The Astros television broadcast booth was finalized last week. Bill Brown will return at the primary play-by-play voice. Alan Ashby will be the primary color analyst. When Brown doesn't work (he's doing a reduced schedule this season), then Ashby will do the play-by-play and he'll be joined in the broadcast booth by former Astro Geoff Blum.
None of this really matters, though, seeing as how most of the city probably won't have access to the games on television. There's also the strange matter of the Astros telling Brett Dolan they were replacing him and Dave Raymond because the booth format wasn't working. A booth format that had Milo Hamilton as the primary play-by-play guy with Dolan and Raymond switching off on color and play-by-play depending on if Hamilton was working, kind of like what the Astros say they're going to do with Brown, Ashby and Blum.
What the Astros have yet to do is hire a radio broadcast crew, and with spring training quickly approaching, and with the Astros being one of the few teams to actually broadcast all of the spring training games on radio, then maybe the Astros might want to get their asses into gear and hire somebody.
By waiting so long to hire some radio guys, the Astros are risking running into the same problem they had when the previous regime hired Dolan and Raymond. The guys are going to have to build chemistry with each other on the run. And at the same time, they're going to have to build some kind of rapport with what few fans the Astros still have. But at least they're not going to have to deal with all of that plus handling a situation with Milo Hamilton.
"It was a completely unique situation," Dolan said of what he and Raymond faced. "I think for an acceptance level, when a new broadcaster comes into a spot, it might take him two to three years. But in our situation, where you're only doing half the home games and Milo [Hamilton] is, of course, still the presence, it's going to be a longer process. It's hard to even imagine another team that's had a similar situation.
"Dave and I knew each other a bit coming in. He had replaced me in Iowa when I went to Tucson in 2000. So we knew each other and we were in the same league. We got along really well. We had completely different styles and personalities, and I think that's actually better than having two people who are very similar."
The new guys will have to establish their identities with the fans -- unless they're already familiar to Astros fans. And with the team being as bad as it is, they're going to have to find some way to keep the listeners involved in the game, some way to keep them interested when the team's getting blown out night after night.
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Dolan and Raymond did a good job in the social media aspect. They were both active on Twitter, and they would often interact with fans before, during and after the games. Dolan saw social media as a way of growing the broadcast audience.
"When the team's this far below being competitive, it was an area that both Dave and I looked at as a chance to maintain listeners, to develop listeners, because let's face it, at the end of this year, when you lose 107 games or 213, the only people really left listening are either the diehards or those that like the announcers, and there's some crossover," Dolan said. "There's not a lot of casual fans tuning in in September when the team's 40 games below .500. So if we made that a little more enjoyable for them to interact with us, that's something I was really proud of, or happy with. And who knows, maybe the guys that replace us will do that. But I think just with our age, we enjoyed communicating with the young fans and it's something I still do in some aspects with some of the fans, but it isn't quite the same."
Dolan and Raymond at least had the option of joining a team fresh off of the World Series, something the new guys won't be able to use to build an audience. Since most of the city probably won't be able to see the games on TV thanks to the fact that Comcast SportsNet Houston isn't on most of Houston's cable/satellite systems, the new guys will probably get a few extra listeners that way. They'll just have to find some way to keep them interested in listening to broadcasts of a very bad broadcast team.
So welcome back to Alan Ashby. Welcome aboard to Geoff Blum. Here's to another season of Bill Brown. But most of the city will probably have to listen to the games on radio, and maybe at some point the Astros will get around to hiring somebody for the job. It's just a shame they didn't think of replacements before dumping Dolan and Raymond.