Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sports Commentary

My name has been associated with sport commentary over radio and television of the past era by many. It is a trade mark that at time may be an embarrassment but may also rescue me out of sticky situations. Most time it breaks the ice when meeting new people as it started the conversation going into new ground.
Here I would like to impart some of my experience before my memory failed me. It involved many people whom I had worked with closely and the so-called adversaries while in line of duties. Of course it involved events that led to some of the happenings that I went through. It even led me to places I never dreamt of seeing around the world.
I have to thank many nameless people for making my job and life interesting and exciting while I was with it whether holding a microphone or sitting in front of the cameras or holding the “whip” so to say to plot and execute what’s to be heard or seen over the airwaves. There was never a dull moment. All the time it’s a new learning process.

Sport commentary - Part 1

Sport has been part of my life since school days. We were regime into it as part of the extra-curricular activity. All the pupils were encouraged to be involved in one sports or another except those medically advised. During the athletic season it was mandatory for each pupil to score at least three points for his “house” in any of the numerous events. I am not sure if this is still being practice at my alma mater Anderson School, Ipoh. It is a good way of instilling camaraderie among pupils.
Competition in sport was very stiff in school those days as some of our schoolmates even went to the extent of being in the national teams. We were very proud of them. We were prouder still when they came out with flying colour in their studies. By the look of thing I don’t think such situation arises these days.
My sporting prowess was mediocre. I never reached the first team standard but manage to be in the school rugby second fifteen to warm up the reserve bench most of the time. When the school wanted to start a swimming team I was involved but we were distance away from the winner in the inter-school relay competition. Nevertheless I got involved in the “house” team in all sports that went on throughout the year. I was quite keen in hockey and played almost every day at the town padang near our house where the State Mosque now stands in Ipoh. Cricket was another one that I was encouraged to be involved by my immediate neighbour and classmate K. Ananda Rajah who was a double internationals in hockey and cricket. For leisure we put up a badminton court in the spacious compound of my father’s government quarter at Hill Street while Andy put up a bowling pitch on the narrow path beside his father’s quarter. I use to watch some great badminton matches at the nearby Old Town Market Hall where badminton legends Ng Boon Bee and Tan Yee Khan made it their hunting ground.
My late father was a football fan and a diehard supporter of the Perak team. As a child he would take me to the Yook Choy School at Kuala Kangsar Road to watch the Perak team played. The team seldom let the full house crowd down. Father normally got one of the better seats, perhaps because of his position as the Penghulu of Mukim Ipoh. Incidentally it was there I had my first brushed with broadcasting at one of the Final. I was taken to see the live radio broadcast operation where the late Murtaza Zaaba was the commentator. He was already a well known name in sport circle but I never dreamt that I would be working under him in the same Department and follow his footstep years later.
The other time that I came to the actual venue of sports commentary was in 1959 when my classmate Rahim Razali (now Dato’) invited me to follow him to watch a Malaya Cup (now Malaysia Cup) match. Being a Temporary Broadcasting Assistant Grade 3 (BA3) staff he was entailed to do the live commentary at the Stadium Merdeka, the premier venue of football in the country then. I watched in awe at Rahim’s abilities in describing analytically of the going on the field. Rahim’s invitations to watch football at the Stadium was a welcome respite from my study at Pantai. Otherwise over weekends we would be watching legends like the Shepherdson brothers and contemporaries played cricket at the Kilat Ground, near his uncle’s house where the imposing Tenaga building stand now. Uncle Ghani was already a senior engineer then. The good time we had together watching sports came to an end when Rahim left to continue his study under Colombo Plan scholarship in Australia.
When I joined Radio Malaysia in late 1963 I use to admire the ability of those who were doing sports commentary for their prowess in remembering names, past records of relevant matches, teams and players, as well as describing what was going on the field and being analytical about situations at the same time. I left my thought at that as I felt I didn’t have those abilities.
Then the Malay Service was asked to cover live the Final of the Rugby match for the H.M.S. Malaya Cup as part of the Bahasa Kebangsaan (National Language) campaign. The commentator was my colleague Baharin Tahir who later confessed to me he was not well verse with the sport. I was roped in at a very short notice by the Programme Organiser the late Jamaliah Long after looking at my dossier to assist Baharin. I was never exposed over the air live to make announcement what more to be involved in a live sport commentary. I had butterfly in my stomach as I don’t have the slightest clue on what to do. Baharin did give me some tips but they just evaporated into thin air with so many things to do and to remember simultaneously. The match was at the then Selangor Club ground (now Dataran Merdeka) just a stone throw from our office at Federal House. It was between Selangor and Perak, the first time the Rugby Association decided the Cup to be competed among Malaysian Asian players. It was a consolation for me in remembering names as I was familiar with most of the players especially the Selangor team where most of them used to move around with me. The captain Adrian de Silva was a friend during my Taiping days and the stand-off the late Brian Pestana was also a friend in Pantai days.
Baharin told me I didn’t have to do the commentary proper but to answer some technical aspect of the match whenever he asked and of course to remind him of the name of players. Certainly that suited me fine. As the match progress I noticed Baharin was finding difficulty in plotting the going on the field together with the complexity of rules, playing and scoring systems. I did my level best to assist. Then I found that I was doing more of the talking than he did. Finally he informed me that he has to attend to nature’s call, and I was left alone to handle the situation. I did as best as I could to describe the match at hand. The minutes seem hours. Boy was I relief to hear the final whistle, and finally to hand-over the microphone for the presentation ceremony of the Cup to Baharin when he finally showed up. I still have to do the summing up though. By that time I felt confident.
I was waiting for the worst review of my performance the next Monday when I turn up at the office. Instead I got countless handshakes for a job well done to the extent of having a welcome comment in the paper. So it was a good outing for a rookie who passed the baptism of fire. My boss Jamaliah Long was happy she made a good choice. Perhaps that was one of the reason I was allowed to be on the air much earlier than most of my colleagues then.
