Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Voice of Henley Royal Regatta: Behind the Scenes at Regatta Radio with Rebecca Caroe

Regatta Radio co-founder George Thomas presenting (Photo: R. Caroe)
For many out-of-town and overseas Henley Royal Regatta supporters, Regatta Radio provides a window unlike any other into the event, taking pains to be as thorough and knowledgeable as possible while keeping the tone light and the banter flowing. Interviews have also become an important part of this particular RR's broadcast schedule, and included a conversation with Harvard head coach Harry Parker this year (just prior to his heavyweight varsity eight's victory in the Ladies' Plate over Leander, by a margin of 1 foot). Here, Rowperfect.co.uk's Rebecca Caroe gives us an inside look at the history and running of Regatta Radio:

Regatta Radio is now a fixture at Henley–it’s the only temporary radio station dedicated to rowing for 10 days a year. Broadcasting from a shack behind the famous Leander club, the outfit is now an established part of the Royal Regatta.

Martin Unsworth (Photo: R. Caroe)
Martin Unsworth was involved from the first year of operation, and he recalls, “It was very agricultural - we used mobile phones to commentate and we were perched up a tree or on a boat. It was a big learning curve.” Along with founders George Thomas and Charles Wiggin, the idea of a live race commentary that gave out more information than the official one took root, and the team sought support from local business sponsors.

Acquiring a broadcast license was simple and the Stewards continue to be supportive, allowing Regatta Radio to broadcast from within the Enclosures; Leander Club also give us a corner of their car park for the portacabin headquarters.

Pundit and journalist, Rachel Quarrell, is a regular on the team. She remembers, “The early years was exciting and exhilarating. What we didn't expect was the listeners were so into it - they were visiting the studio asking for ‘shout outs’ on air saying we're from this Rowing Club and this is amazing. We started getting phone calls to the studio - the GB womens quad training 10 miles away in Caversham were listening in and they called and requested an interview!”

Putting together the running order for the day (Photo: R. Caroe)
Today the team has paid staff and an army of volunteer commentators, presenters, and technicians. All the gear is rented, but gaining input from BBC radio professionals and advertising revenues means the operation gets sharper and smarter each year. Martin Unsworth says, “What began as a lifestyle hobby has turned into a business employing 6 people.”

Production Manager, Danny Cox, has been on the team five years. He describes his job as “making good radio.” Broadcasting 24 hours a day means they are smart with their content. Danny explains, “Our team of commentators produce online output and I am responsible for everything that goes around it from the jingles to the commercials. We package the content for example an interview on day 1 which was broadcast live would also be recorded, edited; pieced together with music, inserted into our computerized system and it'll play out several times a day.”

But the operation still has its delights–Will Smith the Commentary Coordinator is front line for problem solving. “Part of its charm is that it's not a finely tuned machine yet - one of the things that is quintessentially British,” Smith says. “It's a bit romantic - things go wrong all the time, like technical issues, and I have to race down the lane on a bicycle to a commentary station to try and fix things.”

The mixing desk (Photo: R. Caroe)
This year’s innovations include veteran broadcaster, Steve Rider doing face-to-face interviews with rowing celebrities like Sir Steve Redgrave, and Mike Sweeney, the Chairman of the Stewards. Rachel Quarrel says “I enjoy the interviews they do with really interesting people. I listen on the drive home and they always seem to be in the middle of an interesting interview when I'm going out of the broadcast range at Nettlebed!” Martin Unsworth agrees, “My favorite bit is the human stories like the school that came over from America chasing their rowing dream, a small high school from San Francisco, St. Ignatius, not renowned for rowing. The coach was a motorcycle policemen who had the same badge number as his Father and Grandfather, and they won the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup in the first year.”

This once-homespun operation has now become an integral part of the enjoyment and celebration of rowing at Henley. It's unique–no other regatta manages to do this–and I, for one, hope that it continues to draw in the listeners and financial supporters to continue innovation around broadening the enjoyment of rowing worldwide. -RC

Rebecca Caroe is the owner of Rowperfect UK and maintains their daily rowing blog, and is a coach and masters athlete.

To listen to highlights of the 2012 regatta (including the interview with Harry Parker mentioned above), visit the Regatta Radio Podcasts page. Thanks very much to Rebecca for the insight, and Happy 4th of July!

-RR

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