Another underdog for Wimbledon fans to enjoy cheering on

The All England Club's radio station doesn't have any star names, but it's picked up a worldwide audience because they're close to the action, the editor tells Vincent Graff

t has no star names, 25 members of staff (some of them students) and broadcasts nothing at all for 50 weeks a year. You've probably never heard of Radio Wimbledon, but for thousands of sports fans outside Britain, this tiny broadcasting operation, which began life in a couple of portable offices on the roof of an equipment store, is their ticket to the Wimbledon tennis fortnight.

Just before this year's tournament the station signed a deal with an Indian mobile phone company, which, for the first time, is bringing the station's mixture of ball-by-ball tennis commentary and discussion to a potential 20 million mobile phone users on the sub-continent. Already Radio Wimbledon can be heard by 4.5 million satellite radio subscribers in the United States. Plus, at its peak there have been 600,000 listeners across the world on the internet.

Not bad for a station that was brought to life as an ultra-local low-powered FM station in 1992 by the All England Club, partly to warn motorists on their way to the tournament about traffic jams on the A3.

The radio signal - 87.7FM, under a "restricted service licence" - still continues, but as station editor Steve Butterick admits, the overseas deals and the internet streaming at www.wimbledon.org mean that "we've become a much more international station - we can't just think we're broadcasting for five miles in the Wimbledon area."

For almost a decade, Radio Wimbledon had ball-by-ball commentary to itself internationally, as the BBC's rights package banned it from transmitting its Radio 5 Live coverage overseas. In the United States, an offshoot of CBS bought a broadcasting package that would have allowed it to offer its listeners non-stop commentary but it decided instead to offer regular updates. American media executives consider the idea of tennis matches on the radio rather quaint and silly - despite the fact that we've been listening to them in Britain for 80 years.

Broadcasting rights pose no problem for the All-England Club's own station, says Butterick, smiling: "Because I work for the rights-holder, I've never really had to worry about where we broadcast to."

Thus, while the likes of Michael Stich, Pat Cash and Annabel Croft pass Wimbledon judgement on Five Live, much of the rest of the world turns to the rather lesser known voices of former players Warren Jacques, Sue Mappin, Lucie Ahl and others on Radio Wimbledon. (Unusually, Judy Murray, the tennis coach and mother of star British player Andy, will this year be appearing on both stations.)

Butterick, a producer who has spent his career with LBC and Five Live, says that Radio Wimbledon has a good relationship with its BBC rival - "we share material with them" - but "I think the coverage that we provide is different. I think we are able to be slightly faster on our feet." During the women's final, for example, Radio Wimbledon uses a woman commentator and a woman summariser. "I don't think the BBC has ever done that," says Butterick. "So you could say I don't have their resources, I don't have their reach, but in some ways, because we're smaller and because there's slightly less tradition, I am less beholden to the past."

The narrow target of his station also means that tennis will not be crowded out by trivial subjects such as world news or World Cup football, both of them vying for broadcast space on Five Live. And, by a cruel twist of fate, men's finals day - 9 July - falls on the same day as the football final. If the tennis overruns, Five Live may well leave London SW18 to go over to Munich (though, if that does happen, the BBC will doubtless move tennis to its digital station, Five Live Sports Extra).

Radio Wimbledon's commentators are also able to be a little less impartial than their BBC rivals. If Tim Henman is playing, the station wants him to win. "We allow ourselves to be slightly coloured by the match. On the whole, we're not jingoistic, but we allow a certain amount of patriotism to show through. I think it's just natural," says Butterick.

Sometimes, being so close to the action can have its dangers. Players listen to the station as it is piped into their dressing rooms and played in the cars that transport them to and from the matches. Two years ago, a commentator said he would rather have his toenails removed without anaesthetic than watch another set like he'd just seen. Young French player Virginie Razzano stormed into the studio - and was not immediately convinced by Butterick's subsequent explanation that the comments were aimed at the women's game in general, rather than Razzano's in particular.

But, just as being the voice of the All England Club has its strengths, does it not also have its weaknesses? Butterick says that he has "absolute editorial freedom" to criticise the Wimbledon authorities - and, indeed, he has regularly carried dissenting voices who are unhappy with the way that British tennis is run.

In fact, he can only recall one slap on the wrist. "I was asked by a former chief executive why a chap [the American tennis coach and Independent columnist Nick Bollettieri, who has trained Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova] was saying 'Wimpleton' rather than 'Wimbledon'."

Butterick didn't really have an answer. "It was just his accent," he says. "Loads of Americans say Wimpleton, don't they?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map