I thought of nothing about being a sport commentator as I never thought I have the knack of remembering names and situations. I didn’t know that one particular commentary led one thing to another in my broadcasting career. I was asked to do “double banking” (understudy) the ceremonial functions live commentary as well as reporting various national events, another challenging aspect for broadcaster. I was given a free hand to do interviews with personalities. I was really immersed and preoccupied to think of diversions.
The first biggest sports coverage I was involved in was the third edition of the South East Asia Peninsular (SEAP) Games of 1965 when Malaysia was the host country for the first time after Cambodia aborted being the host in 1963. It involved the six original members of South-East Asia comprising of Thailand, Burma, Malaya, Cambodia, Laos and the then South Vietnam. The later participated as Vietnam after becoming one country. In 1963 Malaya became Malaysia after its formation. Singapore became its seventh member in 1965 after its separation from Malaysia and was considered as the seventh founding member.
Radio Malaysia was to go to town over that and nothing was spared to make it a memorable coverage. Most of the staff who has the slightest knowledge of sports was roped in to cover most of the venues and events. Even part-timers involved in sports programme at the regional stations were brought to Kuala Lumpur. That was how I came to know the late Abu Bakar Ismail, a school teacher who was doing sports programme in Penang on part-time basis. He was one of those who made my stay pleasant when I was transferred to Penang later. As a sports person, coach and officials he has wide knowledge of sports and gave me priceless tips. He introduced me to sports officials in Penang which lighten my burden. One of those was Ahmad Daud his fellow teacher who used to coach the national side. They later became my close friends.
The experience of covering an international Games like the SEAP were of great value to my future role in heading the sports service in RTM. When the Game members were expanded to include Indonesia and the Philippines the present South East Asia (SEA) Games replaced the SEAP. Both entities were keen in being the host and our coverage went over to their capitals in Jakarta for the 10th edition (1979) and the 11th edition (1981) in Manila.
I was not involved in the coverage of subsequent Games as I was stationed in Penang, but I was invited to be in the coverage team when the 6th edition was hosted by Kuala Lumpur again in 1971. I was involved in all the subsequent editions including the ones that involved the participation of Indonesia and the Philippines after they became member in 1977 when the SEA Games came into existence. I was made deputy team leader in 1979 in Jakarta and team leader in Manila and subsequent editions. The 18th edition in Chiang Mai 1995 was the last journey I made to be part of the coverage team just before my retirement. By that time Amran Din has taken over the pivotal role.
I made so many good friends among fellow broadcasters of so many nations who were willing to help each other in overcoming the difficulty of getting materials due to the limited facilities of the host broadcasters. That in itself was an adventure in diplomacy and goodwill among nations and fellow broadcasters.
I find the late Ramli Parinduri (we always refer him as P.Ramli the great Malay celluloid and singing legend) and his successor Sofyan Hardi of TVRI great companions in times of need during the coverage. We spared no effort in assisting each other by exchanging materials, thus reducing our facilities constrains.
At the Manila 1981 Game the Philippines team leader Ramon Diaz was very helpful. It was a difficult coverage as their television system was entirely different from the rest. Their set-up was run on commercial basis whereas the others were part of the government machinery except for Thailand. The Philippines was operating on NTSC whereas the other countries were on PAL. They had limited number of convertors and most were used to carry the multi-lateral feeds from venues for common users. It was difficult for the host to handle unilateral feeds unless we brought our own portable convertors which was limited in stock. The other alternative was for us to use our limited own camera and crew.
The strange thing was that the other broadcasters were not keen in the athletic events except Malaysia. Our athletes were doing well. So we decided to go in a big way with me doubling up as the main commentator for the live broadcast. On hearing this Ramon decided he himself will head the coverage at the venue as its director. He consulted me on what was needed for an effective coverage as he was not well verse in “track and field”, the Philippines term for athletic. So in consultation with our Technical Producer we proposed to him the re-positioning of the four cameras that were available to him, 2 were to fully concentrate on the running track, one on the field events and the last to be a roving multipurpose camera. The camera that his crew has placed directly facing the finishing track was suggested to be placed on the grandstand to capture the finishing of the track events more effectively from a different angle while the other was to concentrate on the starting and part of the running. The roving camera was to concentrate on the score board as the official results was slow in coming in. The first couple of hours on the first day were chaotic but finally we manage to straighten the coverage with the help of walkie-talkies between the director and the commentator. My only helper was the Assistant Producer who had so many things in his hands. It was very challenging doubling my role of commentator and assisting the director.
When the coverage ended several days later Ramon was so happy he threw a party for the RTM’s crew to show his appreciation of turning him into an efficient “track and field” director apart from boxing, basketball and tennis expert, the most common sports in the Philippines.

Sports Commentary – Part 2

I have often been asked what was needed to be a sports commentator. Having been one and then lead the Sports Service in RTM, I always came out with this humorous reply implying that a sports commentator need to have the ability of an actor or singer or conman or all three roll into one. An actor has the ability of remembering scripts, a singer remembers lyrics and a conman has to remember his tracks. Of course one has to have a good voice and the knack of being able to describe situations.
The strange thing is that I have never been one of those three and yet I was in this business. In simple term to be a sports commentator one need to have good memory. Besides being able describe what is seen one needs to analyse the situation. Remembering 30 names in a rugby match is by no mean feat. What more the complexities of its rule and playing system. It is entirely different from commentating on a single or double match in badminton or tennis.
Malaysian sports commentators’ favourite pitch has always been football. The game itself is the favourite of the public at large. It must be the nature of the game itself that has simple rule and easy to play where twenty-two people get involve kicking about a ball with the aim of putting it into the opponent’s goal. Practically most commentators started their business with football and are considered as expert on it.
