My Top 5 Orioles' radio broadcasters - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

My Top 5 Orioles’ radio broadcasters

I may not be the most qualified to write this list. I’ll admit that.

I didn’t start listening to Orioles’ radio broadcasts until the 1970s, so I missed Ernie Harwell and Herb Carneal. And Bill O’Donnell and Tom Marr are a bit fuzzy in my mind’s ear.

For the last 15 years or so, my time listening to O’s broadcasts has been limited, since I’ve been in attendance during many of those home and road games.

But with the official news that Fred Manfra will be broadcasting only a few games this year – his schedule already had been highly truncated the past few seasons due to health issues – I thought it was appropriate to put together a list of my Top 5 O’s radio broadcasters.

A couple things here:

One, we’re talking radio only. I’m not getting into the TV angle of it. Those are different animals. Although I will say I believe Gary Thorne is the best Baltimore’s ever had for TV. To me, he’s the perfect mix of straight-forward professionalism and show-biz goofiness.

Two, I don’t think Baltimore realizes how spoiled it has been when it comes to play-by-play radio announcers. There have been five winners of the Ford C. Frick Award (presented annually by the Hall of Fame for broadcasting excellence) who, at one point, announced Orioles games. And that group doesn’t include Joe Angel, who I think should be an annual finalist for the award.

I hear fans complain a lot about the club’s announcers, and I don’t get it. I have listened to a lot of baseball games on satellite radio on my way home from Camden Yards over the years, and I would put Angel, Manfra and Jim Hunter up against most of the groups that I’ve heard.

Here’s my Top 5. Feel free to comment or argue.

1.      Chuck Thompson

Yes, he was folksy. Yes, he was a homer. I don’t care. To me, no one was better. No one comes close. Perhaps in this day and age, his style wouldn’t work. But it was perfect for the era in which he called games. I was saying, “Ain’t the beer cold,” long before I was allowed to taste beer (and I’m Irish). Oh, that voice. That voice was baseball, was freshly cut grass, was summer.

2.      Jon Miller

He replaced Thompson as the lead play-by-play announcer on WFBR in 1983. It was an impossible task, like replacing Brooks Robinson at third base. Miller was completely different from Thompson. Yet the transition was seamless. Thompson took you by the hand and guided you smoothly through a game like a grandfather; Miller was a carnival barker, tossing you onto a bumper car for nine innings. He entertained like no other. It’s a shame he didn’t win his Frick Award with the Orioles. But his 14-year run in Baltimore was sublime, nonetheless.

3.      Joe Angel

I considered causing a mini-controversy here by putting Angel ahead of Miller. Angel is heading into his 18th season as a voice of the Orioles while Miller did it for 14 seasons. But Miller has the hardware (Frick Award) and was so unique that I had to recognize him as a trailblazer. So, I’ll put Angel third on this list. However, with all due respect to Thompson and his partners, Miller-Angel is the greatest combo in O’s radio history, in my opinion. Miller’s impressions and Angel’s sharp wit were such an amazing combo that they made 1988 bearable and 1989 a tour de force. It was like two crazy uncles topping each other – and working together — at a Fourth of July backyard picnic. Angel is still so very good, and his wit is still razor sharp.

4.      Bill O’Donnell

From 1966 to 1981, O’Donnell accompanied Thompson in the broadcast booth, and meshed perfectly with Balmer’s GOAT. Although I can’t remember specifics, I know that Thompson-O’Donnell is considered the standard-bearer in Baltimore. That all-time duo was cut short when O’Donnell died in 1982 of cancer. He was only 56.

5.      Fred Manfra

Maybe there is a bias here because he lived every Baltimore kid’s dream, at least after most Baltimore kids realized they couldn’t hit a curveball. Manfra, a Patterson High grad, has taken the Orioles’ microphone for 24 seasons, and his rich baritone is synonymous with Baltimore baseball to a generation. He also was a tremendous straight man for Angel.

Honorable mentions

Ernie Harwell, Herb Carneal, Bob Murphy

These three all won the Frick Award in their careers. Harwell, the Orioles’ first announcer in 1954, is best known for his work with the Detroit Tigers. Murphy, who technically replaced Harwell as the Orioles’ lead announcer, is remembered as one of the original voices of the New York Mets. And Carneal, who assisted both Harwell and Murphy in Baltimore, became the beloved lead of Minnesota Twins broadcasts. I never heard any of them announce in Baltimore, but they all were revered in their adopted cities.

