On a recent afternoon at Freeman Park, a Bartlett High School ballplayer took a swing and sent a grand slam home run across the diamond.
The crowd in the bleachers, in the press box and across the world reacted as the Panthers added four to the board.
Those not in the park took their cues from an excited Mike Cooper, who jumped to his feet with his headset still on. His son, Matthew, was calling the action from his.
It’s a familiar scene at Panther baseball, basketball and football games. The Coopers have been broadcasting Bartlett sports across the Web for the past 11 years. And after becoming the first in Tennessee to use Internet radio as a means to bring local sports to fans at home, the Coopers are nearing their 1,000th Bartlett show.
“Unless you were out of the extremely wealthy private schools, you couldn’t bring in a radio station to games,” said Matthew Cooper about why he and his dad started their business, Skybox Broadcasting, in 2002. “Earning money was never the point. The point was how to get Bartlett sports on the radio.”
The father/son team came up with the idea when they were attending a basketball tournament in Centralia, Ill. Sitting at a McDonald’s after the game, they and two friends decided they were going to find a way to air Bartlett games.
They turned to Internet radio when the cost of a low-power license from the Federal Communications Commission was out of their reach.
“No one had heard of Internet radio,” said Mike Cooper. “People at the games would ask us where on the dial they could listen to the games.”
In the early days, setting up for a broadcast required a bit of planning. The team would arrive at the event with two suitcases full of equipment that they needed to record the broadcast. Those who wanted to listen had to wait until after the game, Mike Cooper said.
“My dad was a pastor who did a radio broadcast, and after he passed away, I still had all his old radio equipment,” said Mike Cooper. “We used that to start.”
In those days, the games were recorded on tapes that then had to be digitally transferred to broadcast over the Web at a delay. Now, the Coopers use streaming audio to broadcast the game instantly, and they have a low frequency signal that allows those attending the game to listen on 1700 AM.
From the time when the Coopers named their online station KPTR — a play on the name Panthers — until now, the team mostly has spent more money than they’ve made, they said. Neither of them run Skybox to make their living. Mike Cooper has 30 years in investment services, while Matthew Cooper has been a substitute teacher for years.
“Earning money was never the point,” said Matthew Cooper. “This was all about how to get the kids on the radio.”
Through the years, Skybox Broadcasting has gone through a few affiliations that have allowed it to have a wider audience. They’ve broadcast a few other Bartlett sports on a trial basis and have done work for Arlington and other events, too. They’ve also acquired four sponsors to help offset some of the costs of new equipment and other costs.
But even with the changes, the father/son team said the focus of Skybox remains to help the kids and their fans connect.
“I got an e-mail from the dad of a player who said he was able to listen on a business trip, and wanted to thank me,” said Mike Cooper. “He was on a business trip in China! That’s what this has been about. Anyone can listen in and take part of what the kids are doing, even on the other side of the world.”