One need not be a great sportsman to be a commentator. The most important thing is to know the game and its rule. The listeners and viewers are not easily taken in with the commentator’s shortcoming in this aspect. The one who is knowledgeable of the game will be critical on what he is hearing or seen on what was being described and analysed.
There is a world of different in making a radio and TV commentary. In the days of old when TV was new and not much into broadcasting local football matches, the radio commentators were having a field day describing the scene at will. They could make a dull game exciting and vice-versa. Of course the adage is he has to go on and on talking non-stop describing the scene. Otherwise the listeners would be left with nothing to listen to and get agitated with the commentator as well as the station itself. That’s bad business in the presence of today’s commercial stations. The only consolation for the national broadcaster’s radio arm is the non-interest of the commercial stations in going into sports commentary. For commercial reason the private stations would rather concentrate on playing music and songs that are easily available and accepted by the public, mainly the younger set.
I remember the days I was involved in giving commentary over TV, my friend and colleague the late Karim Mohamad, often described as the most efficient of the radio commentators of those days, would always asked me if TV1 was to carry the match live. Sometime I would say yes in jest just to pull his leg and make sure he would describe the match as it was being played. Karim has the knack of wandering and meandering from the actual match just to spice up his radio commentary when there was no live TV telecast of the event. A radio commentator cannot afford to describe different scenery of the game that’s being shown live by TV. He also has to mind that with the advent of the transistor and portable radio he is being heard by the spectators at the stadium too. Karim whose voice was recognisable by many has a big following and he didn’t want his position as a reputable broadcaster be affected.
It was the norm of many TV viewers then to have the sets on without the volume on preferring the radio commentator’s description of the game. That was the transitional period when TV was new and the viewers regarded TV commentary was not as exciting as radio. The reason was that when our TV started there was a dearth in talent in sports commentating, and inexperienced people were doing the job. That was the reason Karim always enquired from me the situation. When I was not commentating I chose to listen to the radio commentary to observe the different in the role between the commentators of the two media as a way of improving myself. I noticed Karim was doing his level best to be on the ball, but at times he veered off the course. In the excitement of the moment he forgot that TV was on live too, so much so he went off tangent. Later when we met in the office I informed him of my observation. Regarding me as a mentor and being much senior in position in the office hierarchy, Karim always seek my opinion and criticism in confidante as a mean of improving his performance. Perhaps that’s the main reason we remained the best of pal till the day he passed away sometime back.
That incident gave me a valuable lesson in improving myself in sports commentary over TV where the working atmosphere was more relaxed. The world of different between the two medium was that over radio the commentator is on his own with the help of the technician on the technical aspect. On the other side over TV the emphasis is on working as a team. The commander is the producer (director in most countries). His counterpart on the technical side is the Technical Producer. They are the ones that coordinated between the technical and the production crews. The producer has his Script Assistant (SA) to assist him on the control panel and the Assistant Producer (AP) to instruct and help the commentator in his function as well as liaise with the props and graphic crews. In my line of duty I found all the crews were seriously committed to their job and function. That made my work easy and enjoyable.
Now back to the commentary itself, over TV it was not as strenuous as radio where the commentator has to be gullible in talking non-stop. It was more relax on TV. The commentator can have short chat with the AP on the situation off air when the need arise. The picture described itself and the commentator didn’t have to spice it up. In fact the TV commentator didn’t have to position the scenes and describe the movement of players like his radio counterpart. In a football match the excitement is at the goalmouth where the result of the match hinges. That’s when the knowledge, keen observation and ability of the commentator counts. When there’s a lapse in a match historical knowledge of the tournament and background of players became useful respite to fill the gap. To the uninitiated viewers that would be regarded as useful information.
We have always been told to be neutral and not to take side on local tournaments and matches in order to instil the spirit of fair play. It is different when it comes to international tournaments or matches that involve the national team or players where the commentator was suppose to instil the spirit of patriotism and support. Of late with the poor showing of some sports at international level it is natural for the commentator to be critical of the national side in order to spur improvement.
Normally at the end of the coverage the commentator has to give an analytical summing up of the match beside the usual interviews concerning the previous going on as well as future prospect.
Like any other occupation the sports commentator has to be knowledgeable and well informed on what he is involved with. How true is the often heard advised that one has to read, listen and watch in order to gain knowledge and information. As one who use to head the Sports Service of a TV set up, I was able to gauge whether a commentator has done his homework or not. Source of information is easily available in books, magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and these days of New Media the internet. Of course speculative type of materials must be set aside when commentating in order not to misguide or misinform the listeners and viewers. It was my habit to advise those working with me to make reading a hobby and habit. I even went to the extent of buying books and magazines at my own expense so that those under my charge are knowledgeable. The other favourite advised of mine was never plagiarise other peoples’ work because those who listen and watch more often than not have gone through the same work which mean they are just as knowledgeable. Those materials are meant to help guide us through sticky situations. Of course having been involved in sports as a player or official is an added advantage.
Today the portable laptop, notebook and wireless modem that connect to the world wide network portal services are boon to commentators and the world at large. Notes stored and relevant information are easily available via the internet at the tip of the fingers without having to carry stacks of written compilations. That happened after I left the scene on mandatory retirement.

Sports Commentary – Part 3

Comparing performance between different local commentators is favourite pastime of many since the days of old. Today whenever I chance to converse with the elderly on the topic their main grouse was that they don’t seem to be satisfied with the performance of the present day exponents. I find that discussion on the subject intriguing, especially to arrive at a satisfactorily conclusion for all.
In my early career as radio sports commentator I avoided the subject by saying that being in the same field it was not professional to be critical of other’s capabilities especially when working together in the same organisation. Each of us has differing traits and styles in the way of presentation. It’s only fair for the listeners themselves to form opinions.