Jim Hunter

Hunter may be viewed as a TV guy now, but he came to Baltimore thanks to his radio chops. And he’ll be doing more of that again this year. He’s often a lightning rod for fans who consider him too much of a cheerleader — the anti-Miller, if you will — but many of those same critics revered Thompson for his black-and-orange-colored glasses. Hunter might be a little rah-rah for some tastes, but there is no one more prepared on a daily basis. My dad, who is 85, would list Hunter ahead of everyone on this list besides Thompson. He loves when Hunter gets on the umpires for questionable calls against the Orioles.

Tom Marr

He played second fiddle to Thompson and Miller for eight seasons, so no wonder he was overshadowed. He had a knack for describing things as he saw them, and that honesty was appreciated by many listeners. His famous and fake “Manager’s Report with Earl Weaver” from Seattle in 1982 – it was an outtake and a lark that never made the air — is still floating around the Internet to the presumed chagrin of poor Alice Sweet from Norfolk.

55 Comments

55 Comments

  1. weams

    February 4, 2017 at 7:40 am

    I agree completely on Gary on TV. The best. I do miss Chuck, though we rarely got to see much TV back then.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 10:50 am

      He was fine on TV, but Chuck was made for radio.

  2. BmoreBouch

    February 4, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Great list, Dan. I have to admit, your words “freshly cut grass” in the Chuck Thompson section gave me goose bumps. Not sure if it was your intention but that phrase has a double meaning for me, and I assume others. Some of my fondness visions of my late father are of him cutting our lawn with a non-powered push mower, after which he would sit on the back porch, crack open a beer (I’d say it was always a Natty Boh but in reality it was whatever was on sale), turn on his little AM radio and listen to Chuck broadcast the Orioles. Thanks for the great memory.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      Bouch: Excellent. That was the intent. That’s exactly how I remember it. Down to my dad drinking the on-sale beer after cutting the grass. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. ZantiGM

    February 4, 2017 at 8:10 am

    What a great read, so many good memories.Baltimore fans have been very lucky.My 9 V transitter radio…Tom Marr was such a homer but in a great way.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      I wish I remembered Marr’s play-by-play a little clearer.

  4. wirpls

    February 4, 2017 at 8:16 am

    My list is a little different than what you have Dan.

    1. Chuck
    2. Bill
    3. Jon
    4. Fred
    5. Jim

    Although he’s a good announcer I can’t put Joe in my top 5 for one reason. His signature, “The Orioles are in the WIN/LOSS column”, grates on my nerves something awful.

    Good hot stove discussion! Keep it up.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      Haha. I just think Joe is an enjoyable listen. But that’s the beauty of this. We all have our own opinions.

      • Franko

        February 4, 2017 at 6:41 pm

        #1 chuck Thompson
        #2 Fred manfra
        #3 Tom marr
        #4bill O’Donnell
        #5 Joe angel

  5. pedro

    February 4, 2017 at 8:42 am

    I grew up in Western Maryland in the ’70s, with no cable and terrible TV reception for Baltimore channels. We got the 3 DC network channels. I met Chuck Thompson in Frostburg, while in college in 1980. I was his waiter at a local restaurant. I shared with him what joy he gave a rural kid who listened to hundreds of O’s and Colts games that he broadcast. His response was to genuinely thank me! What a true gentleman and class act!

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      One of the nicest men I’ve ever met.

  6. pedro

    February 4, 2017 at 8:51 am

    My list:
    1. Chuck
    2. Jon
    3. Bill
    4. Joe
    5. Hunter (only because this keeps him off TV, where his interview style grates on my nerves). He asks a question, answers it himself, then asks it again. That, and the irritating ” multi-hit games”. Sorry, but now I’ll have to take him off my list, now that I think of it.
    5. Mantra

    • polyhawk

      February 4, 2017 at 10:27 am

      I would take Hunter off the list for the reasons that you leave him on.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 12:19 pm

      Solid list. O’Donnell is just a little out of my memory to be higher.

