An insight into my recent work as a radio sports reporter, it is not as easy as you might think!
Radio sports reporting is not an easy task, as I have discovered for myself over the past month. I have covered 3 football games, each covering at least one of three teams. However every game is different, just knowing the personnel is not enough. You can plan as much as you like, nothing will tell you what any given game will bring.
Ever since I covered Camberley Town v Newton Aycliffe in the last 16 of the FA Vase on 23rd January, I have been grateful for the opportunity, grateful to get free tickets and grateful to see some alternative non-league action, but also now appreciate just how hard a job it can be.
Camberley was hard enough having never seen any of the teams previously, furthermore complicated by a last minute change of location with Hartley Wintney’s postponement. The presence of the modern day easy to understand team sheets helped somewhat on the day, but other areas were lacking. Wi-fi signal for instance, ISDN lines, and plug sockets, all things which are useful for around a maximum of 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon.
But at non-league level (especially below the National League) with all due respect, not much should be expected. Since following Aldershot Town as a boy, it is a level which I have admired and appreciated its unique atmosphere, the sudden incomprehensible moments that only non-league can conjure up, but simultaneously, facilities can also be quite basic. Krooner Park’s were not the best but they certainly were not the worst.
The eleventh hour change of match meant that I arrived at the ground pretty unfamiliar with just about everything. It was to my delight then that when I did discover my seat for the afternoon, press seating, tucked away in the top left corner of the main stand, there was desk space. This may sound odd to most of you but desk space for press at modern day football grounds is absolutely vital. It is also fairly straightforward to install if needed so many media like to expect it. The ever present faces of Radio Wey at Camberley games were to thank, just like they were also to thank for my plug socket availability throughout the match, as tricky as it was to connect.
My last note on this point, the discussed lack of Wi-Fi in the stand meant that I had to write my preview script in the managers office, where of course, a signal could be gained. Not the usual scenario but a great experience nonetheless. On most occasions however, my script would have already been written before the day for obvious reasons. I should say that this almost inspired me to state more than I needed to when I came to air, wishing to describe the office itself, and the atmosphere in the bar between me and the pitch. The perfect ambience for what was a fairly significant game on the day, but in hindsight, not enough to warrant a thirty second description on local radio.
Hartley Wintney v Hereford in the same round was a fantastic game to be able to cover, but this, more so than Camberley, was always going to have its low points. The official capacity of Hartley Wintney’s ground (Memorial Playing Fields) is 1,300 and therefore any venue with a similar capacity is most likely to not need the paraphanalia associated with high (or even low) profile media.
This fixture was a complete one-off, particularly as more away fans than home would actually be in attendance. Although Hereford now play in an equivalent league to Hartley Wintney they still retain a guaranteed 3000 plus fan base and this is on average at least ten times more than Hartleys standard home attendance. I therefore had to use their only covered seating in the entire ground (of which has around 100 seats) and do all my reports from over the phone, whilst making sure my battery stayed charged (or with a reasonable back up on hand) AND whilst noting on paper with no desk in an extremely squashed environment.
Ultimately, you need to describe to the listener what is happening and this is still possible but clearly overall, quite uncomfortable. When on the job it is very rare to actually consider all of this though. Only now can I sit back and reflect.
Finally Hereford against Camberley (FA Vase Quarter Final) last Saturday had the best facilities of the lot, but fairly as you would expect, with their past football league guise. This did not however prevent a period of confusion from my side, once arriving at the ground. Though press seating was in abundance with space aplenty, even from the very best seats, phone lines were not obviously attainable. The initial row of press seating at Edgar Street (regularly used by radio) only had one obvious phone point, of which the front casing had been damaged.
Not wanting to risk further damage we (me and assistant Simon) were forced to wait for assistance from our fellow radio colleagues who pointed out that the socket was actually still secure but underneath the point itself. Furthermore our ISDN kit (which had been brought along due to the high-profile nature of the fixture) could not even be opened and set-up until we found a local supply of scissors to undo its cable tie. It’s unique and expensive nature means it’s casing does not self lock. Once all these issues had been fixed there was still time to experience issues with the equipment itself.
Once eveything is properly running, a broadcaster is able to hear the relevant show going out through headphones, whilst having a microphone connected into which he can speak to the studio based producer instantaneously. We had all of this but our producer could not hear from their end. Thus, an already knackered ‘dial’ button had to be pressed again as we dialled back ‘in’ to the studio. With an also swift insertion of our back up microphone, hey presto! Our producer could hear us from base and everything was FINALLY running. We’d made the show, our audio quality was better than on the phone, and listeners across Surrey and Sussex would hear all the incredible moments from that afternoon’s game played out. All of that though, before we had even got going.
So there you have it, radio sports reporting is by far a piece of cake. Hence next time you listen in to Mark Pougatch on 5Live or his namesake Mr Saggers on TalkSport, consider all of the above, besides the weather conditions, and give a little more thought to your hardy sports reporters. We are just normal fans like you, there, so you don’t need to be!