Radio Broadcast Report: Test Match Special

Your Humble Blogger has been listening to bits of the Test Match Special broadcast of the England-Pakistan Test from Lord’s. Not going well for England, but that’s only to be expected, I’m afraid.

What I’ve been thinking about are the voices. TMS is not like listening to baseball or hockey on the radio, just because of the time. It’s an eight-hour day, and no commercials—it’s a lot of broadcast time to fill, and they naturally have a bunch of people to do it. On a given day there are three or four people doing play-by-play and another three or four doing color, all in shifts. Generally it’s two in conversation, more or less; sometimes it’s three, and the combinations seem to shift in about half-hour segments staggered so that it’s not always the same color man with the same play-by-play man. Or woman—one of the play-by-play announcers is a woman. Is there a woman with a regular job doing radio play-by-play for any major-league sport in the US? I don’t know of any.

Having a female voice in the mix highlights what, for me, is a delightful combination of regional accents. One of the main color analysts has a nearly-impenetrable Yorkshire accent, there someone with a bit of a West Country accent, there’s some RP, there’s some, I think, Manchester-ish sounding voice, what sounds to me like Somerset I think, probably a Birmingham. And in addition there is occasionally a visiting commentator from the other team’s nation to chime in with local color, so there may be an Australian accent or a South African one, or one from somewhere in South Asia. I don’t listen often enough to recognize all the voices, but when I do tune in, I enjoy the variety of accents and tones. It makes the baseball I listen to sound far more homogenized.

I listen to the Giants Radio Network, of course, from KNBR: Jon Miller and David B. Fleming alternating play-by-play and color, with Duane Kuiper substituting on the radio side every now and then. They are terrific radio announcers, but none of them have strong regional accents. I have a sense from occasional listening to other broadcasts (as I used to do more often) that there aren’t that many baseball broadcast teams with a variety of regional accents in the booth. Mild accents, sure, but no booth with a Southern guy and a Midwestern guy with strong accents. Or a Latino paired with a New Englander. I imagine that the former-players who get work in the booth polish off their local accents to make the broadcast more popular. Or something, I dunno.

The major difference is of course the sheer scale of the thing, which both demands and allows more voices and more variety. But I was wondering if there was also a difference in that this is the broadcast team for when England’s national team plays against another nation. I’ve never listened to a broadcast of Yorkshire against Surrey, and I don’t even know whether each local county team has its own broadcasting team or whether such matches are broadcast by a neutral BBC team. Test Match Special, though, is specifically about England vs Other, and to some extent represents the entire country and the entire world, or at least the cricketing world. And it may be (or it may not be) that there’s a feeling that several regional accents in the booth is a better, happier representation. Or perhaps it’s just that over the decades there happened to have been enough good commentators with regional accents that it became the accepted norm.

And then another musing—as I understand it, there are three popular professional team sports in England: Football, Rugby and Cricket. Each of those sports features fairly frequent play between a national team and the national teams of other countries. There are also UK leagues, of course, and local teams and whatnot, but there are annual international competitions, and it makes sense for somebody to be proud of the England Rugby team’s #3 ranking or frustrated by England Football’s (checks league tables… ) #18 ranking. Oh, dear. At any rate, if you are English (or perhaps Welsh) and a fan of sport, you may well follow a national England team with some regularity.

In the US, well, that just doesn’t happen. American football, basketball, baseball, hockey—outside of the Olympics, there’s no real Team USA that anybody much cares about. There just isn’t. They are all in some sense international sports, but mostly they are American or North American sports and they don’t have annual international championships. And that’s fine! The US is huge and also far away from countries on other continents. There’s plenty of each of those sports in the major leagues, and I don’t think it would add anything much to our enjoyment of them to have frequent international competitions. I personally don’t care about the Baseball World Cup, for instance. So I’m not saying that it’s a problem or the US, or that the UK way is better. It is quite a US kind of patriotism, I must say, to play the National Anthem before every match between two US-based teams in four nearly-entirely US-based leagues of the popular sports (and the two nearly-entirely-US-based college leagues of those sports) and not care at all about our national team matching up against other countries’ teams.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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