Is Radio the Wave of the Future?

At every sporting event there exists a small legion of fans who watch the game alone in their own little world, aided by a couple of soothing voices over the radio.  They seem connected to the past and a time before television.  They remember the days of youth when they would hide off in their room with their radio and listen to stories about their heroes.  Personally, I have never understood the need to listen to the game when you are at the game.  It almost seems antisocial.  The course of play is pretty obvious to even the casual fan and there are scoreboards and big screens to show the replays.  What could the radio broadcast possible add beyond the typical rhetoric and empty analysis that seems to permeate sports television today?

I was at the British Open golf tournament in St. Andrews, Scotland a couple of weeks ago.  I had been to the British Open and Canadian Open in 2004 and had given the experiences a mixed review.  On the one hand, it was great to see such quality golf up close.  On the other hand, I had no idea what was going on beyond the group I was following and the leader board if one happened to be within eyeshot. 

The British Open was different in that they have live radio coverage of the event, which was also available on the IPhone.  While phones were not permitted at the Open, they did sell little radios to take around the course.   In 2004, I bought a radio and took it around the course.  We only went to watch for one day so I didn’t really think much of the radio one way or the other.  By the time the tournament got interesting, I was comfortably seated in front of a television.

The year’s Open was different in that I was there for all four days.  Other than nightly highlights back at the house, I would not see any of the action beyond the particular hole I was watching.  As part of its charm, the Open does not have any fancy electronic scoreboards.  In their place are old, clunky manual scoreboards that don’t tell you much at all.  If I was to have a chance to keep up to date, it was going to be thanks to the voices on the radio.

I have to admit that the radio coverage totally made the Open for me.  They had a team of about five former European Tour players handling the duties.  One guy hung out on the range, interviewing players before and after their rounds.  A couple of guys followed marquee groups around the course and a couple of guys were in studio providing updates from around the course.  Their descriptions were so vivid it was almost like being there!

The highlights for me were the thorough coverage of the action, the constant ribbing they gave each other, the small bets they would make on a player making a birdie or par on a particular hole and all of the interaction with listener emails. * The best part was it was on BBC radio which meant absolutely no commercials!  It was so good that I think I might listen to the coverage next year and forego having to watch the coverage on ABC. 

* Some of the questions were posed by the on-air talent to the audience.  The most fascinating was the question about the origin of bunkers on the golf course, which originated at St. Andrews.  The answer will be part of a future post on the five most interesting things that I learned about The Old Course.

The highlight of the ribbing amongst the announcers was after one of the guys lost a tenner over whether or not Jiminez could make a birdie on the 9th hole.  The main studio announcer said, “You are never going to see that money my friend.  [Loser of the bet’s name] is Scottish; every penny is a prisoner.”

It was at some point on the Saturday that I started thinking back to those guys back home who take their radio to the hockey, baseball and football games.  I wondered if maybe they knew something that the rest of us didn’t and were enjoying a far superior experience.   While I am not ready to say that I have seen the light, I am certainly going to give radio a try at a hockey game or two this fall.

The Canadian radio guys have a lot to live up to if they are going to compete with my experience in Scotland.  The fact that we have commercials and the need to be sold products during the audiocast are a couple of quick strikes against the experience.  That said, I have generally found that the radio guys are more interesting to listen to than the tv guys due to their need to paint a picture of the action.  My fingers are crossed that the Calgary Flames’ colour commentator combines interesting insights with a good sense of humour!


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