronts.
The club identifies itself as a regional franchise. The team's play-by-play broadcasters serve as a traditional vehicle to spread the gospel of Cincinnati baseball to a sizable demographic.
"Your radio play-by-play people are your No. 1 sales people once the season begins," says Brennaman, hired in 1974 when Al Michaels left. "They are the club's direct link to the fans and they do every game. They extol the virtue of individuals and the team in general."
Since Brennaman joined Nuxhall in the radio booth in 1974, the Reds have gone through 14 managers, eight general managers and won three World Series titles.
Though the team hasn't reached the playoffs since 1995, the job is considered a marquee opportunity and has drawn considerable interest nationwide.
"Considering there's been so little movement in this job over the years," MacWilliams says, "I think the possibility of this being a significant long-term position would make it very attractive."
WLW received between 60 and 70 audition tapes.
But the decision is up to the Reds, because they pay the radio broadcasters' salaries.
"What's important to me is we get the right guy," Allen says.
Allen began listening to tapes before the 2003 season ended.
Salary could be an issue with at least two of the candidates, who either have outside business interests or are compensated well in their current jobs. The going rate for a play-by-play broadcaster is believed to range from $1,000 to $1,500 per game.
How the Reds are judging the candidates is not known.
One consideration would have to be an ability to mesh with Brennaman, who calls the first, second, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings.
Nuxhall calls the third, fourth and seventh innings in addition to doing the post-game show.
"Obviously, Marty is the king," says Steve Stewart, a candidate who works for WBAL-AM 1090 in Baltimore, the flagship station of the Orioles, and does 25-30 games a year as the team's No. 3 radio broadcaster.
"When Joe leaves, it will be Marty's booth. If it were me, I'd obviously want to learn a lot from Marty and Joe because they know Reds history better than anybody."
Whoever wins the job will be moving into a tough spot, because Nuxhall is such a beloved and ultra-visible figure in the Cincinnati area and outlying regions.
Fans tolerate the occasional miscall - he uses the term "left-right field" from time to time - because he's viewed as an Average Joe who was once a pretty good pitcher himself and has made the area proud.
"I've maintained that this is the most provincial town there is," Brennaman says. "If the fans perceive (the new guy) as one of them, they'll accept him. I think whoever they hire is going to have to live here.
"Joe and I are out in the community 12 months a year speaking to groups. That's important, because you don't have any players living here during the off-season."
Ultimately, the fans will have the final say.
"As with any decision we make in baseball, any person we might hire, any player move we might make, people are going to question and discuss the decision that is made," Allen says.
Says MacWilliams, "Right off the bat, there are going to be more negatives than positives. But if (fans) give the guy a chance, odds are the relationship, the perception, is going to become more positive over the years."
"Baseball is a long season," Stewart says. "You're on every day. If you're a phony, people spot you a mile away. You have to hope they like who you are and the way you do a game, the way you present yourself and the way you present this team.
"You've got to be confident, but you also want to be very respectful of the history of the franchise, and especially the broadcasters they've had in Cincinnati."
History of Reds radio broadcasters
1924 - WLW - Gene Mittendorf
1929 - WLW - Bob Burdette
1931 - WFBE - Harry Hartman, Sidney Ten-Eyck
1932 - WFBE - Russ Hodges, Harry Hartman, Sidney Ten-Eyck
1933 - WFBE, WSAI - Harry Hartman, Sidney Ten-Eyck, "Oatmeal" Brown
1934-1935 - WFBE, WKRC, WSAI - Red Barber
1936 - WCPO, WSAI - Red Barber
1937-1938 - WCPO, WSAI - Red Barber, Dick Bray
1939-1941 - WCPO, WSAI - Roger Baker, Dick Bray
1942 - WKRC, WSAI, WCPO - Waite Hoyt, Dick Nesbitt, Dick Bray
1943 - WKRC, WSAI - Waite Hoyt, Lee Allen, Dick Bray
1944 - WKRC, WSAI - Waite Hoyte, Lee Allen
1945-1954 - WCPO - Waite Hoyt
1955-1956 - WSAI - Waite Hoyt, Jack Moran
1957-1961 - WKRC - Waite Hoyt, Jack Moran
1962-1963 - WKRC - Waite Hoyt, Gene Kelly
1964-1965 - WCKY - Waite Hoyt, Claude Sullivan
1966 - WCKY - Claude Sullivan, Jim McIntyre
1967 - WCKY - Claude Sullivan, Jim McIntyre, Joe Nuxhall
1968 - WCKY - Jim McIntyre, Joe Nuxhall
1969-1970 - WLW - Jim McIntyre, Joe Nuxhall
1971-1973 - WLW - Al Michaels, Joe Nuxhall
1974-1979 - WLW - Marty Brennaman, Joe Nuxhall
1980 - WLW - Marty Brennaman, Joe Nuxhall, Dick Carlson
1981-2003 - WLW - Marty Brennaman, Joe Nuxhall
List compiled using information provided by the Cincinnati Reds.
Want to hear the six candidates for the new Reds radio announcer? We've assembled a sound bite from each and put them online at Cincinnati.Com. Select your favorite by 5 p.m. Monday. In Tuesday's paper, we'll report on your top choices.
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