The same reasoning was applied when I was involved on TV. Then the topic change to comparing those involved over the two media. My answer could be read in earlier part of this posting. Then in the early days of the advent of the private TV station the comparison came to a head. For reason of their own TV3 decided to get heavily involved in sports programming, even calling themselves the “Olympic Channel” when it started and later the “Sports Channel”. Sometime later they decided to drop the tag in preference for “Saluran Hiburan” (entertainment programme) and much later claiming to be exponent of news and entertainment. It may be the quality of sports commentator and presenter that lead to this change. They couldn’t find the niche in sports.
TV3 began their broadcasts with a bang by bringing in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games before the station was launched. They went direct to the LA Organising Committee (LAOC) to obtain the Malaysian broadcasting rights of the Games. It was a coup of sort but at the inflated price of more than 1,000% of what was originally stipulated for RTM through the negotiating team of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU). Members of the ABU consisting of the national broadcasters from the Pacific in the east to the Middle East in the west of the Asian continent were shocked at the latest situation and have no choice but to drop RTM (one of its two permanent member) from their list when penning the agreement. The ABU was more worried on the implication in term of broadcasting right costs in future Olympic Games. As for LAOC it was the first time in history the organising of the Games was privatised. History also indicated it was also the first Olympiad to make a profit, and at a princely amount to boot. All previous Olympiads were run at a loss to the extent that one of the organising cities is still paying the costs after over 30 years of being the host. So when a maverick inexperienced broadcaster in TV3 came knocking at the door with an open cheque it was welcome with open arms.
It was strange, after having the sole rights for the Malaysian broadcasts TV3 requested to meet RTM to negotiate for permission to use RTM’s network to carry their Olympic coverage. It was an unheard of proposition in broadcasting. Of course it was rejected long before the meeting took place. Their dilemma was that they were still on a pilot transmission with a sole transmitter meant for viewers in Klang Valley only. They realised too late the implication of usurping the national broadcaster in this matter was staring on them as the viewers nationwide especially the sports loving people of Sabah and Sarawak were already up in arms protesting for a non-show of the Olympiad. Their first mistake was to gloat in the press their “high” achievement. As for the power that be it has to side with the national broadcaster in the interest of its own privatisation policy. As the leader in RTM’s negotiation team I was in a bind as I was told we have to make the policy seem to be a success. At the same time I was looking forward to a well deserved respite from nearly a month of non-stop work during the Olympic. My boss then the late Zain Mahmood was so flabbergasted with the whole affair just told me to go alone to negotiate but to remember not to let down the national broadcaster reputation.
When we came to the negotiation table I had to face a team of people of various responsibilities in their organisation. I suppose they were there to witness what transpired and were surprise of meeting a “lone ranger” accompanied by a technician with a tape recorder. They had a long agenda and I have none except to listen as they were in the pivotal seat as far as the right was concerned. Perhaps by then they realised that RTM was really not keen in the coverage. I told them I was only interested in two of the agendas; the cost of the rights to broadcast and the events that RTM were allowed to carry. On the first agenda they categorically said that as a gesture of goodwill RTM will not have to pay a single sen for the rights to broadcast.
On the second agenda I was interested in I told them RTM would be carrying a multi-lateral feed of the daily two hour summing up by the ABU coverage team in LA as our main menu. We have no plan for lengthy report throughout the day and night as what TV3 has decided for itself as we were in limbo. They were taken aback, perhaps thinking that I would be making all sorts of demand. Finally it was agreed that both stations would carry live the “Track and Field” (Athletic) and Swimming being the mandatory sports of the Olympiad. When they insisted I make my choice of other sports events that RTM would like to carry “live” I told them priority was theirs and they have the first right of refusal. So they told me they would like to have priority over football matches (being a popular game internationally), hockey (the national team was involved), cycling (good support in the country then). When they have finished with their list of choice, I would say we were left with not much of a choice. So I just mentioned that RTM would carry Gymnastic (a popular spectator sport that could fill in lull periods), Basketball (popular with the Chinese viewers based on the rating of the recorded “NBA” over TV1), Boxing (same reason as Gymnastic) and Volleyball (I assume it’s popular among the youth). I could see the smiles on the faces on the other side of the table. They must be thinking I must have made the wrong choice. In fact I admit I was having the same thought too but with Athletic and Swimming being the anchor events being shared the rest would be good supplements.
I was banking on our experience as an advantage over their inexperience then. It was not easy to make a choice as to what should be on the air in a multi-sports event like the Olympiad where so many are going on simultaneously. TV3 was raw and their team was lead by one of my former staff Sherkawi Jirim who also double-up as their lead anchor man in the studio. It was impossible for a person to perform two important roles at the same time. Furthermore Sherkawi was roped in to lead the station’s Sports Desk after leaving his job in the Malaysian Airline System (MAS) at a short notice. His broadcasting experience was only sporadic commentary in sports over Rangkaian Nasional of Radio Malaysia. He has never done TV sports commentary before. Having been involved in both roles I knew the impossibility of performing them simultaneously.
I knew having experienced and recognised faces in Rahim Razali and Hasbullah Awang RTM was already stairs ahead of TV3. Together with season crew who were determined to perform above themselves on hearing the “fiasco” I felt confident in facing the odd. I said “odd” because TV3 had the added advantage of a dedicated 24 hour usage of a satellite path from Los Angeles (LA) to their then studio in Jalan Liku, Bangsar which could be sighted from the imposing Angkasapuri. RTM could only finalised its satellite booking at the very last minute and was at a real disadvantage as it could only manage with the left over at odd times. Luckily we could join in the multi-signal path of the ABU’s production team from LA which was available to its member. Most of my requests for coverage of certain events coincide with the choice of the ABU’s production team. That was a real boon.
