Drayer: How Mariners’ 1977 ‘Maiden Voyage’ radio recording was unearthed
With baseball season delayed for the foreseeable future, 710 ESPN Seattle is broadcasting classic Mariners games throughout the spring. At 7 p.m. tonight we go all the way back to the very start. Here’s Shannon Drayer’s preview of the airing of the first game in team history as the Mariners face the California Angels at the Kingdome.
April 6, 1977
The first game in Mariners history. If you missed the first game at Safeco Field which we broadcast Monday night, you missed out. To hear the excitement in the voices of the broadcasters and the thrill of introducing the listening audience to the Mariners’ new home was a baseball listening experience like few others. I hope we can rebroadcast the rebroadcast sometime soon.
Tonight, a second chance of sorts as Dave Niehaus and Ken Wilson will introduce the audience to a new ballpark and an entirely new franchise. A unique experience that is reflected throughout the broadcast according to Mariners radio producer/engineer/broadcaster Gary Hill, who has put together the Mariners Classics roster.
“I’ve thought about this, there was no year before. There was nothing before,” Hill noted. “What Dave is calling, everything was a first. Everything is so new. The way they talk about the Kingdome I think is so great especially for those who grew up going to games there. It’s just the little things throughout the game.”
If you follow the team be it on TV, radio or in person at the ballpark, there is a good chance at some point you have heard the opening call by Dave Niehaus.
“And here’s the first pitch from Diego Segui!”
The call and the game that follows is a rescued call as neither the Mariners nor the station recorded the radio call. It was a recording that Niehaus dearly wanted to have and as extreme luck would have it, one existed and would find its way into the Hall of Fame broadcaster’s hands.
“Neil Scott, it’s because of him why we have this,” said Hill, referring to the longtime Seattle radio professional. “He wanted to go to the game so he goes to the opener and he made sure to have his friend record the game on a tape deck at home because he wanted to listen to it later. That’s the only reason we have it. The station didn’t have it, the Mariners didn’t have it for whatever reason.”
Years later in a chance meeting in the Kingdome, Scott would mention to Niehaus that he had the recording and was happy to give him a copy.
“Dave’s eyes as big as saucers. ‘What?'” said Hill. “We did not have the first game in Mariners history, I just love the fact that it was recorded in someone’s house on someone’s tape deck and that’s why we have it.”
History preserved thanks to a radio nerd, a club which both Hill and I are proud to belong to. If you recorded broadcasts of any sort off the radio as we did when we were kids, then you too are a member.
“Yeah, I did random stuff,” Hill admitted. “I had a big cassette stereo player, I used to record sports broadcasts and whatever. I just loved radio. I would tape it and listen back to it. Talk shows, that kind of thing.”
I did the same, recording off a small radio onto a tape deck before I had saved enough birthday money to buy an all-in-one setup. I had dozens of Maxell and TDK tapes with broadcasts from WLS, “The Rock of Chicago,” recorded on them. On those tapes I caught radio legends including Larry Lujack and John Records Landecker. I would tape New Year’s Eve top 100 countdowns and, for some reason I can’t recall, the local country station as well. All important to me but not nearly as valuable as what Scott had captured. His tapes, now digitized and a huge piece of Mariners history, secured.
“It’s funny, it’s not the worst quality game that we will play through this classics series,” said Hill. “It’s a 1977 broadcast so it’s not as high quality as what we play now but it is perfectly solid. It sounds really good.”
Unfortunately, there is not much from that era to compare it to as games were not recorded with any sort of regularity until 1994, and sadly this is not unique to the Mariners. Many of the greatest moments in the game went unrecorded in baseball. Fortunately for the Mariners, someone was looking out for them on their very first opening day.