WGN and Chicago’s baseball teams have been synonymous for decades as channel 9 has provided both Cubs and White Sox baseball every summer. This summer will be the last for both teams as the Cubs will broadcast their games via their Marquee channel starting in 2020 and the White Sox will have all their games televised via NBC Sports Chicago.
The 2019 season will be the last each team will be televised by the basic cable channel that has been instrumental in their history.
The biggest benefactor of WGN and their Superstation has been the Cubs as the two have been partners for the last 72 years. Channel 9 didn’t just broadcast Cubs baseball to Chicago, but to the entire country. Broadcasting each game nationally via the Superstation is what led to the team becoming as popular as they are today.
Millions of baseball fans across the Midwest in states like Iowa, Nebraska, and Indiana, who didn’t have a home town MLB team to root for, became Cubs fans because of WGN. Even the Atlanta Braves, who made 15 straight playoffs while having their games televised via TBS, still couldn’t develop a national following like the Cubs.
Broadcasters like Jack Brickhouse, Chip Caray, and especially Harry Caray owe their fame and popularity to channel 9 being able to reach homes across the country. When Harry Carey passed before the start of 1998 season, it was a somber moment for baseball fans everywhere because everyone knew him as one of the best announcers in baseball. The pre-game Lead Off Man show and post-game Tenth Inning wrap up show allowed announcers Chip Caray and later on Len Kasper to develop more of a personal rapport with the Cubs fanbase.
The Cubs were not the only team to benefit from the WGN as the White Sox benefited also. The two have been partnered together since 1990 following the Sox attempt to broadcast all their games via the cable channel Sports Vision. Although they didn’t have as many games and seasons with WGN televising their games, the White Sox enjoyed a similar spike in national fans because of channel 9.
The White Sox were able to develop their own group of fans because their games were usually televised at different times than the Cubs games. When the White Sox are on the road there is a good contingent of White Sox fans in attendance because of their games on the Superstation. Where the Cubs played the majority of their games during the day, the White Sox WGN games were usually broadcasted on the weekend and or at night allowing a different audience to tune in.
Retired White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson’s national fame and signature catchphrases popularity is partly due in part to the team’s games being shown nationally.
For the younger generation, the White Sox and Cubs leaving WGN will mean little, but an older generation will truly appreciate what channel 9 meant. It provided a secure feeling of knowing that in the summer if there was nothing to watch on TV, there was always a chance that you could turn on channel 9 and a game was on.
Many who went on family summer vacations would take the pocket schedule to see if and when either team would play on WGN so you could watch the game as if you were at home.
Gone will be the days that people, with the help of an orange extension cord, would take the TV outside during the summertime to enjoy the game and the weather.
Baseball on WGN has always been a cornerstone during summertime in Chicago. Missing will be the rare weekends when both the Cubs and White Sox games were both on Channel 9 back to back. One team would play a late afternoon game with the other team having a night game right after. The true highlight would be when the first game would end about 20 minutes before the second began leaving time for cross-talk between the two team’s broadcast tandems.
Watching Harrelson and Jackson talk for a few minutes with Caray and Steve Stone about the two teams would always be entertaining. Imagine the fun Chicago sports media would have if the teams’ broadcasters met now for a few minutes to talk in between games televised on the same channel.
The 2019 season will bring the end to an era as it will end televised sports on basic cable for the city of Chicago. It won’t just be baseball as the Bulls and Blackhawks will be leaving WGN at the end of this year also. The Bulls massive popularity during the Michael Jordan years was due in part because the entire country could watch him and the Bulls play every Saturday night on WGN.
As the MLB season gets underway this year, appreciate the beauty of watching a Friday afternoon Cubs game or a west coast White Sox night game on Channel 9 because it will be the last of an important piece to Chicago’s great baseball history.