State of the Nation on TV (and radio): talkSPORT

Date published: Saturday 29th April 2017 4:00

Johnny is considering the State of the Football Nation on TV and radio. This week he’s hired a white van, jammed a copy of the Daily Star on the dashboard, affected a cockney growl and become emotionally repressed. He’ll be listening to talkSPORT then.

 

HOW MUCH IS IT?
It’s a commercial radio station owned by the Wireless Group Limited, which in turn is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. It is free to listen, or at least it is if you don’t count the cost to your sanity of having to listen to a lot, and I mean a lot, of adverts, many of which seem to feature brusque, gruff-voiced, working class Londoners talking in a vaguely menacing fashion about anything from pizza to insurance to tools. These voices sound like a cartoonish version of the real thing and I’m not sure why it’s a default.

 

WHAT’S ON?
Live commentary on up to 90 Premier League matches per season and reports on all other matches with 28 Premier League Saturday 3pm matches on Talksport 2 (to 2019); live commentaries from EFL play-off finals, the FA Community Shield, FA Cup, EFL Cup, Champions League, Europa League, England friendly internationals, England away qualifiers and other home nations away international qualifiers and friendlies.

Live commentary from Euro 2020 finals on Talksport and Talksport 2

Selected Champions League, Europa League, international friendlies and La Liga matches on Talksport 2

All of which sounds like a lot of live games, but most air time is taken up with phone-ins and general discussion shows along with recycled highlights packages.

I like the fact they brand shows with names like The Player’s Lounge, The Late Tackle, The Sports Bar and The Sports Breakfast. There’s no The Lunchtime Pint of Wine though, which is surely a misjudgement.

On top of all this there is a journo show, Press Pass, and Danny Kelly’s Trans Euro Express, an excellent show with an impressive Kraftwerk-inspired name. Maybe, they could develop this further and have an Amon Düül II inspired show called Phallus Dei?

Danny Kelly also presents My Sporting Life which is a one-on-one interview show with a sports star.

TalkSPORT 2 started last year and with regard to football, features mostly highlights of shows from the main channel, along with a bit more analysis of the day’s action. More importantly, it is home to the excellent European Football Show.

 

STAR PERFORMERS
By a country mile Danny Kelly is the regular star performer on the station. He’s always combined knowledge and wit to make excellent broadcasting and continues to do so. Many have said his shows seem out of sync with the station and that’s certainly why I like them.

Other quality performers are Des Kelly and Andy Brassell. Ray Stubbs pops up on talkSPORT 2. Ex-5 live man Mark Saggers fronts a lot of the live games with energy, even if he does sometimes have an ‘I’m-annoyed-by-a-troublesome-hemorrhoid’ attitude. Ian Danter presents Champions League commentaries and he always seems a solid performer. Odd that he also works on Planet Rock too. I can’t imagine John Murray or Alan Green playing Metallica records. Adrian Durham does the ‘round the grounds’ gig on Saturdays really well, which is weird, as he’s the infamous blarter-in-chief the rest of the time.

I should mention the almost cartoon reactionary that is Alan Brazil, if only so we can show this photo.

Durham, though hardly Howard Stern, is the go-to shock jock, if you like that sort of thing. I realised I had no idea what he looked like. Turns out he looks like a hybrid of a young James Hetfield and Jim Davidson.

Durham’s co-host, Darren Gough, sounds like every Yorkshireman in my family – and not in a good way. He might be on the radio, but he’s not yet a broadcaster. I found myself simply annoyed by both his and Durham’s confrontational tone and attitude. It made three hours of my life much worse than it would have been.

I heard Jim White do a show with Tony Cascarino. After a career in broadsheet journalism, I felt it was an uncomfortable listen to hear someone intelligent trying to, if not dumb down, then just punt out the trivial and the obvious, though I noticed Thursday saw him teamed with Danny Kelly and Des Kelly, so that must have been a better show.

A few people whose view I respect have said they enjoy Hawksbee and Jacobs. Maybe I caught it on an off day, but it didn’t hold my attention.

