It would be logical to expect that anyone who had a $4 million telephone bill in 1975 and has already transmitted a 1976 spring-training game by satellite (the White Sox nonroster players' 12-6 win over the University of Iowa, played last week in Sarasota, Fla. and aired on radio in Chicago) would be a person of some note. But for Bob Wold, the 50-year-old president of The Wold Connection, overcoming obscurity has never been easy. In fact, it was his desire to attract attention that got The Wold Connection, which this year will be wholly or partially responsible for the radio or television broadcasts of more than 4,000 big-league sports events, off the ground.
"In 1971 I was trying to make people aware of my company and noticed that the baseball playoffs were not being carried on radio," Wold says. "I bought the National League rights for $1,000 per game and got Vin Scully and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals to announce for me. I lost money on the operation, but it was worth perhaps $15,000 to me and my company to get the word out that we were a quality operation. That was really the first time we were heard from on a national basis."
Today it is difficult to hear a major league event on radio or watch one on TV in which Wold is not somehow involved. His company arranges all the radio broadcasts and at least some telecasts of 19 of the 24 major league baseball teams, 22 of the 26 NFL clubs, 14 of the 18 NBA franchises and 14 of the 18 NHL teams. Last August, Wold set up the first satellite telecast of a complete major league baseball game, bouncing pictures of a Texas-Milwaukee contest at County Stadium 23,000 miles into the air and having them come down in Dallas.
Getting a sporting event that is being played in one place broadcast in another is a complicated process that involves the use of telephone lines, satellites and direct circuits. Today most teams usually send only their announcers to events and let Wold do the rest. That can include providing mobile units, cameras, videotape machines, engineers, microphones, visual aids and all the other paraphernalia needed to cover a game.
Outside of the three major networks and Home Box Office, Wold is now the biggest user of the two communications satellites currently available to commercial broadcasters. The satellites have made it feasible to transmit games much more cheaply than in the past, when virtually all of them went out over telephone lines. For example, it costs $6,700 to send the TV coverage of an event in Los Angeles back to a Boston station by telephone lines. The satellite makes it possible to get the game to Boston for 54,900. "To people who do not understand electronics, it makes no sense when I say that it is less expensive to send a game from Chicago to New York by going 46,000 miles through space than it is to send it 714 miles across land, but that's true," says Wold. "Today there are two birds up there. One is owned by RCA, the other belongs to Western Union. In three years a third satellite, owned by AT&T and General Telephone, will go into operation. When that happens, the competition among the three will be fierce, and the cost of using satellites should become even lower. Radio and television stations involved in sports broadcasting should benefit." And so could fans, who may find broadcasters putting on more—and more diverse—sports shows as transmission costs decline.
Wold began his career in advertising, eventually becoming a vice-president of N.W. Ayer in San Francisco and Los Angeles. "Earlier I had worked in Minneapolis for seven years on the Hamm's beer account," he says. "Through that, I got involved with the telecasts of Twins games, which Hamm's sponsored. I had always been interested in sports, and when the Lakers had their good teams in Minneapolis, I was the public-address announcer at $10 a game."
Through his experience with the Twins, Wold found that Sports Network was making lots of money by setting up broadcasts for teams and by transmitting games back to local markets. Sports Network was virtually without competition, and Wold decided to give it some. "I picked up the Giant and Angel games, then moved into football," he says. "Next I wondered why the U.S. Open wasn't being done on radio and bought the rights to it for $1,000. I put up a sign at the 18th hole that said RWC NETWORK. Everyone wondered what the heck it was."
Today everyone in sports broadcasting knows exactly what Wold does, and now he is branching out into new fields. In July he will transmit an extravaganza entitled The Great American Birthday Party. Says a prospectus for the production: "All night and live, from 7 p.m. EDT on July 3 until 7 a.m. on July 4. This will be New Year's Eve, V-E Day and the Fourth of July all rolled into one." Part of the show will originate from Baltimore's Fort McHenry, where 500,000 people are expected to gather. According to the prospectus, there will be a "Disney-like Re-creation of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry...and The Star-Spangled Banner presented as never before by Dawn's Early Light." Later in the year Wold also may transmit live by satellite the unearthing of the ancient city of Babylon.
The Great American Birthday Party will draw a bye from many sports fans because the Fourth of July is one of the best viewing/listening days of the year. Wold is hardly worried about that—he also will transmit most of those events.