Live and kicking: Do I not like that . . .

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The Independent Online
BBC Radio's head of sport, hits back at the criticism of the depth and breadth

of coverage on Radio 5

THERE were a few raised eyebrows in our sportsroom last week. Your much-

respected correspondent Peter Corrigan had got the score wrong. Radio 5, Sport 0 he reckoned. It just didn't tally with our reading of the game. Was this the same man who last year praised our service and warned the BBC to retain it on network radio? So who's been scoring own goals?

I put it down to confusion. Not only had we carried all the stories Peter said we missed on day one, we carried reports and interviews on them. Not a word about Greg Norman's triumph in the Players Championship, he complained. In fact we heard from the man himself that morning - twice - in addition to the reports from our correspondent Tony Adamson who was in Ponte Vedra.

But the timing of the sports news has changed. Headlines on the hour, main bulletin on the half- hour. It will take a little time but this is a new network and as Peter admitted himself 'we all have our little restrictions to work within'.

These are early days on Five Live but make no mistake radio sport is alive and kicking. We attract a weekly audience of more than three and a half million with sports programmes every day of the week.

It is quite true to say that the most successful sports programmes are placed in a regular and easily accessible positions in the schedule. That's why on Five Live every midweek evening is Sportstime. Not only did we carry four live midweek football commentaries during our first week on air, we also broadcast three new feature documentaries, launched new series on women and American sport, and last Friday saw the start of a new investigative programme hosted by Michael Parkinson. Over the first weekend alone radio sport's programmes ran to a total of 16 hours.

Add a 24-hour sports news service and you have a package that is bigger and better than ever before. We are healthy and growing.

This is a network that will treat sport as news. When James 'Bonecrusher' Smith was stopped from boxing we didn't wait for a convenient slot before we interviewed him. We wanted to hear from him first. We aim to cover stories as they happen like the news conference which announced the appointment of Graham Taylor as the Wolves manager or the cancellation of the Germany v England match. Room for improvement there will always be. But there can be no questioning BBC Radio's commitment to sport.

On the first Wednesday of Radio Five Live we carried commentary from Paris on Arsenal's European Cup Winners Cup semifinal. Meanwhile on Radio Four Long Wave there was ball-by-ball commentary on that extraordinary Test match in Trinidad - top international sport simultaneously broadcast on two networks. That highlights the BBC's astonishing commitment to Test Match Special. One of the undoubted jewels in our crown is to be preserved. Despite having to relinquish two frequencies for commercial radio the BBC has retained ball-by-ball cricket by placing it on Radio Four Long Wave. That is the only place where it can rest permanently in its present form. If it doesn't exist on Long Wave, it doesn't exist at all.

That is why Peter is wrong to say TMS could be included on Five Live. Cricket commentary could. But TMS is more than just cricket commentary. It is the sound of suumer for those who can take or leave their cricket, as well as the aficionados. And the programme as we know and love it would be interrupted by more than news bulletins. What about other live sport? What about Cup football like Arsenal against Paris St Germain? What about Wimbledon or Five Nations rugby?

Five Live has already made its commitment to these national institutions quite plain. This summer John Inverdale will host Wimbledon coverage for seven hours a day. The Open golf commentary will run to 22 hours.

News and sport on Five Live is a partnership. The result will be a high-scoring draw.

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