Radio replaced with hysterics

Shout it out . . . Have sports commentators screaming into microphones ruined the pleasure of watching a game of rugby on television? PHOTO: PXHERE

That’s a Good Question with Tom O’Connor.

Why do sports commentators scream into microphones?

The first microphone replaced shouting, yodelling, smoke signals and megaphones as a means of long-distance communication.

Microphones allowed the quietly spoken voice to be heard hundreds if not thousands of miles away, which some sports commentators have yet to learn.

A lifetime ago listening to rugby matches on the radio, while sitting by an open fire, was a favourite Saturday night event. This was in the days when rugby was a genuine winter sport.

This was that far-off time of steam trains, cops on bicycles and the familiar whistle of the postman telling you there was mail in the letterbox six days a week. It was a time before heat pumps, cellphones, the internet or television and before endless, mindless, misleading advertising to interrupt the flow of the game.

The radio was a polished wooden box on a shelf with valves in the back, like overgrown light bulbs, which took a minute or so to warm up. Then there was a crackle and a hum before the voice of the announcer could be heard.

Our favourite rugby commentator was the knowledgeable and legendary Winston McCarthy who never raised his voice. As listeners obviously could not see the match, he let them hear the cheers and reactions to gauge the passion of the contest.

I still remember his, ‘‘listen. . .listen . . .it’s a goal,’’ as another All Black or rival player put the ball over the bar.

Then came Bob Irvine, who had a similar style of commentary to McCarthy and then television arrived with a string of new commentators and everything went rapidly downhill. The television was grainy black and white and could only be watched with the lights off.

Worst of all was the new style of commentary which included the ability to scream incoherently into the microphone at every mildly interesting or dramatic event on the field of play. Should a try be scored or a goal be kicked some of us suspected the commentator needed resuscitation or smelling salts to revive him from the near hysteria he surely developed. The commentary became a distorted babble of excessive decibels as the commentator nearly swallowed the microphone.

Someone then got the bright idea of turning off the television sound — there were no remotes to fight over in those days — and turning on the radio to listen to Irvine’s carefully modulated commentary.

For some reason there were no delays to broadcasts and both were precisely coordinated. It was not to last, however, and Bob Irvine followed Winston McCarthy, good commentary and black and white television into history and our fond memories.

I no longer watch rugby on television. I can tolerate the dyed hair and even the mascara if the game is wellplayed but commentators screaming into the microphone have killed any interest in the game. What a waste of a brilliant invention.

That’s a Good Question is a new column from retired journalist, social commentator and constant asker of questions Tom O’Connor.