I gave The Sports Bar a listen with Andy Goldstein and Jason Cundy. The former was fine. The latter seemed to be, what we used to call, cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and seemed employed as a wind-up merchant. Not the worst of the shows but again, I didn’t like the atmosphere. It felt tense, like being in a bar which you sense is about to kick off.

Pundits are largely drawn from the brandy-stained PFM sofa, sponsored by Blue Stratos. Some, such as Ray Parlour, can be amusing for a while. Perry Groves is certainly sane. Mickey Quinn seems to be on a lot and it’s hard to know quite why. And Tony Cascarino? Really?

Others seem to be people that time forgot. Sometimes it feels as though they have guests on who are purposely old-fashioned, in order to service an audience who share that outlook on life, pining for a time when there was no PC fascists or feminists, a time when banter ruled the world and you didn’t have to watch what you said. This is the home for traditional moaning about gloves, the foreign lads, haircuts, headphones, offside laws, a lack of leaders, the crackdown on tackling and the rest. Despite hardly ever listening, I felt as if I’d heard it all before a thousand times. It’s just dispiriting, it really is.

And talking of such matters I was only vaguely aware of ‘The Moose’ until I did research, but five people who encounter said Moose in their working lives quite independently got in touch to tell me of their experiences of him, which is quite unprecedented. These three extracts sum them all up.

“Bullies his way around the media areas of football stadiums. Loud and abrasive. Wears a talkSPORT-branded fleece and polo shirt which I don’t think is standard issue, with his name embroidered onto it. Not his actual name, but his nickname. He also has this peculiar ammonia-like scent about his person. The mere mention of his name either to the written or broadcast media often results in much rolling of eyes, tuts or ‘f**kin’ hell, not him’.”

“Moose is the worst of the worst. Kicks up a fuss whenever he can’t get his way and he believes he is above everyone else.”

“The moose, aka Ian Abrahams, is a complete plonker of the highest order, but has the hide of a dozen rhinos so doesn’t care what anyone thinks.”

The ever perceptive Michael Cox even posted on Twitter that “I had to sit in front of ‘Moose’ at a game last night and it genuinely ruined it. I can’t explain how annoying it is to have someone screaming ‘IT’S JUST SO QUIET HERE AT THE EMIRATES, NO-ONE MAKING ANY NOISE!’ behind you. He once told me to f*ck off at Fulham because I said ‘excuse me’ to get past & he was taking a Vine of a warm-up (which I didn’t realise tbh)”

And then there was this.

And this

And this

But this is what talkSPORT want. When you rely on phone calls for an income stream, you need to bait people endlessly and one way to do that is with noisy, thick-skinned, opinionated bloviators.

 

RECENT HITS AND MISSES
It’s hard to be indifferent to the radio station. So that’s actually a big hit for them. And it does well according to the latest Rajar figures, which suggest a reach of over three million for the main station.

I only listen via downloads so that I can select what I like. I can’t pretend to enjoy it as a companion the way I do 5 live. It’s not the sort of friend I want. In fact, it’s mostly the sort of company I’d avoid having to deal with at all. It also seems very London somehow, which is very off-putting to this northerner.

But regardless, this week, I put it on for a few hours each day.

I have to admit I found the daytime output hard to endure. I know it’s not aimed at me, so my criticism is somewhat worthless, but the problem I have with it isn’t the sulphurous reactionary cultural and political undertones to the likes of Brazil, nor is it the humourless alpha male banter. I can tolerate all of that. The real problem is it’s really, really, boring almost all the time. What content there is, when you strip out the matey joshing, pleas for calls, adverts, news and such, is very, very thin, watery gruel.

You can listen for ages without much more than something along the lines of “City will be pleased with that result last night” being said. I listened to an hour of The Sports Breakfast and it was just inane waffle, reading out the phone number (nobody was put on air), the odd half-baked joke and promises to start talking about football, but never actually doing so. Even when they do get around to talking about the game, it’s all entry-level stuff. There’s no depth of thought, and then it’s off to another ad break for Selco.

