DANVILLE — Chad Baker doesn’t cut corners.
Now in his second tour with WITY 980-AM/99.5-FM in Danville, the enthusiastic play-by-play man has been a familiar voice for many over the course of 24 years on the radio airwaves in central Illinois.
“I’m about giving them something they can’t get elsewhere,” Baker said. “Not only that, but giving a shining light on athletes that aren’t getting that elsewhere. Kind of being an extension of newspaper on radio, is really kind of my focal point.”
High school sports have long been a point of emphasis for Baker, who has keyed a resurgence in WITY’s preps coverage through online streaming.
Schools in the greater Vermilion County area are the station’s primary concern, though WITY’s coverage area also reaches into Indiana and as far west as Tolono and St. Joseph. Aside from occasional coverage of Danville High School, the station focuses on the smaller schools in the area.
“That’s one of the things that sets him apart from the rest is, I feel like he wants to be involved in our athletic programs,” Salt Fork athletic director Dustin Dees said. “If he doesn’t have a result, he’ll follow up with me and I’ll give them the coach’s information, and he’ll get a hold of them to make sure he’s got his website up to date.”
Preparation is Baker’s strong suit, from canvasing the press areas at local fields and gymnasiums to learning the backgrounds of the players and coaches he covers.
“I’m a prep pig,” Baker said. “I find that more is better because you’re always going to have holes in the game. And that came from doing Effingham sports whenever we didn’t have a lot of sponsors, to be quite frank.”
Baker’s radio career began when he decided that a part-time job at a station would be interesting during his time as a psychology student at Eastern Illinois.
The only hurdle? His lack of experience.
After being turned down by WLEH in Mattoon, he signed up to work at the school’s radio station. It was an easy gig that entailed showing up, signing in and working, as Baker recalls.
“Work study is really a magnificent thing for getting experience,” Baker said.
Psychology soon took a back seat to his interest in the airwaves. After leaving EIU with an associate’s degree, Baker landed a do-it-all weekend job at WCBH in Casey. A basketball game between Paris and Effingham became the first high school event he called.
He earned a degree in radio and television from Lake Land College and eventually landed at Cromwell Radio Group in Mattoon, where he built a sports staff of a half-dozen people and covered a variety of schools from Effingham to Teutopolis.
“Before it was said and done, I never was promoted officially — I just stole everything I did,” Baker said. “I was sports director. I was an interim news director for a little while. I was PSA director. I took the Sunday morning shift on the air.”
Baker worked in Mattoon for eight years and helped key a shift in the station’s sports coverage. The station held rights to University of Illinois athletics, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Indianapolis Colts and national packages of NFL games in addition to a variety of high school offerings.
He eventually moved on to a stint with Withers Broadcasting in Mount Vernon, before arriving at WITY in 2017. His voice has gone out to Vermilion County audiences since, including a brief stop across town at Neuhoff Media from late 2018 to early 2020.
“He’s brought a lot of excitement to his radio broadcasts,” Dees said. “He’s full of energy. Kids love hearing their names on the radio. I mean, when I was a kid in high school athletics, getting to listen to the replays or the radio was always a big deal. And I think he just does a really nice job. Makes it exciting, super professional.”
Professionalism is a hallmark of the events Baker calls, an especially important component given the streaming method WITY employs.
The station is more familiar to audiences in and around Danville, but it’s just as easy for listeners outside of the antenna’s reach to listen online. Baker makes sure to give them something to listen to, as well.
“I really train my guys. I said, ‘OK, I’m going to call a game 60/40 in favor of our team. I want you to be about 70/30,’” Baker said. “I want you to be somewhat of a homer, but I want you to have the respect that we may have a visiting team’s fans listening to us.”
Appealing to smarter fans is Baker’s main goal.
“I always thought about the bigger picture, because I knew as a listener, I could always listen elsewhere for broadcasts if I wasn’t getting what I wanted,” he said. “It was about appealing to fans that were not getting the exposure for their teams and their sports that they felt they needed.”
Though the last two years have presented their share of challenges, the appeal of the industry when Baker first started 24 years ago is still there. And the reality it presents is still a lot of fun.
“If it all ended tomorrow … I’d be OK, you know,” Baker said. “The pandemic kind of made me realize I could be OK with that radio. But there’s just such a draw to it. Radio gets in your blood, and so does sports. And those two worlds kind of meld together for me.”