If the Baltimore Orioles have any Hollywood endings planned for next season, the radio booth will contain an appropriate broadcaster to describe them.
WBAL Radio said yesterday that Ken Levine, a television writer and producer and veteran radio announcer, has been hired to replace Joe Angel on Orioles broadcasts. Angel, Jon Miller's partner on WBAL for three seasons, left after the past season to become a New York Yankees announcer.
Levine, 40, has been a minor-league play-by-play man since 1988, first with the Syracuse Chiefs, the Toronto Blue Jays' Class AAA team, and for the past two seasons with the Tidewater Tides of Norfolk, Va., the New York Mets' Class AAA club.
"There was something about Ken Levine that stood out from the beginning," said Jeff Beauchamp, WBAL vice president and station manager. "Not only does he have a passion for baseball, but he has a successful career as a writer."
Levine and partner David Isaacs have written scripts for "M*A*S*H," "The Jeffersons" and "Cheers," winning an Emmy for an episode of the last. They remain creative consultants to "Cheers" and another TV series, "Wings."
Levine said he was given a one-year contract.
He will team with Miller for half of the Orioles' radio schedule, and be paired with Chuck Thompson for those games that Miller misses because of ESPN and Channel 2 assignments.
Miller said he first met Levine at Anaheim Stadium in May.
"He just came in the booth and introduced himself," Miller said. "I did a pre-game show with him."
Levine gave Miller a tape of his minor-league work, which Miller said he never listened to until Angel left. Then Miller played the tape, was impressed and got Levine to apply for the WBAL job, joining a pool of 94 applicants.
The job came down to about six finalists, Miller said, among them Ken Wilson, who did the St. Louis Cardinals on radio and television last season, and Ken Korach, announcer for the Class AAA Las Vegas Stars.
But Levine stood out from the rest, Beauchamp said.
"He's a real wordsmith," Beauchamp said. "He knows the game of baseball, and he paints a picture."
Miller said: "He was real impressive when he came to town [for an interview]. He's a real upfront guy. He's not Hollywood in the slightest. He just seems like a regular guy you'd meet at the ballpark, which is what you want."
Not so long ago, he was one of those regular guys in the ballpark, dreaming of being a baseball announcer.
"Realistically, I just started out doing it for the pleasure of the experience," Levine said. "By the end of the year in Syracuse, I decided this was something I wanted to pursue in conjunction with the writing. I was hooked.
"Did I think it would lead to this? No."
Levine grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from UCLA in 1971, then embarked on a series of radio disc jockey and talk show jobs that took him to cities including San Diego, San Francisco and Detroit. One time, he even hooked on with a San Bernardino, Calif., station, replacing a disc jockey named Joe Angel.
Though he never completely gave up radio work -- he continues to do talk shows in Los Angeles -- Levine did grow dissatisfied.
"I reached a crossroads where I was kind of tired of playing 'Kung Fu Fighting' five times a night," he said, so he branched out into writing 16 years ago.
Still, he would keep climbing into the stands at Dodger Stadium with his tape recorder, calling the games. "I'd look up at the booth," Levine said, "and say, 'What if . . . ' "
So, Levine headed off to Syracuse, N.Y., in 1988, and it even turned out to be a good financial move, because Hollywood's Writers Guild went on strike that year, which meant there was no work for Levine anyway.
"I had decided the winter before to give it a try," said Levine, who consulted with his wife before choosing 20 minor-league clubs to which he applied. "As a writer, it's sometimes good to get out of the office. As it turned out, I was the highest-paid writer in America at $1,200 a month."
Though using the highfalutin "Proustian" and "Shakespearean" to describe his announcing style, Levine sounded a lot more down to earth when elaborating on his work.
"I guess I just try to sound natural, blend in humor," he said. "I guess I'm just a storyteller. I'm not stat-oriented."
Miller said: "He paints a very vivid picture of the game. He puts you right there at the ballpark, which is just what you want.
"He does it with good humor. I don't mean with telling jokes. I mean with a friendly, next-door style."
Levine said he and Miller will be "a good match. I think we have the same ideas of doing baseball -- to describe the action, but not take it so seriously."
That sounds like something Norm, Cliff and the rest of the gang around the bar at "Cheers" might want to tune in some night.