When calls do pick up it’s often because someone such as Mike Parry or Adrian Durham has just stirred outrage by saying something extreme, in order to generate some sort of Pavlovian response from the slumbering public. It is a profoundly dispiriting experience. Durham’s 20-minute narky, repetitive, going nowhere argument with Chris Sutton, was a typical waste of everyone’s time.

Obviously, the tone of the station is to relentlessly talk in tabloid headlines. Virtually every show is a phone-in, so every presenter is obliged to try and drum up business regardless, and this clearly leads to witless baiting of the audience in order to get them to spend money on a phone call or text. It surprises me that anyone even falls for it, and after a while it is both wearying and vaguely depressing. I ended up hating myself for enduring it for as long as I did.

This all being said, there’s good stuff too. The weekends are better fare with live football, Georgie Bingham, Max Rushden and the European football shows. Nice.

Obviously, talkSPORT doesn’t have the luxury of a mandated income the way the BBC does, and it has to make its coin somehow. But the trouble with trying to do it via aural clickbait is that it lowers the tone so badly that it becomes impossible to listen to. I’m aware this might all sound rather snobby and self-regarding, and I fully accept that football broadcasting doesn’t have to be intellectual, but neither does it need to pander to the stupid, the cliched, or the easily outraged, and at its worse that is what talkSPORT does.

However, the live games are done well. Jim Proudfoot is a good commentator and Sam Matterface isn’t the worst you’ll hear, though sometimes has a timbre that pierces.

A radio insider got in touch to tell me the following:

“The touchline reporters are a complete misnomer. They aren’t on the touchline as TV reporters are, they’re sitting next to the commentary team, but using a different type of open microphone to sound different.”

The only problem with the live games is that the station, being so wedded to the gambling industry, seem to be obliged to give live in-game odds. I really don’t want to hear that. In fact, it doesn’t just annoy me, it offends me and that’s why I don’t listen. My views on the highly damaging normalisation of gambling in football broadcasting are well known here, but it astonishes me that it’s even legal. And, more shallowly, it’s just so tacky.

Yet there are three very excellent shows. If you’ve not heard them they are:

Trans Euro Express with Danny Kelly.
The European Football Show with Andy Brassell and Nat Coombs.
Press Pass (which I always misread as Press Pi*s) presented by Neil Ashton.

Any could be on 5 live and there’s no greater compliment than that.

 

LOVED OR LOATHED
Interestingly, this brought the biggest response ever, with many keen to say how terrible they thought the station was, but others keen to point out its good bits. This makes me suspect that the station is actually doing a brilliant job. It has succeeded in being the colouring book to 5 live’s broadsheet newspaper. And, in one way, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

To survive, they needed to cut themselves a clear niche and not try to compete with the BBC’s output. And you can’t say they’ve not done that. The social media response was big and polarised. That’s what the station surely wants.

People are not indifferent to talkSPORT. The vast majority, inevitably inside my particular echo chamber, loathe most of its output with a real passion (possibly without listening to much of it). Many see it as part of the reactionary conservative cultural universe of Brexit. Others think it’s just mush for people with sh*t for brains. As I say, no-one is indifferent. That’s very clever marketing and branding.

There were some very witty comments this week. Thank you.

‘Hawksbee and Jacobs are humorous, intelligent, knowledgeable, professional, have interesting guests, and don’t take themselves too seriously.’

‘Mike Parry. Basically a walking power cut. As soon as he comes on, the radio goes off. Walking Brexit.’

‘Lowest common denominator radio.

‘If you’re looking for something to have on in the car without thinking about, it’s alright.’

‘Alan Brazil is a walking copy of the sun with added Singapore Slings…’

‘Max Rushden is also very good and strangely underused.’

‘Was a listener until I realised I absolutely hated it and had only been listening out of habit for years. I feel smarter for this decision.’

‘Used to be the station to listen to but has slowly turned into The Sun of the radio world. TalkSPORt 2 is really, really good though.’

‘Dreadful but strangely addictive. Two Mikes are an abomination, but Hawksbee and Jacobs excellent. Kelly great, Saggers a try-hard.’

‘Good: Danny Kelly and anything with Andy Brassell. Bad: Everything else, if The Sun was a radio station…’

‘talkSPORT2 is uniformly excellent.’