We were quite nervous when D-hour arrived but our cool commentator and anchor person in the studio Rahim Razali was a sight persona. RTM was not able to send a production crew to LA like our “rival” due to the uncertainties. We had to depend on the clock work schedule that was made available to us by the ABU’s production crew in LA. For commentaries we have to resort to our local commentators in the studio to supplement the anchor person. We could have taken some of the various English commentaries from source but they didn’t fit into our country’s interest as their biased was towards their countries and stations.
I was feeling the strain of rivalry that we faced for the first time and had sleepless night in the almost 24 hour daily operation. Luckily I have able and experienced deputies who didn’t have to be told their functions in assisting me. As days went by we were getting into our stride. Through our monitoring set we try to counter their advantage with what was available to us live from the satellite or what we felt was the most interesting part of a recorded segment. It worked as the viewers were not aware whether what the saw was a live or recorded materials. What count to them was that they get exciting pictures with exciting commentary.
The strain over TV3 was telling by the third day of the Olympiad coverage. I noticed Sherkawi their alternate anchor person seem lost over the air when they were not fed information on the scene shown. He was looking jaded and lethargic perhaps due to lack of sleep. By the end of first week of operation it was noticeable that TV3 was dropping its anchor during the odd hour period preferring the voice over of unfamiliar and inexperienced voices. I was wondering what happened to my former casual front-man Zulkifli Sidik who was the face at TV3 odd hour scene. Zul was a senior executive in the private sector who dabbled as a casual anchor over TV as he enjoyed the glamour perhaps to boost his image. Sometime later I learned that he was late on the job to the displeasure of the Head of Programme in TV3, Ahmad Merican (now Tan Sri). In his eagerness to prove his capability Ahmad took upon himself to negotiate the broadcasting rights with LAOC on behalf of TV3 at the mentioned inflated cost that led to the fiasco. Later I received calls from Sherkawi that they were also interested in showing the gymnastic, boxing quarter-final stage and some of the basketball matches. By that time we were well ahead on the viewers’ choice of network especially nationwide as well in the Klang Valley itself gauging on the favourable comments in the press. So as not to rub salt to the wound, I just told him TV3 could carry anything it liked and there was no need to seek our blessing as TV3 was the right’s owner who had extended an invitation to RTM to join the party.
We were really relieved when it was all over. We thought we have done a good job against the odd. A couple of days later I was the happiest person on this planet. The Malay Mail carry a banner captioned “RTM Won Olympic Gold” accompanied by a picture of the Olympic gold with a page full article written by its entertainment editor Daniel Chan. Daniel was a good observer of the tube. I felt he wrote fairly on the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Mind you TV3 and Malay Mail were in the same NST stable (now Media Prima). So it was an accolade I am proud to be associated with.
When the Olympic was over we went back into our normal regime but were cautious of the emerging rivalry and the reality of competition. TV3 was building up its Sports Desk in earnest with the Olympic experience as a moral booster. Initially we realised that it was poaching on some of our casual worker to be the pillar of its Sports Desk. Knowing its shortcomings in operating sports programming administration I find the competition was easily flayed. Most of their commentators were my former part-timers and casual workers due to the lack of ready supply of talent in the market then. The RTM permanent staff who were on permanent and pensionable basis were not easily taken by the attractive salary due to uncertainty and the notion of lack of future security in the private sector after being in service for several years. Though TV3 managed to entice a couple of the prominent commentators who has no binding contract with RTM, such as Rahim Razali (now Dato’) and Hasbullah Awang with promising future prospect, the work culture I came to know later did not suit their nature. Finally they decided to return to RTM’s fold and Hasbullah remain loyal till today while Rahim left the scene sometime after my retirement to concentrate on his acting career.
I believe sports commentator contributes substantially in the success of a TV sports programme and subsequently the station itself. Though there are only two TV stations in the country the competition for viewers’ attention led to keen rivalry especially in getting the rights for many events. Due to the dearth of good sports commentators to liven up the “live” coverage then RTM was very much aware of losing some of the talents it has groomed through the years. One such talented personality was Zainal Abidin Raop who was new in our set-up then. I foresaw he has a bright future ahead of him in the field. We were not rushing to expose a rookie into the business in a hurry but made him understudy our experienced hands under my personal guidance. I was thinking of getting him into RTM as a permanent officer as he was a fresh school leaver and looking for a job. His talent was noticed by those in the rival station. Zainal approached me for advised and guidance. He was the only casual worker who was brave to have the courtesy of informing me of his intention of crossing the line. The others just walk off and even left in the middle of a job. Of course they don’t have a written agreement with RTM but as a matter of principle at least they should have done what Zainal did. It has been my habit of not holding on to staff who wanted to leave the “glamorous” life for greener pasture or bright future. I told Zainal his learning process was only at its infancy and he has plenty to learn and mentioned to him most of the thing that could be read in this posting. The offer he received was so attractive even RTM itself, being part of the rigid public regime, could not match. I was happy for him and his attitude and told him to concentrate in what he was interested in and not to get involved in petty office politics and typical Malay culture of rumour mongering which the earlier batch people who left us like to do in their leisure time. I told my door and phone line were open to him for advised. I could feel he was relieved I was not adverse to his intention. We shook hands on a happy not.
Zainal is now back to where he started at RTM and a key person in its sports commentary. In between the years many happenings took place. TV3 gave sports a backseat in its programming, while RTM farm out part of its sports operation to the favourite sector. That was where Zainal held his niche. He has gone places throughout the world for coverage with RTM unlike in his days at TV3 where he anchored the in-house studio set-up. What surprised me most was he still did not forget the old Malay culture of respecting the seniors and elderly. Whenever we meet he would be the first to greet and approached me, even kissed my extended hand for a handshake. He always thanked me for giving him a chance to improve life. That’s a genuine gentleman.

