See more of the story

Imagine listening to an AM radio broadcast of a run-of-the-mill, midsummer baseball game.

It's between two minor league, small-town Midwestern teams that you've never heard of and don't really care about.

The low-key, play-by-play announcer drones on, calling strikes, pop-ups, grounders and foul balls, leaving long, languorous pauses between pitches when all you hear is the staticky, distant murmur of the crowd in the stands.

This goes on for hours, the innings drag by in the background as you spend a summer day puttering in your garage or lounging in a hammock.

Kind of makes you sleepy just thinking about it, doesn't it? Do you feel your eyelids dropping and your limbs getting heavy?

That's the point if you're listening to Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio, a podcast that features dozens of recordings of play-by-play radio coverage of full-length fake minor league baseball games designed to be a sleep aid.

"There is no yelling, no loud commercials, no weird volume spikes. Fans call it 'baseball radio ASMR,' " boasts the website. "It is the perfect podcast for sleeping or relaxing, if you're into that kind of thing."

The curious, slumber-inducing podcast, which has attracted mentions in the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker, is the handiwork of a couple of guys with Minnesota connections.

The show's creator is an entrepreneur who only gives his name as "Mr. King." Though he lives in Chicago, he spent his childhood in Luverne, Minn.

For his persona — as the play-by-play announcer for the imaginary WSLP-AM in Big Rapids, Mich. — he borrowed the name Wally McCarthy, a name familiar to a generation of Minnesotans who listened to radio ads for the legendary car dealer. ("It's a great radio name," King said.)

The show's producer is Philip T. Hunter, a West St. Paul resident who does the voiceover work for the commercials heard between innings.

Hunter, who said he's influenced by legendary voice actor Mel Blanc, provides about a dozen different voices heard in the fake radio broadcasts, including WSLP president Winston T. Winston, fictional Big Rapids Mayor Gent Fredner and announcer Ed Unclehat.

Hunter's subdued, low-energy commercials gently tout imaginary small-town businesses like Ted's Fishing World ("If fishing's in your head, trust Ted") or Timbuk3 AV, which specializes in Betamax video ("The only such service in the Quint City area").

Philip T. Hunter, of West St. Paul, is one of the producers of Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio. He creates the pretend commercials used in the podcast of boring, imaginary baseball games.
Philip T. Hunter, of West St. Paul, is one of the producers of Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio. He creates the pretend commercials used in the podcast of boring, imaginary baseball games.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

While the place names in this fantasy league podcast are real small towns in Michigan and Wisconsin (Manistee, Tomah, Baraboo), the teams (the Cadillac Cars, the South Haven Ravens) are imaginary. So are the players, though they have authentically quirky-sounding baseball names: Bugs Yamaguchi. Flipper Cortez. Blinky Malone.

"King created this world that I'm helping to populate," said Hunter, who went to college with King at South Dakota State University.

"It's a never-ending fictional baseball world," King said.

Sounds that soothe

King, a longtime baseball fan, said he came up with the idea of sleep baseball radio after he noticed that the measured rhythms of real baseball radio broadcasts have a soothing, white noise quality.

"There's just something about the way baseball comes across on the radio," he said. "There's more space to it. It's less frenetic."

He's not the only one to make this observation. From a 2014 New York Times essay by Dana Jennings: "Sure, you can try napping to other sports, but not one of them compares to the dozy buzz of baseball."

King put out his first sports-themed, sleep-aid game, the Big Rapids Timbers versus the Cadillac Cars, in January 2022.

Wally McCarthy is the name that's been given to the imaginary sportscaster of Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio. (The photo is of producer Mr. King's father.)
Wally McCarthy is the name that's been given to the imaginary sportscaster of Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio. (The photo is of producer Mr. King's father.)

Since then, he's produced 25 more games, about one a month. That makes for about 60 soporific hours of Wally McCarthy leisurely describing imaginary curve balls, sliders, walks and pitching substitutions.

In one bonus episode, there's a rain delay, so the listener is treated to the hissing sound of light rain while Wally McCarthy passes the time with a mind-numbing account of the Lake Michigan shipping forecast, noting the weather, wave and wind conditions around Beaver Island, Charlevoix and Mackinaw City.

King said each episode gets about 10,000 to 15,000 downloads. And the podcast has gotten rave reviews: I've listened to every episode of this podcast, and I can't remember a single thing," said one listener.

A home run

"I'm a little surprised how it's taken off pretty well," Hunter said. "People who don't even like baseball like listening to it."

Mark Bliven of St. Paul, who has listened to portions of about 15 games, recommends against listening to Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio while driving or operating heavy machinery.

"I have jumped ahead to the end of the games. The end is no more interesting than the middle," he said. "If I'm a little bit restless, then I will put it on. It usually takes only an inning or so to get to sleep."

Graham Hick, a listener from Minneapolis, said he likes to have the games playing as comforting background noise while he's doing chores around the house.

As the podcast website puts it, ""You don't listen to it, you listen through it."

The games have a nostalgic pace to them, like a vintage game called by the late sportscaster Vin Scully.

"He let the game breathe," Hick said.

There's no color commentator babbling away, trying to fill every dead moment between plays. It's just straight play-by-play, so the seconds crawl by when nothing happens while you're waiting for the next pitch.

But if you listen hard enough, above the background buzz from the stands, you might hear a few faint bars of music from the organist or the distant call of a beer vendor. It's boredom, but lovingly crafted and authentically detailed boredom.

"For something that's fake, there seems to be a lot of thought that goes into it," Hick said. "It's not just some guy in a closet reading a book to put you to sleep, though there are some podcasts that do that."

King said the patterns of strikes and balls, outs and hits are loosely based on actual but unremarkable major league games.

"I prefer a real boring 1-0 game," he said.

After the one-hour mark of each game, "for anyone who might still be awake," King will drop in a subtly amusing on-field disturbance. A goat will get on the field or there will be a recall of a sponsor's give-away popcorn balls, which leads fans to toss them onto the field.

King's alter ego Wally McCarthy never gets too excited. Whether it's a fan revolt or a double play. "He keeps everything at a low level," Hunter said. "It's nice and calm."