‘Nowhere near as bad as most would have you believe but with the caveat that at any single point in a day it can be briefly infinitely worse.’

‘Tabloid of the radio. I liken it to a bald, fat man shouting about football with a mouthful of burger.’

‘Brexit AM.’

‘98% of their pundits are terrible, 1% is Danny Murphy & 1% is a cricketer talking about football on their peak time show.’

‘Hawksbee and Jacobs are still consistently excellent.’

‘Suspect Adrian Durham knows what he’s doing actually. He’s very good on Matchday Live. Knowledgeable &  passionate about the lower divisions.’

‘Durham and Gough are appalling, so bad I have to listen to Johnny Vaughn on Radio X on the way home.’

‘Colin Murray to “broadcasting legend” Jim White was a huge downgrade.’

‘Quinn is ridiculous as a broadcaster.’

‘Awful awful awful. The equivalent of being stuck next to an opinionated, drunk, Ukip co-worker at the office party you didn’t want to go to.’

‘Brazil particularly loathsome, can’t listen to White’s hyperbole & Durham just says things to be provocative with no substance.’

‘To broadcast 24 hours a day 7 days a week without ever having any actual content is, you have to admit, a genuine achievement of sorts.’

‘Infantile, stupid. They add literally no value to any listener whatsoever. They don’t enrich, inform nor entertain. The anti-BBC.’

‘It could be ok but is ruined by the builders merchant ads far too often and the tackiness of false exaggerated controversy to get callers.’

‘Of course a lot of it is wind-up radio, which morons rise to, but it’s depressing stuff nonetheless that this crap works.’

‘Far too many men. Georgie Bingham great but as others have said, suffers b/c of the lad culture so prevalent there.’

‘Firstly, they appeal to the white van man demographic. That’s definitely a bad thing. It’s gutter radio for gutter ears.’

‘Unlistenable tripe. The Tory/UKIP Brexiteer of radio stations. Callers & presenters seem to be from the ‘who shouts loudest is right’ school.’

‘The non prime time stuff is usually pretty good. It’s the stuff from 7am-7pm that ruins it; gobshittery, chest puffing, click baiting bull.’

‘Good: Danny Kelly, H&J, Johnny Vaughan’s Sat warmup (much missed). Bad: everything else. Painfully outdated: Alan Brazil.’

‘Trolls. Plain and simple. No opinion too stupid. Solution to everything is passion.’

‘H&J are brilliant. The actual match coverage is good. The discussion shows and phone-ins are basically tabloid newspapers on the radio.’

‘Stone-washed denim and Brut in audio form.’

‘In a world where 5live exists why would you need it?’

‘Catch Cundy is a silly, funny game every Friday worth listening for.’

‘The Two Mikes may be the worst thing ever broadcast, and I’d say that even if someone found a clip of Hitler on a 1930s German radio station.’

‘All humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. PFM haven. Epitome of sports gambling problem.’

‘Loving the way so many people have slagged it off for being “the Sun” “Brexit” etc but seem to know the intricate details of every show.’

‘I can’t help it, I find myself listening to it even though i know it’ll make me angry and question the very existence of humanity.

 

WHAT CAN THEY DO BETTER?
With only one woman working on talkSPORT it feels like a station that is made by men for men and I’m a man, at least technically, and I really dislike that. A life without women is a severely diminished life. It is painting with only half the rainbow.

Maybe that’s why it feels so unsettling. Like being trapped in a men-only golf club bar making jokes about “the good lady wife” to the guffaws of gin-soaked misogynists. But then suggesting they have gender equality on talkSPORT is hardly going to fall on sympathetic ears.

The word talkSPORT with its lowercase/uppercase is the perfect and rather clever expression of the nature of the station: talking and SHOUTING.

Unless it totally changes its style, people with my outlook and tastes just won’t listen to it much and will download the bits we do want to hear. But that’s fine. Everyone has to be catered to.

In a bizarre way, I came from my week of listening to rather grudgingly admiring the station’s ability to survive at all. It’ll never be for me, but fair play for finding an audience and keeping them.

 

John Nicholson


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