Sports Commentary – Part 4

Sports commentary has taken me to many countries I would not be able to go on my own expense. My first overseas assignment was to cover the Second World Cup Hockey Tournament in Holland 1973. It was held at the Dutch hockey centre in the suburb of Amsterdam in the village of Amstelveen. The Malaysian team qualified for the final phase and was expected to give a good showing.
I was apprehensive being on my own originally as it was my first trip to Europe. When I was about to leave I was told I will be accompanied by Haji Ahyar from RTM Sabah as co-commentator. I was very surprised as I have never heard of that name and never knew that they play hockey in Sabah. My boss informed me that was part of integration of the country now into its 10th anniversary then. Decision has been made by the power upstairs, and so be it. Anyway I was prepared to perform the job on my own. The extra hand would lesson my burden and work load I thought.
Ahyar reported at Angkasapuri the day before we make the trip. I find him a pleasant but quite person. He spoke with a slight Indonesian slang, typical of many Sabahan then. We didn’t talk shop, only pleasantries as I thought there was plenty of time for that on our long haul later, and expected him to be up to date with the subject especially on the national team. We had to spend the night in Bangkok to catch the early morning SAS flight direct to the Dutch capital Amsterdam’s airport Schipoll. The flight was aptly named the “Daylight Express” as it was daylight throughout journey. The refuelling point was at Tashkent then was part of USSR. That’s the first time I stepped on communist soil and noticed the heavy military and security presence. Nobody was allowed to remain on board the plane and we were herded into two overcrowded adjoining rooms at the airport terminal. We have to surrender our passports on entry. I was worried as I thought I might not get mine back. I noticed Ahyar was more nervous as he never let me out of his sight. We were given only a cordial to quench our thirst. Before leaving the plane we were told in no uncertain term not take take pictures and we were not allowed to carry cameras into the terminal. The walked to the terminal and back to the plane was flanked by bayoneted armed soldiers all the way.  I began to wonder how life was under a communist regime based on that fleeting experienced.
Ahyar was very quite all the way. Being strangers to each other I tried to break the ice with some personal questions. Finally Ahyar confessed to me he has never done sports commentary and didn’t even know the game of hockey. A lot of speculative assumptions came across my mind but I could not afford to show him my disgust at the decision of giving him a holiday in Europe at the department’s expense. This big coverage was not the place for inexperienced understudy and it was of no use to him as I know then they did not play hockey in Sabah. So I told him as polite as possible not to be worried, I would teach him the necessary to the best of my ability on what I knew. That took off the tense of the issue we were facing as I felt we should not be showing our differences in front of fellow broadcasters from the other countries.
Our flight took us to Copenhagen the capital of Denmark for an interline night stay before continuing our journey next afternoon. We were put up at the SAS hotel situated opposite an entertainment outlet similar to the olden days BB Park in KL. We went there to kill time and unwind from the tiresome flight. Ahyar had his first experience riding a carousel and seem to enjoy it, even asking me to take a photograph of him on it. I was glad he was more relaxed and the uneasiness has disappeared. We had a good rest and were looking forward to continue our journey to the Dutch capital the next day.
As this was a top international event I expected the usual fanfare waiting just like at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Subang. I walked up the length and breadth of the Schipoll looking for a welcoming booth and banner. There was none. I asked a local stranger for direction and he pointed me to the Tourist Information and Enquiries booth. When I enquired about the event, I saw a blank look on the face of the duty officer. I knew we were in trouble, as I realised field hockey was not an important game in Holland. I was glad the inexperienced Ahyar was with me at least I have a fellow countryman to talk with. Further the Dutch speak a lot of English, and good at it. Since it was a tourist booth I took the opportunity of enquiring about the hotel we were booked into, the Alpha in Amstelveen. She checked the city hotels list and called the hotel referring to our dossier. Our booking was confirmed. She called a taxi for us as it was already evening by the time we finished enquiring. The journey to the hotel was quite lengthy and uneventful. We consume the evening sight of the city all the way till we arrived it outskirt and the hotel. The fare was standard and reasonable.
I was glad and relief the first face I saw after getting out of the taxi at the entrance of the hotel was that of Mr. Vijiyanathan (now Dato’), Malaysia’s leading hockey referee. He gave me a warm welcome and told me he would give me a call at my room once he finished the referees’ briefing as I wanted to know a lot about the tournament and the Malaysian team. He understood my predicament as this was my first assignment outside the South-East Asia region. Ahyar and I checked in into separate room. After a much needed shower we went down for a hearty dinner. There was not much information available on the tournament, so I have to wait for Viji’s call. This hotel was designated for officials and the visiting media. The teams were accommodated in different hotels and accommodations nearby.
Viji briefed me on the tournament over a nightcap. He advised me to be in for a cultural shock as almost everything would be different from back home. I told him we already had one on arrival at the airport to his amusement. He showed me where to get the tournament information and our accreditation done. It was in a small room at the hotel much contrast had it been held in Malaysia. Being the Secretary General of the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) with vast experience on organising tournaments and a well travel hockey man he was rightly the best person to make comments on the subject. Being a neutral as officiating official he could only gave me the contact number of the national team. The chat with Viji gave me the insight of what to expect.
For the fortnight tournament beside the live commentary on the Malaysian, Semi-Finals and Final matches, we were task to supply a daily 30 minutes report summing up the activity of the day which entailed us to watch all the matches throughout the day. Our job was made easier as all the matches were held at the Hockey Centre and the earlier pool matches were held on adjoining pitch two at a time. So we divided our duty accordingly. The only way to baptised Ahyar into the game that he has never seen in his life I made him sit beside me for the opening match and explained the basic. It was a new and strange experience for him. He knew he has to contribute after travelling so far. I asked him to write a report of his impression of the game for me to gauge his understanding. There was much room for improvement of course. So I double-up as teacher and a coach. What an experience at my first assignment in Europe.
