Hall of Shame #28 – Brunel FM’s radio coverage in 2007/08
Our 28th entry into the Swindon Town Hall of Shame is Brunel FM – the radio station where the listener couldn’t hear the commentary, writes Ron Smith.
One decision in the summer of 2007 summed up the consistent failures life under the Wills’ family advisor Mike Diamandis. The club severed the club’s 18 year old ties with BBC Wiltshire in favour of recent start-up Brunel FM to provide exclusive live match commentary; as the newcomers sought to “follow Swindon Town every step of the way”.
Martyn Starnes, Town’s acting chief executive was jubilant at the time, announcing “We are very excited at the prospect of Brunel FM joining us as our exclusive media partner with immediate effect… They are committed to working closely with us on commentaries, news stories and commercial activities, which are sure to enhance the profile of the club and the radio station.” Unfortunately for all involved this early trumpeting of their ability would prove to be disaster, not only for Town fans, but also for listeners to the BBC Wiltshire having to ensure Shaun Hoggetts’ ill-fated spell on the breakfast show as a means to keep his voice on the air.
Initially, the primary concern from supporters was about the reach of Brunel FM. Their 107.7 frequency covered a small area, around central Swindon, omitting key audiences in West Wiltshire, SN6, the Gloucestershire border and beyond. Supporters with poor or no reception had no alternative but to watch Jeff Stelling & Co. or sign up to the ‘STFCWorld’ service, albeit at a cost of £34 for the season, and hope that the online streaming didn’t crash.
While Craig Rance – the programme controller at Brunel FM – originally said “Brunel FM is serious about serving Swindon with quality radio” the opposite happened. The poor programme production and technical problems started as soon as the season started, which set the stall for their coverage throughout the season.
Long gone was BBC Wiltshire’s post-match hour or more, include a detailed review of the week’s events and any build-up to the game. Instead Brunel FM’s coverage was filled with adverts throughout the majority of pre and post-match, plus a sprinkling of truly dreadful ’80s pop music’ – I’d recall the artists if I hadn’t switched off quicker. Their knowledge of players was generally lacking and the passionless (except when the opposition scored) amateur commentator indicated he perhaps hadn’t stepped foot in Swindon before taking this job. The football was ultimately the sideshow to promoting the station, especially post-match when Paul Sturrock’s analysis of the game was frequently promoted as ‘coming up next’. In the end I found that re-tuning to BBC Wiltshire I could get to hear Sturrock’s Scottish tone before listeners to Brunel FM.
The club’s reaction to this drivel was to seek ‘opinions’ on how to improve radio coverage, but the problems persisted as they failed to take any action…
Playing away at Millwall when Brunel FM failed to dial into Premium TV – who were responsible for streaming the commentary on the STFCWorld service – leading to the club issuing an apology to supporters and providing us with a share of Millwall’s partisan feed commentating on a 2-1 defeat of the Lions.
“We are sorry for the lack of Swindon Town commentary at the weekend. The club is responsible for choosing the radio station to provide the commentary. The radio station is responsible for connecting to Premium TV by landline and Premium TV is responsible for streaming the commentary on the internet. Unfortunately on Saturday the radio station did not dial in to Premium TV. Premium TV tried to contact the radio station and the club without success, so a share of the Millwall feed was provided rather than nothing.”
Then a few days later away at Swansea, Brunel FM’s line kept cutting out and a near 40 minutes was played with no Swindon fans being aware of what was occurring down the M4, yet we were treated to their quality music mix instead. For the record Town lost 1-2. I could go on with the shocking standard of commentary and unprofessional production, but I’d rather read your memories…
At least there was one saving grace from the season under Brunel FM. Alan McLoughlin’s co-commentary was excellent and provided the informed opinion we were all craving, the problem was that McLoughlin didn’t appear every matchday.
The year-long deal with Brunel FM ended in June 2008, which was probably one of the easiest decisions for newly appointed Chief Executive Nick Watkins. His statement recognised the long-standing concerns of supporters of the poor level of coverage…
“Radio commentary for a great many football fans is very important, often it can be their prime link with the club, particularly for those supporters unable to get to the ground or who live in outlying areas. With the imminent return of BBC Radio Swindon & BBC Radio Wiltshire to The County Ground, football will once again be coming into the homes of many more Town supporters”
So what became of Brunel FM? The station was sold twice in quick succession in 2008 when staff allegedly went without pay. In 2009 it was sold again leading to a further reduction in local broadcasting as ‘networked content’ became ever more present. Then in March 2010 the station was closed by administrators, the license was bought by Total Star Swindon and the name disappeared from our airwaves, but their shame lives on…