As alluded to in my previous post about the Sound Women tech training session I attended recently, there was something rather exciting about to take place.
Unless you haven’t guessed already to what the something entailed from the exceedingly cryptic post title, I was lucky enough to be able to get some shadowing experience with the sports department at BBC Radio London at Broadcasting House.
The opportunity came about thanks to networking at the Sound Women tech training where one of the lovely ladies attending gave me the email address of Pete Stevens, a producer who has worked in the various incarnations of BBC Radio London for over 20 years.
After meeting Pete for a chat last weekend, he was generous enough to invite me to come back today to shadow the sport output across the FM and digital platforms.
The sports department, although small, is responsible for a huge chunk of output, particularly at weekends. They will try to cover the London teams that will be in action in the football and occasionally rugby union games for Harlequins and Saracens, cricket during the summer covering Surrey and Middlesex, plus other sporting events such as the London Marathon.
I got to spend the afternoon shadowing Pete, his assistant Lucy and producer Nathan as they kept the audience up to date with the latest goals in the matches covered. The sports team had a longer day as the lunchtime kick-off in the Premier League was Crystal Palace v Chelsea.
As there was an early match, this meant that the station output needed to be split so that the normal scheduling wasn’t affected for anyone who was listening via FM, and those who wished to listen to the football could do so via digital or online. This involved liaising with the presenter who was on air already, Robert Elms, and the commentator for the game to ensure that a smooth switchover would occur. By getting a song played a few minutes prior to the start of the football coverage, it allowed the producers to set up the outputs to split transmissions between the studio where the Robert Elms show was broadcasting from, to the other studio where we were sat controlling the different outside sources, or OS. Once this has been done, it was just a case of putting down the fader where Robert Elms was coming through and fading up Emma Jones to begin her commentary from Selhurst Park.
The deftness of the team in managing to organise this was astonishing. They were so quick and it was a bit of a blur of buttons and hands at times but it just goes to show how hard working the producers are to be able to deal with multiple simultaneous broadcasts.
At the end of the match, the team had to go through the same process in getting the different platforms all broadcasting the same output until the 3pm matches kicked off, where it was split again as the featured game was West Ham v Hull and through online and digital it was Leeds v Bradford. There were in total 8 matches that we had reporters attending to provide updates on any goals in the games the London teams were playing. This meant that the production team had to ensure that each reporter had been assigned an OS line which correlated to one of the faders on the desk. This allowed for the team to be able to switch to the reporter as necessary.
However, you cannot just switch to someone and expect them to be able to pick it up seamlessly from the prior broadcaster. One of the producers, in this case Nathan, would speak to the reporter in question to give them heads up that we’ll be coming to them in a moment. Each of the reporters were also able to hear the broadcast programme so they could hear where the commentator of the West Ham match, Nick Godwin, was about to come to them. Some of the reporters prefer not to hear the feed of the broadcast so Nathan will switch on the “clean feed” to that output. The clean feed also needs to be switched on when going to a reporter as the broadcast they hear has a slight delay and will cause issues when they try to speak.
Although this was fairly simple in terms of needing to get a fader ready and then switch back to the main commentary, it did mean that you had to keep focused the whole time for any goals that have just been scored and ensuring you were switching up the right fader. To help with this, there was a print of each assigned line, the reporter and the match they were covering- it would have been a lot harder to try and go to each match from memory!
At the end of the matches, the digital and online broadcasting is once again switched back to the same programming as FM, which in this case is the “Far Post” which is a round up of the matches, key goals and interviews with managers and players after the games. For each goal that had occurred, Lucy will have clipped the commentary and saved it ready to play out if necessary. Nick would say which ones he would like to end the programme with and this was dropped into the running order.
Getting to see all of this in action was fascinating. Clearly I love radio production and I’m still pursuing to obtain a career in it, but also sport is a huge passion of mine. I’ve grown up listening to football commentaries on the radio rather than watching it on television and always thought it captured the atmosphere so much better. You can hear the crowds, you get the excitement of the commentators and it is much more immersive than just watching it on the television where personally, I find it quite easy to get distracted.
There is also the importance of local radio to the communities it serves. Although a great deal of the teams in London are in the Premier League and will be covered by BBC 5 Live or shown on Sky or BT Sport, there are still many in the lower leagues with a huge fan-base that will appreciate the coverage. Of course there is an argument that media coverage is potentially interfering with ticket sales and attendances but for those who cannot attend or for the neutral sports fan, hearing these matches are a gift that is usually overlooked by the larger stations/channels. After all, its still three points at stake whatever league the match is being played in.
For some of the matches, the reporters were also providing commentaries for the websites of the respective teams playing. For example, Deano Standing was reporting on Scunthorpe v Millwall for BBC Radio London whilst providing a commentary for Millwall’s website. The broadcast as well as being assigned an OS line and a corresponding fader on the desk, will also be assigned a dial up number which will be the output line to the website. Another way that local radio is serving the community.
I can’t believe how lucky I was to be able to come in and meet everyone and watch everything take place. I was able to learn so much and see how well the producers multitask and cope with live radio. It was definitely an extremely valuable experience, and one I’m very pleased to say will continue as I’m able to return for a couple more shadowing sessions. So, watch this space…