April 28, 2013
When Waite Hoyt auditioned for a baseball announcing job at Cincinnati's WKRC Thanksgiving weekend 1941, he had already planned with his agent that he would spend only one or two years in the Queen City. Waite had retired a few years before from his (eventual) Hall of Fame pitching career and he had been doing some part-time radio work in New York, but couldn't land his ideal job: play-by-play broadcasting for either the Giants, Yankees or Dodgers. He was told by one NY team that he needed some “seasoning” in a smaller market and when the WKRC job became available, he applied. But when Pearl Harbor was attacked less than two weeks after his successful audition, he wondered if he'd be working the following spring at all.
As it turned out, the President insisted baseball continue and Waite started broadcasting Reds games for Burger Beer beginning in April 1942. But Hoyt was aloof and unhappy in Cincinnati and certainly not accustomed to a city without the “night life” of New York. As the months passed, an old demon returned—a demon that many believed shortened his career—alcoholism. Waite's illness bottomed out when he went missing in June 1945 in an episode that was known as “Waite's amnesia.” After several days of binge drinking, Waite was taken to a local hospital where he swore off alcohol once and for all. Thanks to the support of his family and friends (and his sponsor), Waite became a dedicated advocate for Alcoholic Anonymous for the rest of his life.
Professionally, Waite Hoyt also experienced change in attitude. Rather than make plans to escape Cincinnati in order to advance his career, Waite realized he had fallen in love with his new home. He enjoyed the low key, Midwestern attitude and became content living and working among his friends in Cincinnati. Although Burger kept moving Reds' broadcasts from WKRC to WCPO to WSAI back to WKRC and then to WCKY, Waite remained at the microphone, often paired with a variety of talented “assistants” like Dick Nesbitt, Lee Allen, Jack Moran, Ed Kennedy, Gene Kelly, Claude Sullivan and others. One of Waite's unique talents was his ability to tell wonderful ad lib stories about the great Yankees teams, and teammates, he enjoyed during his playing career. Waite's rain delay stories became so popular, listeners hope for showers so they could listen to stories about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Miller Huggins and others. Waite's off-the-cuff, unplanned broadcast the night Ruth died in 1948 was particularly celebrated. After the 1965 season, Burger ended its sponsorship and while the new sponsor, Wiedemann Beer, offered to keep Waite on the broadcasts, Hoyt felt loyalty to Burger and credibility issues meant it was time for him to retire after nearly 50-years in baseball. He was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1969 and recorded some of his memories in a public television series in the early 1980s. Waite died in 1984.
Incidentally, Media Heritage has a special Waite Hoyt exhibit on display through May 2013 at the Voice of America Museum…open Saturday May 18.
Find more biographies from this series: Cincinnati Reds Broadcasters