  7. Mr. Jones

    February 4, 2017 at 9:45 am

    I think you nailed it Dan. Your too 5 and mine are identical. Growing up I wanted to be Broooks Robinson but didn’t possess the talent on the field. So the next best thing would have been to be Chuck Thompson. That would still be my dream job, to be the Orioles PBP guy on the radio. Like some of the other posters, I really can’t listen to Jim Hunter on tv or radio. If he is on I will usually try and tune him out. I agree with you on Gary Thorne though, I miss when he is not on the MASN schedule.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 12:19 pm

      Thorne is tremendous. A real treasure.

  8. Boog Robinson Robinson

    February 4, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Dan, waxing rhapsodic about the Radio guys seems to have touched the collective nostalgic funny bone of Charm City. I’m a jealous fan today since I never had the pleasure of experiencing being an Oriole fan from the local Bal’more community’s perspective.

    Jeepers BB.com! Pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported, and I see more and more new names in the comments each and every day. Looks like yours & Mr. Cockeys little experiment is creating the proverbial monster! Congratulations guys!

    Less than 2 weeks now boys. Go O’s!

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      We’re trying Boog. Keep getting the word out. Commenters like you make it a pleasant place to leave 2 cents.

  9. Joe Polek

    February 4, 2017 at 11:05 am

    the Orioles have had lots of great announcers… Rex Barney in Stadium, Chuck Thompson on Radio, and Gary Thorne on TV.

    I absolutely loved listening to Jon Miller and Joe Angel growing up. I was really heart broken when Angelos kicked Miller out the door.

    I think Jim Hunter seems like a great guy, but I prefer him on Radio so much more than TV. Frankly, I would like to give Bordick a chance on Radio. He is not cut out for TV. One of my complaints is that he gives too many details (which is great for radio) like reading every word on full screen graphics.

    Ben McDonald is great and I would love to see more of him on TV or Radio.

    I will miss Manfra. It is always said for a fan base to lose someone from their youth (past).

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      I haven’t heard much from Ben. I’m normally working when he is. But I hear he is really good.

    • Steve Cockey

      February 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      I second your thoughts on Miller leaving, Joe. I was just a kid, but I was devastated. He was who I wanted to be when I grew up. Even did a school report saying so, if I recall correctly.

  10. Teejay

    February 4, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Dan, as long as you have Chuck and Bill on there I cannot complain one bit. Those are the two standard bearers and then there are the rest, but I do agree with you that Charm City has been extremely blessed with talented announcers.

    One mention I would like to throw out is Mel Proctor during his time here with Home Team Sports. In the early days of cable it was a real treat to listen to him and John Lowenstein!

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      It was. And I was surprised it took this long to mention them. But they were TV and I was focused on radio. But I loved listening to them, too.

  11. Bert10H

    February 4, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Where do put Baltimore radio broadcasters on a national level. Baltimore is my home, but after travelling and listening to such greats like Jerry Trupiano(BoSox) Pat Hughes(Cubs), Harry Kalas(Phillies) and I hate saying but a good voice John Sterling(Yankees) but the greatest Vin Scully(LA Dodgers). Chuck has to be top 3 for long time with a club and just call of the game. Was memorized when I met him in person. Thoughts? Nice site

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      Bert: Thanks. I don’t intently listen to all cities, but Thompson is definitely one of the best of all time. I listened to a lot of Kalas and he was tremendous. And Vin is probably the greatest. To win the Frick is an acknowledgement of that talent. Overall, though, I’d say Baltimore has held its own over the years in this category.

  12. geevee3

    February 4, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I actually object to your referring to Chuck Thompson as a homer. I remember him passionately from the mid sixties on and have credited him in print (In “The Miracle has Landed” a SABR book about the 1969 Mets) as being the inspiration behind 50,000 Oriole fans giving Jerry Koosman a standing ovation as he left game 2 of that world series with a one hitter. Yes, he ROOTED for the O’s, but he taught me, from age 10, to appreciate excellence in an opponent more vividly than anyone else I ever heard. With the possible exception of Jon Miller. I always save the homer label for those whose team is robbed by every “bad” call. Chuck was always honest.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 4, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Gee: Fair enough. I guess we have a slightly different definition for homer. Mine is openly rooting for the home team. But, no question, chuck was effusive with praise of the opposition when warranted. He was very fair in that aspect. So I get your point. FYI, I still put a star on my scorecard for a great play no matter who did it, just like Thompson.

