Friday, 20 November 2009


I've been reunited with my best mate in broadcasting. He's been away down south for around 10 days and I was worried that he wouldn't make it back in time for our trip to Anfield tomorrow. But he's turned up, freshly scrubbed, all set for the big game.

He's called Glen Sound and he's been with me to football matches all over the country. He was there when Newcastle were relegated on the last day of the season. He was with me when Adebayor set off on that crazy celebration after scoring against Arsenal. And I'm very pleased that he'll be at my side when Liverpool play Manchester City this weekend. He's my voice and my ears, and he comes in a compact little case with a couple of leads, and sockets for microphone and headphones.

This invaluable chum is my ISDN broadcasting kit, manfactured by a company called Glensound based in Kent. I stupidly left the batteries in too long and they began to corrode. So I sent it down to Glensound to be cleaned out and serviced. Heart in mouth in case it didn't make it back in time for my next booking. That's why I despatched it during an international break.

It is one of the downsides of being a freelance that there is no-one else to take responsibility for maintaining your kit. If it doesn't work, you can't blame some faceless engineering department in Shepherds Bush. On the other hand, the upside is that you can always ensure your kit is present and correct. I recall turning up for a late call-out by the BBC to cover a game at Maine Road. The Beeb were supplying the kit which would be delivered to the stadium. Sure enough, when I arrived, there it was. But when I opened it up in the press box, there was one item missing - the microphone.

The ISDN kit, commonplace these days, took over from its bulky predecessor, the COOBE. It stands for Commentator Operated Outside Broadcast Equipment. There was another version called a SOOBE. (Self Operated Outside.....fill in the rest yourself). Like the Glensound, the COOBE could be operated by the reporter alone. It came with mic (well, usually) and headphones. You plugged in to a bulky GPO socket, cranked a handle as if you were starting a 1933 Austin Seven, and with luck someone picked up in the BBC studio. You could then broadcast in microphone quality while hearing the studio in your headphones. The big drawback was that telecom lines had to be booked with the Post Office (later BT) on every occasion, and the lines only went to one destination.

There was a problem one day at Everton. A wire became disconnected from some vital component. I can't recall all the details but I do remember going to the restaurant to borrow a knife and strip back the sheathing to expose the bare wire. Not having a soldering kit to hand, I spent the whole match jamming the wire against the terminal with my thumb to enable me to get on the air.

ISDN technology has made everything more flexible. The kit is smaller, lighter, and you can dial from your seat in the press box anywhere in the world. That is a godsend to freelances servicing more than one client. When it first arrived the system was somewhat fragile. Every reporter was petrified that the connection would suddenly trip out and refuse to reconnect. Today (touch wood) it is much more reliable.

So long as you don't leave your batteries in too long.

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