Pop fly and shut-eye: This fake baseball podcast is a cure for insomnia

The Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio podcast delivers fake baseball play-by-play in dulcet tones to help listeners fall asleep. (Graphic courtesy of Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio)

PHOENIX – It’s the bottom of the ninth. The Cadillac Cars are hoping to hold their lead against the Manistee Eagles, and the crowd is buzzing as the late-game drama unfolds.

That’s a slider in the dirt, 2 and 2. And the 2-2 pitch, pop fly to center field. Ortega is under it and he makes the catch for out number two.

If you’re still listening to the dulcet tones of play-by-play voice Wally McCarthy in the ninth inning, he’ll be disappointed. He wants you to be sleeping.

That’s the objective of Northwoods Sleep Baseball Radio, a podcast designed for fans seeking a little shut-eye. It is the brainchild of Mr. King – a humorist from Chicago who prefers to keep his first name private, the scriptwriter for the mock baseball games and the play-by-play voice you hear who uses the McCarthy pseudonym.

“It could pass for the real thing with ease to most listeners … until that moment you realize everything is just a hair accentuated like a fever dream or an acid trip or a Dali montage in the middle of a Hitchcock film,” said Matt Spiegel, a sports talk show host in Chicago. “Letting your consciousness toggle between relaxing with apathy, and listening intently to the high production values and elevated aesthetic sensibilities is a great way to pass the hours.”

King told Cronkite News his play-by-play “is loosely based on real baseball games.”

“There is an underlying storyline for each game, but that’s a very small part of things – it’s like a very short story, and it’s something I come up with for each new episode. How? I don’t know,” King said. “In exactly the same way you would create a three-paragraph short story – from the ether. It’s a mystery.”

Listening to the games is soothing. The announcer speaks quietly and in an even-toned voice. The crowd noise is continuous but delivered in a pleasant slow hum. The podcast’s website boasts, “There is no yelling, no loud commercials, no weird volume spikes. … You don’t listen to it, you listen through it.” There are even pleasant-sounding commercials for fake businesses. During one game, King encourages listeners to patronize Baraboo Necessities on Berkely Boulevard.

The podcast staff includes Phil Hunter, one of King’s friends who produces ads and is a main contributor. Corrbette Pasko, an actor, singer and voiceover artist, is the voice for “WSLP,” the station’s fake call letters.

Others involved include Joshua Wayne Hensley, a band member with the group The Rutabega who records the jingles for WSLP, and Matt Hoffman, the podcast’s music director.

“There’s something about baseball on the radio that I find calming, generally,” King said. “But they’ve gotten louder over the years. I started wondering about tamping down all the loud parts of a baseball broadcast. After much hemming and hawing, I released the first episode in January of 2022.”

The volume at baseball games has indeed increased over the years thanks to the addition of powerful ballpark speakers, public address announcer promotions, prerecorded baseball highlights and up-tempo music. Curious about this change, author Darryl Bock once purchased a sound pressure meter and took it to an MLB game. He wrote in an article for The National Pastime that the sound periodically spiked over 90 decibels, an amount that can cause permanent hearing damage over an extended period of time, according to the World Health Organization.

Spiegel is grateful he found the podcast.

“Mr. King has made a few YouTube videos that have made me laugh deep to my core,” Spiegel said. “Then someone told me about this project, and I was furious not to have known it existed before. I sought it out immediately. ”

Spiegel said he is grateful for the podcast’s soothing artistic imagery. He enjoys that it eliminates the noise from a regular baseball game, such as the screams, loud commercials and volume spikes.

“Oh, so much,” Spiegel said. “It perfectly mocks and pays homage to a uniquely beautiful American art form. The genuine article of minor league games on AM radio has always been a unique confluence of ardently mediocre baseball, ardently mediocre broadcasting and well-intentioned small-town values. There’s literally nothing like it.

“Sleep Baseball embraces all of that coolness, while fully acknowledging how little attention it actually deserves in the grand scheme of things. So, listen to it, but get your rest at the same time. People have done it for decades. This lets you do that, but if you happen to stay awake, well, you get rewarded for that, too.”

When it comes to sleep, Americans have recently been struggling with getting enough. A study by Gallup News revealed that only 42% feel they are getting adequate shut-eye compared to 56% in 2013.

The timing of Northwoods Sleep Baseball couldn’t be better considering the rise in popularity of sports podcasts in recent years. According to Edison Podcast Metrics, sports is ranked No. 5 among the United States’ top podcast genres.

Fortunately, King said, the podcast has received mostly favorable reviews.

“The internet is a terrible and wonderful place,” he said. “Having said that, I’m happy to report that the vast majority of emails, reviews, and feedback have been wildly positive.

“Maybe because the ‘broadcasts’ are exactly what they’re advertised as – Fake Baseball Radio for Sleeping.”

Aya Abdeen(she/her)
Sports Digital Reporter, Phoenix

Aya Abdeen expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in communication. Abdeen is a contributing writer of news articles on women’s basketball for The Next. She has also been a part of Blaze Radio and The State Press.