  13. geevee3

    February 4, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    PS
    Favorite radio moment was during an Oriole Spring exhibition. Jon had Chuck on as a guest after his election to the Hall of Fame. Jon asked Chuck what it felt like to receive the call. Chuck simply said: “You’ll find out.” Radio silence. Only time I’ve ever heard Jon speechless.

  14. Bob Phillips

    February 4, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    Chuck Thompson also was the called the NFL’s greatest game for NBC in 1958.

  15. Steve Cockey

    February 4, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    I know this is radio-focused rather than TV, but I had to take this opportunity to call out my boy Michael Reghi. Heard him on MASN the other night calling the ‘snow’ Opening Day game, and it brought back some memories.

    He had all the catch phrases, from “Track … Wall … See You Later” to “Instant Win, Orioles.” Great defensive plays were “sparkling” or “dazzling.”

    TONY BATISTA HAS JUST TOUCHED OFF A BOMB!

  16. wirpls

    February 4, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    Here’s a name from the radio past.

    Frank Messer worked with Chuck and Bill during the mid 60’s and also did some work with the Colts.

    I had forgotten about him but your article has jogged some special memories. Thanks for warming up a frigid February Saturday!!

    Bill Schoeneman

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:51 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Bill.

  17. whiterose

    February 4, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Dont mean to be a downer, Fred Manfra is a nice guy and makes a good story growing up in Baltimore and all. But he is terrible at describing the action of the game. Gets tongue tied often and cannot keep up with the play on the field, especially when multiple base runners and throws are involved.
    Chuck and Jon are in a class by themselves.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      No need to be a downer. That’s your opinion. You aren’t taking shots.

  18. George

    February 4, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Chuck Thompson and the Bill O’Donnell. Jim Hunter is excellent on radio. I have never liked Joe Angel. Worst by a mile. Poor descriptions, talks about nothing just fills space. Sorry to see Fred go.

    • whiterose

      February 4, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      Jim Hunter is so bland and robotic.

  19. BamBam

    February 5, 2017 at 3:07 am

    “I believe Gary Thorne is the best Baltimore’s ever had for TV.” Too comical! Thorne, is about the most obnoxious/overbearing/annoying broadcaster in all of sports. The constant/bizarre laughter ( at absolutely NOTHING funny), his horrible name pronunciations ‘Balfour’ in thorne-speak is, “BELLfour”….’Encarnacion’ in thorne-speak is, “ARNcarnacion.” Not to mention, he gets far too political during many broadcasts. Thank God, for a mute button on the remote! Add, Mike (“up/down in the zone”) Bordick to the mix, it’s quite difficult to listen to. A four-hour marathon game with those two, is worse than a trip to the dentist. Chuck and Brooks, were a fun combo to listen to during the WMAR television broadcasts. Used to crack me up, when Brooks pronounced Albert Belle’s name as, “Albert Belly.” I’m still convinced, Brooks was taking-a-shot at Belle! I really enjoyed Proctor and Lowenstein together, in the booth on HTS. They always seemed to have a great time together calling the games. I certainly wouldn’t lose sleep, if thorne and Bordick no longer did Orioles’ games.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      That’s what is great about this, I suppose. We all have different tastes. I love Thorne on TV. And though I have fond memories of Proctor/Lo, I’d take Thorne in that trade.

  20. Balmer Exile

    February 6, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Chuck Thompson IS Baltimore to me. I lived on the central New Jersey shore for much of the Orioles glory years. If I positioned my radio right on my kitchen counter I could listen to him and Bill O’Donnell on summer nights. Wonderful memories.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:59 pm

      I’m with you. Those two were the voices when I first started listening to baseball.

  21. Bancells Moustache

    February 6, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Dan,

    Cant argue with your list. Pretty rock solid. I myself put Miller ahead of Thompson, but not as a slight to Chuck’s awesome reputation. It’s just that I came of age in the 1980’s and Jon Miller will always be the sound of Oriole baseball to me. In response to a previous commenters question about how the O’s broadcasters rank nationally, having Thompson, who is arguably the second best voice of baseball history (sorry, nobody touches Scully), replaced by Miller is the equivalent of Johnny Unitas being succeeded by Joe Montana.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 10:00 pm

      Add in 3 Frick winners in the earliest days, and it’s a hard group to beat.

