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Quad Cities River Bandits silence radio broadcasts

Quad Cities River Bandits fans won’t be hearing Ben Chiswick’s familiar voice calling games in 2010. In fact, they won’t be hearing anyone talking up their hometown heroes.

It was announced in December that Chiswick, Quad Cities Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations, had left the River Bandits after five years. The radio voice of the St. Louis Cardinals Class A affiliate for 140 games each season was the club’s longest-tenured full-time employee, going back prior to the ownership change following the 2007 season. Chiswick has since taken the similar job with Midwest League competitor West Michigan Whitecaps.

The same day Chiswick’s departure was made public, his replacement was introduced, Tommy Thrall. Thrall had been the Director of Broadcasting and Communications for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Carolina League.

It was not clearly stated that Thrall’s new position is simply Director of Media Relations. I have since received emails from Thrall, but did not catch the subtlety in his signature block, the missing Director of Broadcasting part.

The blank was filled in for me when I happened upon the blog of South Bend’s broadcaster Owen Serey. As he recapped the various moves among his Midwest League peers, Serey noted that Quad Cities has discontinued radio broadcasts of their games for 2010.

Finally, the light bulb came on for me; or should I say it went off? Obviously the Bandits don’t need a broadcaster if they aren’t going to be broadcasting games. Very disappointing news.

Back in March 2008, the River Bandits and Miller Media Group, the owner of WYEC (93.9 FM, Geneseo, Illinois), had announced a three-year agreement to air the team’s 140-game schedule on the station. Games were also streamed on the team’s website.

Ending the deal a year early seems especially counterintuitive as the Quad Cities baseball operation is definitely on the rise. Total attendance (236,401) and average attendance (3,694) last season were both the highest since 1995 and rank among the top five years the history of the franchise. Since the ownership change, attendance has grown 64 percent on a per-game basis (from 2,254 in 2007) and 59 percent on an annual view (from 148,773).

A 2009 study by Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal ranked the Quad Cities #31 of 239 minor league sports markets, best of all Cardinals minor league affiliate metro areas.

In confirming the news, Miller Media Group’s Kewanee, Illinois cluster sales manager Fletcher M. Ford was quite direct. He explained how the change was made and communicated.

“Your Easy Choice 93.9 WYEC was served notice from Kirk A. Goodman, Vice President and General Manager in late 2009 explaining the intention of the Quad City River Bandits not having a radio broadcast partner in the upcoming season for its fans,” Ford explained.

Ford wanted to make it clear that Miller Media Group was not a part of any evaluation process.

“This decision was made solely by the management of the Quad City River Bandits,” Ford said.

Goodman offered further details.

“We are indeed discontinuing our radio broadcast,” Goodman stated Monday. “We were being charged a very high rate to be on a station located 55 miles from our ballpark and in addition to that cost and the expense of paying for the salary and travel for a broadcaster did not make fiscal sense for our team.”

Apparently no alternatives that offered a match could be found.

“We made an effort to bring the broadcast to a more local station but none of the formats of the stations for the two main radio groups in our market worked with what we were willing to offer in return.

“It was strictly a financial decision…to pay what was necessary for our broadcast to be on the air was not worth the return we saw from having a broadcast,” Goodman said.

At least one lower-level Cardinals affiliate in a smaller metropolitan area continues with radio, the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League, a short-season club.

All may not be lost for River Bandits fans with stronger radios or internet service as the team will still be heard as the opponent on some broadcasts. Other clubs in the 14-team Midwest League continuing with radio include South Bend and West Michigan (obviously) along with Fort Wayne, Burlington, Kane County and Dayton.

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