… And so to the first day of the 148th holding of The Open yesterday and a brief note upon my personal experience of it.
For reasons which need not concern us here, as background, Rusters need to know that for large parts of the day I was en route by car to and from the South Coast and thus – apart from four hours when I was at my distant destination and had access to a television – the vast bulk of my following of the progress of Round One was gained from the radio coverage provided by Radio Five Live.
After a fashion, therefore, my exposure to The Open yesterday gave me the opportunity to compare the television coverage with that by radio, an experience that leads me to suggest that there might usefully be introduced a new subset of the endless great Rust “Better There Or Watching On TV?” debate, viz. is the viewer/listener’s experience of a sporting event more rewarding if achieved by watching or just listening?
In addition for present purposes I am seeking to leave aside considerations of straightforward personal preference, accessibility to either form of broadcasting ‘ on the day’, and indeed the fact that on the face of it nobody in their right mind could possibly suggest that being able to see the action is inferior to not being able to do so.
The other factors to acknowledge here are what I might describe as the time-honoured principles or watchwords of the respective techniques of these broadcasting forms.
For example, with television, it has often been suggested that the first law of commentary is not to describe the action as such (on the basis that the viewer can see that for themselves) a stricture that famously led to classic ‘gags’ such as the TV advertisement of now perhaps thirty years ago in which a stereotypical reserved Brit commentator is working alongside an American colleague during a crucial point being played out on Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
The latter in fired up and intense, describing each stroke of the rally in a machine-gun-type crescendo of word-spurts to his viewers, becoming more and more excited as the rally builds to its climax … and then deflating to hushed tones afterwards.
In contrast, the Brit commentator – looking almost bored as the play unfolds – says nothing at all … that is, until the conclusion of the point, at which he leans forward into the mike and intones simply “Fifteen-thirtay” in a deadpan voice.
I believe it was former Australian cricket captain Richie Benaud – on or around his retirement from television commentating – who described his style (or the art) of his trade as being that of saying as little as possible.
This may explain why, based upon my experience of yesterday, I am prepared to make a case for radio – or perhaps is it specifically the reporters, pundits, contributing experts and anchor broadcasters of the coverage of The Open by the BBC’s Radio Five Live.
Coming to coverage of a major sporting event via radio alone has the inherent disadvantage of there being no pictures albeit, of course, one might argue that this gives the listener the opportunity to use their imagination and create their own images in their individual mind’s eye.
Yesterday I enjoyed keeping in touch with The Open by radio far more than sitting in front of a television and watching it when I had that opportunity.
I suspect this was all to do with the overall experience, coupled with the techniques and devices that radio broadcasters – or at least this set of them, anchored by consummate broadcasters Colin Murray and Mark Chapman – has developed over the years.
I was already on the road by the time Rory McIlroy teed off yesterday morning – finally crawling off the first green having notched an extraordinary quadruple-bogey – and in all honesty I felt that I had lost nothing in listening to it live on the radio.
All I wish to add, having later learned of his horrendous first round score of 79 and listening to his interviews afterwards, is that I found McIlroy’s attitude afterwards deeply puzzling and disappointing, not to say worrying. Yes, he has to front up and undertake his media commitments after a round, but it was the content and tone of his “open and honest” descriptions of what happened that had my alarm bells ringing.
It basically amounted to a relaxed and easy-going “Yes, I had a dreadful start, but I felt I showed some resilience and was doing pretty well in the middle of the round … though of course I faded away badly again at the end” – almost as if he’d lost a game of croquet on the local vicarage lawn.
I’d have far preferred to have heard the news that he was so upset and annoyed with himself that he had refused to talk to the media and was risking a £20,000 fine in the process – or indeed that he had kicked in the side of the umpire’s hut in his frustration and/or broken his entire set of clubs, one by one, over his knee in the car park before storming off to a local bar to get pissed.
But back to the radio coverage. Its greatest strength was the ‘team’ approach/atmosphere (no doubt developed over the years) as the coverage switched from points all around the course and running jokes or themes gathered pace and strength during the day.
Individual reporters told of worrying that at inappropriate moments their phones might go off, or they’d drop their leader-board notes; they discussed their “spotters” ahead signalling to them – via a thumbs-up, thumbs-down or a waving of the wrist/hand – as to whether the wayward second stroke by a contender had come to rest with a good or bad lie.
The comments of the ‘golfing experts’ they’d hired were uniformly interesting and insightful.
There was a running gag about Colin Murray’s propensity for ice creams; at one point one reporter was asked “the latest” and responded “The latest is that I’m enjoying a sandwich is the media tent at the moment, but I’ll get back to you …” and towards the end of the day one reporter collared a local caddy who had been up at 4.00am to get to the course by 5.30am in order to walk some of the holes he felt might be problematical for his employer at 12.50pm when he was due to tee off.
A vote for radio broadcasts of golfing Majors from me …