  22. ron

    February 6, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Dan-Chuck was by far,the BEST.I started in 1954,and he was # 1.I wasn’t big on Harwell-would”lose his voice” during exciting moments,left you hanging.Miller was excellent too. Chuck always gave credit to the other team,as well as O’s. One other radio man impressed me-Rex Barney on his post game show was so enjoyable.His patience with kids,no matter how naïve or silly their opinion or suggestions were was so refreshing.Never got to meet him,and never got to meet my all time fav O,Brooksie.So disappointed,but I have such respect and admiration for them.Also missed the 66 ws(I was in Vietnam.I remember listening to Gentiles 2 grand slams in 61 when I was in Cuba(on an ancient military radio,an old crank job.(7 1/2 yrs in USMC).Ah,the memories.
    I guess at 74,I will soon be meeting Chuck and Rex,but hope to see another World Championship before I go. By the way,I wasn’t big on hiring Buck,but am I glad they did.I do so respect him and Dan Duquette(as well as Andy McPhail,for staying the course and righting this franchise.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 10:02 pm

      Ron: you are always welcomed here. Thanks for the thoughts. I was one of those kids Rex was patient with. He was a treasure.

  23. tvdpdx

    February 6, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Marr was a hack who was not liked among the media community (of which I was a member). His delivery was forced and bogus, as was his friendliness on the air.
    Chuck was a saint, who was nice to everyone (including me), but listening to him now, he has to be number 2 to Jon Miller. I think we value more, folks that we heard as children or early teens. Same goes with music. Miler is brilliant. We’re lucky we have At Bat so we can still hear him call games.
    Joe Angel is a treasure who is underappreciated. Sorry to see Manfra go.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 10:04 pm

      I agree about valuing more those who we connected with when younger. That’s so true in so many aspects of life. t least with me that seems to be the case.

  24. Golfnband

    February 6, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    We’ve absolutely been spoiled with the radio guys. There’s only one Chuck Thompson but Jon Miller and Joe Angel are/were terrific. Miller’s Vin Scully left me rolling on the floor more than once.
    Difference between Chuck & Jim Hunter: Chuck loved the Orioles (and Colts) while Hunter worships them.
    Had forgotten about Frank Messer. He sounded similar to Chuck.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 10:04 pm

      I need to see if I can find Messer’s stuff somewhere. I’m curious now.

  25. dagger

    February 7, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Ain’t the Beer Cold!

  26. robdaniels1966

    February 7, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    I think Alice should get laid.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      That’s not nice. She just wanted a better garden.

  27. chrisaking1

    February 11, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Hi, Dan. Pleased to join your blog. followed your byline for years with The Sun.
    I’ve been listening as faithfully as possible since the late ’50s, and often prefer to take in the games on radio, rather than TV.
    I rate play-by-play announcers first for how well they can paint a picture for me of what’s happening at the moment on the field. Chuck, Jon, and Jim Hunter are the best in this category. The game often moved too fast for Bill, Tom, Fred, and (though I love him) Joe.
    Second most important quality is knowledge of the game and of the players. Jon, Jim, and Chuck rule here.
    Entertainment value is important, and Jon, Chuck and Joe rule here for me, in that order. Ben McDonald ranks high here too. Wish he did more games. When Bill got excited, his voice could give you chills.
    Finally, professionalism. Most of our guys rank high here, and here is where both Frank Messer and Bill O’Donnell (who, I think I recall, worked together one year with Chuck, before Frank moved on to the Yankees) rank right up with Chuck, Jon, Jim, Fred, and, increasingly in later years, Joe.
    Who haven’t I heard do Orioles’ radio play-by-play? Think of the names over the years: Ernie Harwell and Herb Carneal (worked together here, as I remember), Bob Murphy, Jim Karvellas, briefly (and his Baltimore Bullets sidekick Charlie It’s-a-very- simple-game Eckman, briefly as well), Bailey Goss (an old Colts announcer), Vince Bagli (pretty sure, anyway), Joe Crogan (a WBAL radio guy), and Jim West (I think, also a WBAL guy, who called the Clippers games back in the ’60), and Ken Levine (OMG!). It would be really interesting to compile a list of everyone who has ever called play-by-play on the radio for the Orioles since 1954.
    So, my five:
    1–Chuck and Jon
    3–Jim
    4–Joe
    5–Frank Messer

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