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A personal history of the San Diego Padres on TV

Growing up, I occasionally watched Padres on TV.

And I don't mean "occasionally" just because I wasn't interested. I mean because they weren't on TV regularly. I know different channels have carried the Padres over the years, but my most distinct memories are of turning the games on KUSI on Sunday mornings to watch away games on the east coast. If they were home games, then they were blacked out by rule and Sunday afternoon for away west coast games was a little too long of a wait for my patience.

My family didn't believe in cable back then, so KUSI was Channel 51, which required me to first turn the bottom dial on the television set from VHF (channel 15 PBS being the highest VHF station that broadcast in San Diego) to the indicator that would let me search for the higher number UHF stations, which included NBC Channel 39, KUSI Channel 51 and Channel 69, or what I fondly remember as "The Channel That Carried Voltron and Gumby".

Channel 51 was amazing to me because I could watch Padres games without having to travel the 30 minutes to Jack Murphy Stadium. The lack of the 125 and 54 freeways in the 1980's and early 90's made South Spring Valley anisland unto itself. The Internet had not been invented yet and communication was limited to long distance telephone. Everything worth driving to (including anything in Mission Valley) meant that I would have a chance to take a 20 to 30 minute nap while Mom and Dad got us safely to our destination.

Television (rare as it was) was an alterative for the home, beyond just hearing the games on the radio. Even in my youth, I found Ted Leitner insufferable and Jerry Coleman confusing to follow, lest my imagination run wild with images of players' heads literally being torn off of their bodies and the physical improbability of a ball being weakly ground out into a home run, all in one swing of a bat.

Channel 51 (and Channels 8 and 39 at different times) let me chart the progress of Tony the Gwynn getting fat, but in sporadic fashion. It let me see the Padres.

And then came Channel 4.

Channel 4 arrived at the perfect moment. Just after the great 1996 campaign and right in the midst of the 1998 World Series trip. Suddenly, I would no longer have to check in on Tony the Gwynn once every couple of weeks on the weekends. The Padres were right there. As long as my household could afford cable, I would be able to monitor Tony the Gwynn's weight daily instead of 2 to 3 times a month. And there we no longer blackouts! The games would be on the television regardless of whether or not San Diego could send 65,000 people to a game.

Channel 4 also came at a time when I was no longer a child. I was now in my TWENTIES. Channel 4 meant that I could go share a beer at a buddy's house while watching the Padres game, on any given night, and nobody could stop me. My parents were powerless to control me so long as I could successfully sneak back into the house late at night without them knowing that their pre-adult son had been out practicing for post-pre-adulthood.

If my memory serves, KUSI still had Sunday games for a little while after Channel 4 started broadcasting, but, for all intents and purposes, Channel 4 was It.

Dennis Morgigno successfully graduated in my mind from being the Channel 39 news anchor to a guy who was running his own television station. Morgigno was growing up too! And look! There's Jane Mitchell! The new girl from Channel 39! OMG! She's jumped ship with Morgigno!


And Channel 4 did it well in the most awkwardly good way possible. Look at these personalities! Mark Grant! Matt Vasgersian! Bob Chandler (another turncloak)! Troy Johnson! John Weisbarth! Bob Scanlan's Hair! Steve Quis! Steve Quis's Hair! Jenny Cavnar! Chrissy Russo! Mark Neely! Old Dick Enberg! The level of awesome awkwardness fit the Padres perfectly. How could you not be a fairweather fan of this television station? So much to love. So much to be weirded out by.

And now we arrive at the end of the contract. All of those problems that Channel 4 solved. The blackouts. The channel searching to figure out where the Padres were. The non-existence of Outta Left Field. Those solutions will be ignored in the light of the "new" problems. Minimal broadcast area. Lack of flexibility with TV revenue. No satellite coverage. These are the new problems that Channel 4 (or whoever comes after Channel 4) will have to solve if they want to be the New Thing in 2012.

After the New Thing in 2012 shows up and gets settled in, the Padres will be exposed a few more people and things will get a little better and some new problems will crop up. And some Channel 4 personalities will jump ship and return as familiar faces at the New Thing in 2012 or wherever the Padres end up. And somebody 10 (or 20) years from now will write a similar blog post/article/story about how, when they were little kids, Channel 4 gave them fond memories and the New Thing in 2012 made things even better.

For now, I'll watch Postgame and enjoy the show. I'll try not to think too hard about what I'm looking at (as is typically the case when I'm watching the Padres). Instead, I'll think about what I don't know will happen in 2012 with the occasional bittersweet thought and, when I remember something especially poignant, I'll have a sip of my post-pre-adulthood beverage, walk over to the TV and trace a line with my finger down John Weisbarth's face as he hands it over to Dick and Mud in the booth.