In My Opinion: Mike Wilson: What next for Eklipse Sports Radio?

NEWS (noted here, on that a majority shareholding is said to have been sold in the Scots radio station, Eklipse Sports Radio, gives the relatively new project a chance to reflect on its programming mix.

Truth be told, few sports journalists, never mind the general public, will have encountered the station before, despite it having been on air for a good few months and being available on digital radio sets – not just online.

I do listen to it, occasionally, but since it’s mostly music, my decision to tune in for any length of time is rarely determined by its sports content.

If I am correct, though, there’s been a bit more sports content, of late.

On Monday night, there was chat about wrestling; Thursday evening, ice hockey. The pity was that it featured names I’d almost entirely never heard of, which began to make listening hard work.

There is clearly a technique to making radio entertaining while most of the people involved will be unknown to the majority of listeners. And few manage to make to make potentially alienating detail more accessible than Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film reviews on BBC Radio 5 live.

But, still, you’d like to think that it can be done, here, with Scottish sport. The media’s coverage of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, during the summer, required hitherto unknown individuals (and, in a couple of cases at least, largely ignored sports) being introduced to the general public.

And it worked. It worked mainly because in all sport there are great stories.

But the mainstream media largely returned to its old ways after the Commonwealth Games’ closing ceremony. Back to the same narrow cast of sports and characters – albeit those narrow casts appeal to a huge number of people.

How the mainstream media report sport is almost the exact opposite of the advice given when running a local newspaper. So I’ve heard say, a local newspaper will most succeed, the more people it mentions.

The mainstream media also tends to avoid debate about sports policy, youth development, skills development, stadium design and other aspects of sport that are not obviously about ‘the action’.

So, there seems, on the face of it, plenty of potential editorial ‘out there’.

And it is perhaps no surprise to hear that the football club, Hamilton Academical, is linked to the reported purchase of shares – via at least one director. From the little I know of the club, it has a habit of doing things differently; more progressively and modern than most.

I have a sports journalist friend who argues, persuasively, that the future is not radio (often a playing-in-the-background medium, where changing channel is just a click away) but podcasts (stand-alone pieces of audio that can downloaded at any time and tend to be more actively listened to, very often via headphones).

Of course, all spoken-word content can be easily turned into an archived podcast. But if Eklipse (which is said to be facing a name change) is to continue with its linear broadcasting format, then it might do worse than centre much of its broadcasting around events.

For instance, what makes – in my humble opinion – BBC TV’s coverage of motor racing’s Formula One so enjoyable to watch is the room it is given to ‘breathe’. By that, I mean being given a free hand to chat about issues around the sport, to give voice to sometimes dozens of participants. The risk is that the build-up ends up being more absorbing than the actual race, but it is a style of broadcasting that takes the viewer truly behind the scenes, and challenges them to think about the sport.

Every weekend and during many evenings, sport is taking place in Scotland. If rights are an issue – on cost or availability grounds – then there is still nothing to prevent wrapping several hours of programming around a single event.

The editorial challenge then becomes how to fill all that space. And the answer surely lies in reaching out to as many voices as possible.

It doesn’t have to be a ‘big’ event. Every sport has its talking points and its personalities.

And of course, by widening the cast of sports and characters, therein lies the potential to build audience – as the interviewees tune in themselves and tell their friends and family to do likewise.

In fact, it should be an article of faith to take Eklipse on the road, to all corners of Scottish sport, no matter how ‘big’ or ‘small’, even to training sessions. Music by day, sport every evening (plus, of course, the weekend).

What potential advertiser is going to turn down the chance to be associated with a station so determined to work itself into the heart of its constituency?

But none of this is going to be an easy sell. There is a very simple reason why the mainstream chooses to concentrate on so few sports and so few clubs: they command a huge following.

It would not be surprising if a show devoted to just two football clubs would command – at least at the outset – a larger audience than one devoted to all Scottish sport, on a more equal basis.

But at least with the latter, there is potential. Plus a tangible sense of vision. There is a wider point, that the one of the bigger challenges facing sport is how it speaks to those who might declare an interest but never enough to ‘darken the door’ of a live event.

So, the editorial has to be open, inclusive, accessible; not exclusive to those already ‘in the know’.

But, as the programming mix is no doubt being considered by the prospective new owners, they might wish to hold on to, in my opinion (again), one particularly successful element of the current offering.

Bill Young’s Talking Football last two hours, every weekday early evening. My memory is that it was first billed as a phone-in show and, when the calls didn’t come, there was no option but for Young and whoever was his sidekick, often Hugh Burns, to talk amongst themselves.

It was often hugely interesting, helped by the pair’s deep knowledge and Young’s brilliant voice. If ever there is proof required that long-form broadcasting can ‘work’, this is it. Again, it was a free hand resulting in great content.

Mike Wilson is a former freelance sportswriter and now director of ltd.