Rolling on with ideas above their station

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THE latest score from the never-ending quest to keep the nation abreast of vital happenings is Radio 5, Sport 0. It may seem harsh to make such an assessment before sampling a Saturday of the BBC's new rolling news and sport network but such are the vagaries of the media world.

We've all got our little restrictions to work within and we in the oldest medium of all have more than enough of those. But at least you know where to find us. Same spot on the doormat, decade after decade. And we still dig up most of the news and gossip and peddle the punditry that the other branches of the media ponce off.

But that's enough selfish digression. We are discussing the supposed new deal promised for sport on Radio 5 and there can be no argument that as from last Monday there is suddenly a lot more sport to be listened to. That to which I have listened so far suggests they have allowed themselves plenty of room for improvement. This is probably to be expected when a new venture is being broken in but they have given us an early opportunity to disagree with what they consider constitutes sporting news.

On Monday morning, the first day of Radio 5 Live, I awoke with an urgent need to discover how Greg Norman had fared in the final round of the Players' Championship on the previous evening. Normally, I would have searched for the remote control and looked up teletext. Instead, I reached for Radio 5 Live (good slogan, that) just in time for the sports news.

The first item told me that Manchester United were still recovering from losing the Coca- Cola Cup final the previous afternoon, the next broke the bombshell that England's crickers were enjoying a rest day and the third that the Davis Cup captain Tony Pickard was blasting the LTA - a story I had just read for myself, probably in the same newspaper in which they'd read it.

Not a word about Norman. I had to turn to the teletext to learn of his brilliant victory and while I was at it I discovered that Robin Smith had not suffered the fractured arm as had been feared and Steve Davis had won the Irish Masters after a thrillingly close final against Alan McManus.

I hoped that as the week progressed an appreciation of what is genuine news and what is space- filling waffle would have established itself. But I am afraid that items which begin 'Manchester United can increase their lead over Blackburn by winning tonight . . .' may be devastatingly true but cannot be classed as news.

Before turning in at 11.30 on Thursday night, I was overtaken by a desire to hear how our golfers had done on the first day of the Freepost Classic in New Orleans. In a sports bulletin lasting almost 15 minutes (much of which was taken up with a long piece on our tennis troubles which are not exactly a new phenomenon) there was no mention of the golf. At seven the following morning, Olazabal's record 63 was thought good enough to be the lead item. The story was in all the early editions of the newspapers so it must have been available on Thursday evening; why was it ignored?

I was not in a position to judge how they handled the England cricket collapse, the best story of the week, because in common with many I was busy searching for Test Match Special, which was being transmitted on Radio 4's long wave version. Frantic fiddling on three receivers in the house and 10 minutes in the car produced not even a faint echo of wickets falling and there's much truth in the old saying that it's a long wave that has no tuning.

I gave up in the end and was cheered only when learning that the frustration of that part of the population who can't get Radio 4 on long wave was more than matched by the part that can only get long wave and don't like cricket. Indeed, it was the long wave lot who led the campaign against the original plan to annex Radio 4 for the rolling news channel. It was their opposition that forced the Beeb turn to helpless Radio 5 where sport was doing very nicely in company with some ambitious programming for the young.

If Test Match Special is to have any future and not die of loneliness it has to be included on Radio 5 and if it has to be interrupted by news bulletins, then so be it. Ever since the BBC announced their intention of moving TMS from Radio 3 as far back as 1988, its days in the format we know and love have been numbered. If they are serious about a news and sport amalgam then TMS must be a part of it.

What bothers me - apart from why we needed a rolling news channel when the service on existing channels was more than adequate - is the often awkward and haphazard juxtaposition of news and sport items on the new channel. Before the Radio 4 lobby won the day, sport was not intended to be a part of the news operation and neither should it be. The marriage was a quick contrivance to get someone's brainwave on the air as soon as possible.

The sad part is that despite the strange news sense being displayed, there have been some very good interviews and background features, but they tend to appear without warning because, I suspect, that in the absence of big news stories to develop, a great deal of packing has to take place - and sport is a handy piece of Polyfilla.

On Friday afternoon, John Inverdale had an excellent interview with James 'Bonecrusher' Smith on the refusal to allow him to fight here this week, but it was squeezed between a discussion on fairground death and a report on April Fool japes which was then followed by items on Community Tax, Russian women going to Australia to get married and Wigan's attempt to retain the rugby league championship. Eventhose of the most catholic interests might find that hard to keep pace with.

Sport deserves better than that and it is no secret that the most successful sports programmes on radio or television have been those dedicated to the subject and with a regular and easily accessible place in the schedules. Drumming up luke-warm sports coverage for the sake of it pleases no one and our only hope is that Radio 5 are alive to the problem.

I TRUST that all football managers took notice of Tony Pickard's outburst last week. The British Davis Cup captain watched his team crash to a humiliating 4-1 defeat by Portugal and launched a savage attack on the Lawn Tennis Association.

Quite right, too. If your players perform like big nellies, don't blame them, don't blame yourself, blame the people who provided the players. This is a massive breakthrough in sporting employment. All those managers whose teams lose vital matches should give their chairmen the tongue- lashing they deserve for making them work with such inferior material. Then they join Pickard, out of a job but feeling much better.

Is there a football team in a worse state than our Davis Cup team? The irony is that more money has been spent on developing British tennis players than any other sporting group and the greater the investment the worse we seem to get. Perhaps we should try something different with all that LTA money. How about gathering together all those kids who show an aptitude for tennis, and buy them a set of golf clubs each.