Matías Prats

Broadcaster whose unmistakable voice became the best known in Spain
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The Independent Online

They say Matías Prats invented colour radio: his commentaries of Spain's football triumphs during the Franco years provided a sparkling, illuminated soundtrack for a saddened, monochrome nation.

Matías Prats Cañete, radio journalist: born Villa del Rio, Spain 4 December 1913; married Emilia Luque Montejano (three sons, one daughter); died Madrid 8 September 2004.

They say Matías Prats invented colour radio: his commentaries of Spain's football triumphs during the Franco years provided a sparkling, illuminated soundtrack for a saddened, monochrome nation.

And his encyclopedic knowledge of the humblest picador's family tree, and his fluency and command of language, kept listeners enthralled even when nothing much was happening in the bullring. These twin passions sometimes became intertwined, as when a bull sprang from the ring and Prats intoned: "Ladies and gentlemen, the bull has gone over the line."

Spaniards still recall family Sundays of indescribable tedium when the man of the house spent hours on end with his ear glued to the radio football or bullfight commentary. They were listening to Prats, a rare spokesman of Franco's dictatorship who was neither feared nor loathed, but respected, a man whose unmistakable voice became the best known in Spain. Throughout the Forties and Fifties, Prats spearheaded the enormous popularity of radio, and helped build bullfights and football into the twin obsessions of a country devoid of joy and diversion.

One classic moment was his broadcast interview with a fellow Cordobés, the legendary bullfighter Manolete, in the summer of 1947, days before the matador was killed in the ring at Linares. Aficionados claim to have detected a trace of weariness in Manolete's words that presaged a death that convulsed the nation.

Prats it was who celebrated Spain's goal by Telmo Zarraonandía against England in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950 World Cup, crying victory against "perfidious Albion". He boasted: "Zarra put the goal in the net and I put it into the head of the Spanish people." Franco was only too pleased to lift the spirits of his demoralised nation by equating success on the pitch with national triumph against historic foes. Similarly, in a match against the Soviet Union in 1964, Prats hailed the winning goal that "brought Communism to its knees".

From a modest family, Prats started working in Malaga for the state- controlled National Radio as a sports reporter. He made enormous efforts to control his Andaluz accent to meet the requirements for received prounciation of correct Castilian. In 1945 he came to Madrid and in 1954 became director of broadcasts. From 1947 to 1976 he was director-commentator for the official black-and-white newsreels Noticiarios y Documentales, known as " No-Do". He became one of the first familiar faces on Spanish television, and continued radio reports of international football matches even after retirement in 1985. His last commentaries were for the European Cup of 1995. He was 82.

With his dark glasses, worn following an eye injury, and his thin moustache, Prats did not exactly stand out from his contemporaries. Except that he was usually perched on a folding chair, or even squatted on the ground, beside the pitch in all weathers with his gigantic microphone in his hand. "If you were in a tropical country the heat was intolerable, and in central Europe your moustache froze," he once complained. Microphones in those days, he added, "weighed five of six kilos - unbearable, because two hours with five kilos in your hand is excessive".

Elizabeth Nash



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