When the initial came over the air, my boss called me to reduce his contribution of the voicing due to his slang and uncertainties of the subject. So I reduce him to read the result that he complied and just a short brief on the matches that he was assigned to.
We had an officer from the Dutch Radio NOS assigned to RTM as our liaison officer by the first name of Elli. I just called him Ali to his liking as he was married to an Indonesian lady. He made sure we get whatever was needed for our assignment and did all the talking to the technical staff of NOS on our behalf as they were not proficient in English like Elli. He took the trouble to be with us throughout the day and night. He even sent us back to the hotel after our reports in his old Citroen jalopy. During off days he would take us sightseeing the Dutch country side. Of course he took us to the Indonesian food which we were craving after a few days away from home. I could see Ahyar was very glad on that and even suggested we go there every day at his expense.
I had this habit of being hospitable to those who assist me in my job. So I decided before we took the 30 minute walk to the Centre to purchase 6 can of the Dutch Scholl beer which at 3 guilders (about RM3) in total was cheap. Ahyar commented that I should not drink while on duty. He didn’t know what I had in mind. When we reached the venue and on meeting Elli I passed the beer to him to share it with the technician assigned to us. Elli was grinning ear to ear which meant he welcomed the generosity. I didn’t know I was creating a furore of some sort among the technical staff at the venue. When the word went round all of them wanted to be assigned to us. Then Ahyar understood my intention. He even volunteered to contribute, to which I commented that he was sharing in contributing “sin”, of course in jest. We had a nice laugh.
The crunch came when it was relayed to me that we had to do both radio and TV commentaries of the Final. It was easy on paper. I told Ahyar he had the first choice of choosing which of the two medium he prefer. The answer was expected, he prefer none. So we left for the Centre early that day expecting a big crowd and to make sure the TV set up was ready with the radio at the same place. Still we didn’t forget our daily routine of bringing the beer for our PR man and the technicians. So I told Ahyar as it was the Final we have to bring extra for our friends. So we carried a dozen cans each in our sling bag.
On reaching the venue I was shocked to be told by Elli that one of us has got to go to the opposite side of the pitch for the TV set-up. I got to find a quick solution to our double predicament. I asked Elli if it was possible for the radio set up to be tied to the TV booth. He went to enquire from the radio technical crew. We got a much welcomed answer. They said they will lay the radio cable around one end of the venue to the TV booth. They did it in front of the swelling spectators. Finally the three of us were in a “strange” but much welcome surrounding. Our immediate neighbour in the next booth was the Pakistan TV set up who saw what we were getting. Their commentator approached Elli demanding the same procedure as they were facing the same predicament as us but were slow at the gun. Elli just told him to liaise with the PR that was assigned to them as he was only assigned to take care of RTM’s needs. Much later in confidante Elli told me the Pakistanis were not friendly and had made numerous complains everyday about the technical facilities and went to the extent of dismissing their PR person much earlier. Anyway they have extra competent person to do both medium separately unlike us. So, public relation plays an important part in making a success of a commentary.
The other incident I could not forget about this first assignment in Europe was with the Malaysian team which was at the bottom pool fighting for its top spot in the final match. The day before the match was a rest day. The team was taken for a sightseeing of Holland; due to the tight schedule and disciplinary procedure of the team they have no opportunity of getting away from the hotel and venue. I was invited to join the team by the Chef de Mission, Chief Justice Raja Azlan Shah (now His Highness Paduka Seri Sultan Perak Darul Ridwan). It was a day long trip that took us nearly to the whole of Holland including the port city of Rotterdam and the miniature world at the Dan Hague. We left the hotel after breakfast in the morning and arrived back in the evening. It was a tiresome journey for me.
Malaysia lost the final match and placed third from the bottom of the tournament. After my interview at the end of the match I was asked by His Highness my impression of why the team failed to win. I told him he was a kind man who wanted to give the team a well deserved respite. He retorted by asking what was wrong with that. I told him on coming back from the trip I just flopped into the bed and got up late in the morning, which mean I was so tired and exhausted. I also found it tiring doing the live commentary. I assume the players went through the same experience. He saw my point and gave a passing shot, “next time I will not be kind and generous” to the laughter of those around us.
The Hockey World Cup duties in Holland gave me an insight into the political aspect of my future assignment at home where I would be sent Suara Malaysia (Voice of Malaysia) as its number two man besides looking after the Indonesian language broadcast.
Soon after I arrived at the Hockey Centre I was approached by elderly Malay looking gentleman who introduced himself as Harmusal from the Indonesian Service of Radio Netherland Overseas Broadcast NOS. I was pleasantly surprised he requested for a recorded interview on my impression of Holland and the tournament. I have never been interviewed by another radio station. Mr Harmusal was at the Centre daily to compile report on the tournament for his broadcast so much so we became pally with each other as he was also a stranger to the game of Hockey like Ahyar and wanted to learn from me.
Not knowing much the political aspect of history between the Dutch and its former colony Indonesia, my curiosity led me to ask him what made him landed in Holland and became a Dutch citizen. He was well prepared for the answer and gave me a lengthy discourse. He started with humour by saying that in Indonesia his name was referred to as “Harimau Sial” (The Cursed Tiger), stressing he was from Maluku and not Indonesia. That made me giving him a blank look. He right away mentioned he was part of those from Maluku who believed in and were fighting for its independent as a sovereign state. I like the romance of the freedom fighter like the old novel “The Adventurer” and the exploit of Che Guivera, and I was all ears to his tale.
