Bizarre though it might seem, once upon a time there were families who chose not to have a television set. It wasn’t that long ago that we were one of those families. The lack of a TV never stopped me from following my chosen sports with a dedication that bordered on fanaticism. After all, who needs telly - we had the wireless.
As a teenager I closeted myself away for 2 weeks every summer to listen to Radio 2’s coverage of Wimbledon. When play finished for the evening, I would go out into the yard and hit endless balls against the wall. With every ball I imagined Dan Maskell describing the aces I served and I relished the points won against Chrissie and Martina.
In the winter the focus changed to Rugby Football. We would crouch around the Bush Transistor that my Da had given Mum as an anniversary present, so that we could listen to Cliff Morgan telling us what was happening at Cardiff Arms Park. Welsh matches (apart from when we played the English) were only broadcast by BBC Wales and we couldn’t get that on the big wireless upstairs.
The years went by and we still had no telly at home, but they had a big colour set at my Da’s work. On a Saturday, I would go and join him and his chums in the leather-chaired inner sanctum of the Senior Common Room to watch, in summer, John McEnroe shocking us all with his behaviour, or in the winter JJ and JPR thrilling us with their boldness and dexterity. It was a tremendous treat for a teenager.
Fast forward some 30 years, and I still find radio commentary far more compelling than the TV. For most of my favourite sports now, I have some access to television coverage. However, time after time from the cricket and cycling to football, tennis and athletics, my choice is always the soundtrack. Whilst I may be very keen to see what players look like, far more important is the feel of the match. I find this much easier to picture if I see it in my mind’s eye with the aid of good radio commentary. For my favourite sport, the cricket, there is nothing to match the perfect descriptions of place and atmosphere that you get on the radio.
There is something magical, bewitching and beguiling about the painting of a picture with only the use of words. Today, the on-line broadcasters with their over-by-over or minute-by-minute written commentary act as the bridesmaids to the bride of spoken commentary. We can engage with them, we can even contribute and become a part of the event we are following. It is an extension of radio in a way that TV will never be able to compete with. It becomes a glorious adventure with broadcasters and fans working together.
Maybe, just maybe, Radio Commentary, the Poor Man of sports broadcasting will be able to rule the airwaves again.