TalkSport: a guilty pleasure


What do you listen to during the morning drive to work or when getting ready to leave the house? Who winds you up and who, later in the day, helps you wind down? Colin Randall admits to a weakness for TalkSport – even when it talks rot …

There is a confession to make: I may be addicted to TalkSport radio. Even on days when I really must listen to Radio 4 in the car, I find some time to turn to Alan Brazil’s morning show.

It is probably no more than a consequence of being passionate about football (and, since I am usually driving my football-loving daughter to work and her baby to the nursery, it removes any need for argument on the sort of music station she’d otherwise want).

There are downsides to TalkSport. Not every presenter has the most cultured command of the English language. The general tone of the station, apparently aimed at blokes whose working day requires them to drive white vans, sits uneasily with the smart, lucid and unmistakably right-wing snippets of financial analysis unless builders are now even richer, smarter and more right-wing than I thought.

The average Sunderland fan would probably also detect either a Big Four/Five bias, or a Londoncentric tendency, in terms of the issues discussed and attitudes on display.

Some of the ads – notably Go Compare and Aviva – are intensely annoying, though Vodafone deserves credit for its crackly lines theme (“I’m breaking up …”/”What! You aren’t seriously chucking me by phone”) and there are some excellent public service ads on asbestos and crimestopping. I am not sure that radio presenters’ voices should be heard on air pushing advertisers’ products and services.

But the core material is what makes the station work. The banter is good, with a stream of thought-provoking debates punctuated by on-the-ball football news updates.

Some of the former sports professionals used by TalkSport are lively and engaging: Brazil for one, but Andy Townsend, Ronnie Irani. Darren Gough and Ray Houghton are among others whose work is impressive.

Townsend, in particular, plays a full part in the entertainingly tub-thumping show he co-hosts with Mike Parry who, despite past senior roles at the Press Association and FA, is an opinionated tabloid man at heart, a sort of excitable Richard Littlejohn. Townsend occasionally mangles his words, but he’s no fool. The programme is a great example of TalkSport resisting the temptation to be purely about sport and serving instead as a current affairs station with plenty of sport thrown in.

Adrian Durham, who pops up in the afternoon with Houghton, Gough or Ray Parlour, personifies the professional controversialism of the station.

Even more than the others, with the possible exception of Stan Collymore, he is charged with putting forward crackpot propositions calculated to get fans wound up.

One recent instance was a suggestion that Rio Ferdinand’s off-the-ball assault on Hull’s Craig Fagan was no more deserving of retrospective FA sanction that William Gallas’s mistimed tackle on a Bolton player. All part, he argued with no hint of irony, of an FA plot to stop Manchester United winning the Premier League again. The other week, despite being a working journalist, he was making the astonishing claim that the public had no need to know the details of events leading to Mark Hughes being fired by Man City.

But he is paid to drum up animated discussion, draw in irate fans. And as a whole, the package is strong enough to make these devices appear legitimate. Oh, and he supports Peterborough, so allowances must be made.

If you listened all day, you’d surely go mad. But as a guilty pleasure, it pushes the right buttons. If I tire of it, and tune into television news (though not when driving), I am soon enough reminded of why I have come to prefer the medium: if people on radio are also making those absurd and deeply irritating hand movements that are considered mandatory for every TV reporter these days, at least we cannot see them.

* Salut! Sunderland acknowledges TalkSport’s kind permission to reproduce photos of presenters.

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