He said he could not earn a descent living had he stayed at home and neither could he foresee a bright future with the advent of the “transmigrasi” policy of the heavily Javanese dominated government then. As a member of the Independent for Maluku front he said the best place to be in was in Holland where Malukan were well received by the Dutch. That made me rush to read the history of the relationship between the Dutch and its most loyal colony to the extent of making it as part of the state of Holland. After gaining independent and before the Indonesian could sent its army the pro-Dutch “Republik Maluku Selatan” (RMS) seceded from Indonesia. That triggered the strained in relationship between the state and its province. Today there’s a sizeable number of Malukan in Holland still dreaming of fighting for the freedom of their country, some of whom have never been in their life being born in Holland.
Mr Harmusal made me understand the nature of my future posting at Suara Malaysia where I have to deal with people in similar predicament following the aftermath of “konfrantasi”. Base on that Mr Harmusal said he admired Malaysia and its Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra for standing their ground successfully against the “konfrantasi” policy of the same Sukarno regime which he and his fellow “countrymen” failed to emulate.

Sports Commentary – Part 5

In 1974 I was taken out of the mainstream RTM’s broadcasting set up when I was sent to be the Programme Organiser of the Overseas Service of the Broadcasting Department, the number two man, but at the same time supervising the 12 hours daily broadcast of the Indonesian language. I was replacing my good friend and fine broadcaster in his own right the late Manaf Abdullah who passed away suddenly at a young age. I thought that was the end of my involvement in sports commentary as there were many aspirants due to the glamour and the chance for overseas assignments.
I took it in my stride and immersed myself into the responsibility at hand. After a couple of weeks into the job I was approached by Kassim Aris the TV producer to be one of the compere of his twice weekly programme “Arena Sukan”, the sports programme on TV of the time. Rahim Razali who was the main feature has left the scene for sometime time due to pressure of work in the private sector. There were several replacements but none could match half of Rahim’s ability.
I have already done some sports commentary for TV while in the Public Affairs Service and Kassim thought I could be his solution. I told him I was new in my new posting and need the blessing of my boss, the late Enche’ Idris Shah, who left his comfortable life with BBC London to return to his root to impart his vast knowledge in the newly created Overseas Service of RTM. I told Kassim to make it official to avoid pitfall in future and it would be better still if his boss could dish out a letter to the Head of Suara Malaysia seeking my services. Meantime I informed Encik Idris of Kassim’s intention. He said that would be good for my career development and was delighted that his staff was in demand. In jest he said to carry on as long as I never forget that I was in VOM.
By that time I have already learned my responsibility and workload at VOM. The only commitments that I have was to attend the regular weekly Radio Programme Organisers meeting as observer (VOM was not in RTM’s mainstream broadcast activities), and to conduct similar weekly meeting among the language supervisors to impart the latest information. Otherwise it would be the regular administrative fares which I found mundane compared to the hustle and bustle producing current and public affairs programme where one has to be on the go all the time. At the same time I was also asked to continue doing commentary for live events of importance by the Public Affairs Service, where I served previously. Encik Idris had no objection at all to that as I could oversee the need of VOM’s staff who would be involved in reporting the same events.
I didn’t know that would lead one thing to another to the extent that I was more known as a TV sports commentator than a VOM leader. I never forget Encik Idris advised in promoting the VOM. I have been doing so until I was transferred to head the Public Affairs Service of RTM which entails the involvement of both Radio and TV, following the integration of both under Department of Broadcasting.
The assignment as TV sports commentator took me to many land of the world. In 1974 I was at Christchurch, New Zealand for the 10th Commonwealth Game, 1976 Montreal Olympic Game in Canada, 1978 Buenos Aires Football World Cup in Argentina and the Teheran Asian Games in Iran, just to mention a few of the major events. Of course I was also featured in the local and regional (South-East Asia) fares. I was coping well on the dual role of administrator and casual TV commentator.
By the time I came back to the Public Affairs Service as its Head late 1980 the sports programme were produced by a new set of fresh intake who studied broadcasting in the universities. I felt it was a good move by the universities allowing the station not to be burden with imparting the basic. I noticed the new set of intake just needed practical experience to be efficient in their endeavour. Two who came under my charge were Isamudin Ahmad and Richard Tan Jock Aun.
Besides being the Head of Public Affairs, the Director-General Dato’ Abdullah Mohamad assigned me to write several working papers in the expansion of the programme division including the upgrading of some posts. One of those was the formation of a Sports Service. As I have no experience on the subject of forming a service, I seek advised everywhere. One of those I consulted was a senior PTD Officer at the JPA, Enche Mohd Aini (now Dato’) who later turned politician and became a Selangor ADUN with the former BN government. Aini was a keen sports person as official especially with the Selangor Football Association. He was keen in seeing a Sports Service being set up in RTM. His input was of immense helped.
When the presentation was made, the Treasury and the JPA was impressed with the content of the working paper. Not much question was asked and we got a quick approval for the Sports Service to be operational on 1st January 1982. There was no fanfare as the writing and presentation was done on the quite, my usual habit of working as a backroom boy.
When the official approval letter arrived it was time for some minor transfer of staff in RTM to fill the posts in the new Service. I pointed to the Director-General the staff with experience in sports production to be in the new set-up as sport was under my charge in Public Affairs.
When it come to appoint the pioneer Head of the Sport Service I was asked to meet the Director-General and his Deputy the late Zain Mahmood. They wanted me to be the Head and told me Sport as a new Service in the Department needed someone with experience to lead although the post is the most junior in the hierarchy. I was told not to worry over the seniority aspect. I was very frank with them when I said I don’t aspire for higher post; being a commentator was good enough.
So I went headlong planning for the new Service. We went through various new experiences which made us season and respected broadcasters. We even went to the extent of creating world record of some sort in the Football World Cup broadcasting coverage which most neighbouring countries emulated. I was proud to be associated with the formation and operation of the Sports Service in RTM. All this I owe to being a sports commentator in my early career.

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