Long runners: No 10: Sport on 4

Click to follow
Age: 16. First broadcast 30 April 1977. On that Saturday Liverpool beat Ipswich Town 2-1 to stay two points clear at the top of the First Division; Australia's cricketers, under Greg Chappell, began their tour with a match against Surrey; and in the event that would now be dearest to the programme's heart, Newport beat Cardiff to win the Welsh rugby Cup final. It was the year Virginia Wade won Wimbledon.

Frequency: Every Saturday morning on Radio 4 from 9.05 to 9.30, after the Today programme and before Breakaway. Has a lunchtime repeat on the same day on Radio 5, when it's called Sport on 4 Plus 1. Had an 8.10 to 8.50am R4 slot in the days before a Saturday edition of Today was introduced in 1987.

Audience: 1 million on R4, 150,000 on R5.

Why is Welsh rugby dear to its heart? Because the programme is presented by the doyen thereof, Cliff Morgan.

Can you elaborate? Cliff Morgan, 63, captained the Welsh rugby team in the Fifties and was its most famous fly-half until Barry John came along a decade later. Also played for the Lions and the Barbarians. Joined the BBC in 1958 as Sports Organiser, Wales. Worked on Grandstand and This Week, becoming Head of Outside Broadcasts for BBC TV in 1975. Retired in 1987, when he took over Sport on 4.

So there wasn't anything particularly Welsh about the programme until then? There was, actually. For the first 10 years it was presented by Tony Lewis, who captained Glamorgan and England at cricket. In the professional Welshman stakes there's not much to choose between Lewis and Morgan. It was what you might call a seamless transition.

Has anyone else presented it? Yes. On an occasional basis, plenty of other eloquent sporty types, among them Barry Norman, Bryon Butler, Gerald Williams, Harry

Carpenter, David Coleman, Tony Adamson, and Brough Scott.

Formula: Four or five pre-recorded features on sports events of the day, with the odd live report where necessary. At nine on a Saturday morning, that usually means overnight news from the United States or the latest from the Test match in Australia. Mainly broadcast from the studio in London, but ventures out to the big events such as the Open golf and the Olympics.

How did it start? Bob Burrows, then Head of Sports and Outside Broadcasts, now Controller of Sport for the ITV networks, felt there was room for a magazine-style sports show on R4, although the Head of Radio 4 needed a lot of persuasion before it got his approval. 'We thought it might run for a few weeks,' Burrows says. Sport was then the domain of Radio 2, with Radio 3 carrying Test cricket. Until Sport on 4, the only sport on the network had been some ball-by-ball commentary on county cricket and the sports bulletins on the

Today programme. It was the success of the latter that led to Sport on 4. Its stars included some of today's biggest names in television sport: Desmond Lynam, Jim Rosenthal and Alan Parry.

So it's a bit of a boys' club? Not entirely. A producer from the early days was Emily McMahon, who went on to work for Central and Sky TV. The present team of producers includes Joanne Watson.

Style: Warm, wistful and Welsh. Hardly a week goes by without Morgan reminiscing with a Sixties legend about the great days when men were men, nobody took drugs, and the sporting landscape had not been disfigured by sponsors' tents. And if it's rugby, all the better. Morgan is a great believer in what he calls the 'privilege' of being allowed to broadcast. 'You're inviting yourself into people's homes,' he says, so the emphasis is on conviviality. It's done with an older audience in mind than that of Radio 5 - one more interested in people and timeless tales of sporting endeavour than it is in scandal. It carries a whiff of the Daily Telegraph sports pages of about 20 years ago. When Ian Wooldridge did a piece last month on why it didn't matter that England had not qualified for the World Cup, Sport on 4's mailbag suggested listeners heartily agreed.

Theme music: A disco instrumental called 'The Shuffle' by US band Van McCoy: Da-da-da da-da-da da-da-da da-da-dadaaa-dum-dum-dum . . . Was a hit at the time Sport on 4 started, reaching No 3.

The bottom line - is it any good? As sports broadcasting gets brasher, the cosy nostalgia of Sport on 4 has something to be said for it. But there are times when it feels out of touch, and Morgan's less than challenging interview technique can grate. Rather than taking the programme to Radio 5, it might be better to bring a bit of Radio 5 to the programme. Simon O'Hagan

(Photograph omitted)