Monday, September 26, 2011

War of the Words

“Walter O’Malley once said I was so good at it, they should just let me make the whole damn thing up and forget about playing the game.” That’s Nat Allbright talking to the Washington Post in 1982, as quoted in his recent Times obit. Walter O’Malley was the famous Dodgers owner, and Allbright had been conscripted to broadcast re-creations of the goings-on at Ebbet’s Field for radio listeners, using telegraph messages as the raw material for his scripts. Allbright provided details and sound effects like “snapping his tongue against the roof of his mouth that sounded like a bat striking ball” and “tapes of the tide-like murmur of the crowd.” When technology made him obsolete, Allbright created personalized broadcasts for those who wanted them. “A 240-pound would-be jockey rode Secretariat to victory in the Kentucky Derby,” the Times recounted. “Another customer fought Sugar Ray Leonard, saying realism demanded that the customer himself be knocked out.” He also “created games even when the seasons were suspended because of labor strife.” Many gamers still play fantasy football today, but Allbright came from a world where radio produced magic. Listeners really believed what they heard but couldn’t see. That’s why Orson Welles was able to suspend his listeners’ disbelief and create mass panic with “War of the Worlds,” his infamous broadcast of an alien invasion that never occurred.

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