Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sports Coverage that Shaped My Career – 3

In 1980 Director General Dato’ Abdullah Mohamad discovered I was wasting my talent at the External Broadcast SUARA MALAYSIA (Voice of Malaysia). He brought me back into the main stream of RTM being Head of Public Affairs Programme, with sports under its purview. There were lot of hard work to be done changing the ladisical work culture among the staff. At the same time the boss saddled me with extra duties, writing and presenting working papers for the upgrading of various senior posts in RTM. The paper that I enjoyed writing was the formation of RTM’s Sports Department. It culminate yours truly being appointed the pioneer head of the department as of 1982, a job I enjoyed and savour with satisfaction.

Team Leader: The first time I was asked to take charge of RTM’s major sports coverage on foreign soil was The South-East Asian (SEA) Games in Manila, Philippines in 1981 by virtue of being the Head of Public Affairs Programme. The preparation for TV coverage was complex as the Philippines were supplying NTSC signal forcing us to hire “signal convertor”. The host broadcaster PTV4 the government entity was not big in sports. PTV4 has to farm out most of the coverage to private entities. I was lucky as I have befriended the Head of News PTV4, a certain Mr Aquino in KL and Jakarta earlier. He introduced me to the supremo of the coverage, a well known personality and ex racing driver, Ramon Diaz. The first thing I did was to present him with a bottle of Scotch. It was really a trying coverage battling the infamous Manila traffic jam to be at the venues in time as well as battling the date-lines. Malaysia was doing well in athletic and we wanted to have a presence at the stadium by having live telecast of our athlete’s performance. As we were short of commentator, I had to double-up for the athletic events. When Ramon Diaz heard this he informed me that he himself would be the director of the coverage but he needed guidance on what to cover as he had no experience. He was a fast learner and was ready for the job with some explanation. I asked Ramon to change the camera positions from the original. We had a walkie-talkie connection between the two of us. I informed him what I needed and he was on the go focussing the athletes, the score board as well the individual’s score strip on the side of the event. I don’t know how I survive giving commentary as well as giving instruction to the director, both live. What I know was that Ramon gave me a dinner that night because he was so happy being complimented by the Philippines audience for a live telecast well done. He told me he has never done an athletic event in his life. His speciality was basketball and motor racing.

Challenging Test: My first challenge as Head of Sports was the 1982 World Cup in Spain. It should have been a walk-over but there was no sponsorship for the telecast. The signal from Spain’s venues was for the asking. Football fans were making noise culminating in the afternoon tabloid Malay Mail playing an aggressive role by collecting donations from its readers naming it “Tajaan Rakyat” (People’s Sponsorship). A substantial sum was collected. Together with RTM’s budgeted amount for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and Final, and the support of spots buying by certain brands we manage to pool enough amount to telecast live some of the choice preliminary matches. I had several meetings with the newspapers representatives and agreed to those matches they suggested. The event brought the football fans together to create a world record of sort. It also brought awareness to the big time companies especially the cigarette boys the opportunity they missed in exposing their brand. The following World Cup in 1986 was a walk-over for RTM as the big timers came knocking on our door well before the qualifying rounds for Mexico. It also led to the idea of forming a private TV entity by the NST Group specialising in sports broadcast.

The Monopoly is Over: My biggest challenge as RTM Head of Sports was the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. RTM and its associate the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union ABU was caught napping at the broadcasting right negotiation. The LA Games was different cattle of fish from the previous Olympics which were run by the Olympic Council of the host country. This time the Games was run by a private entity in conjunction with the local OC. The aim was to make money for sports development. STMB-TV3 the newly established commercial TV station in the country went ahead to acquire the right at an amount of more than 18 times negotiated for RTM by ABU. RTM has no choice but to abandoned its Olympic dream. The media and the public outside Klang Valley where TV3 signal could not be acquired were making noise. TV3 at that time was only testing its signal on its sole transmitter in Klang Valley. Their official launching was several months away from the Olympics. We were approached by TV3 authority for an amicable solution. They extended the broadcasting rights to RTM with no payment incurred. We told them our coverage plan was simple. We would be telecasting two daily summary supplied by the ABU team in LA one of which would be tailored for Malaysian viewing. We accepted their offer of choice sports events. It was agreed that both stations would carry the Olympic sports of Track and Field and Swimming. TV3 was keen in the football, hockey, and boxing. We conceded we would not touch those sports except in the summaries. They laughed at us when we said we will concentrate in gymnastics, basketball and volleyball. We did our best as we didn’t have a secure satellite path like TV3 which has 2 dedicated path 24 hours daily. We didn’t accept their offer of extending their signal from their operating centre to Angkasapuri via the link as we were afraid of mishap. We ran a lengthy coverage covering the “dead” spot with interesting recorded events which the viewers love and thought “live”. Our compeers and commentators Dato’ Rahim Razali and Dato’ Hasbullah Awang gave flawless performance compared to the staccato presentation of the non experienced personality at TV3. We did fine in collecting advertising revenue just like the success of the privatise LA Organising Committee for the first time in the Olympics history. At the end of the day the national newspapers, especially from the NST stable gave a glowing report on RTM’s coverage. I must congratulate my staff for a job well done under duress.

Creating World Record in Broadcasting: Not many knew that RTM created a world record in broadcasting all the 52 matches at the FIFA World Cup in Mexico in 1986. None of the European broadcasters including the BBC ever attempted a coverage on that scale due to lack of audience interest to some of the matches by what was referred as insignificant teams. RTM was committed to the telecasts as the two big boys of cigarettes were coming in a big way to sponsor. Of course one has got to give way to the other. Thanks to what happened to the last tournament in Spain. When all is well at the sponsorship front, RTM had a problem in securing satellite footprint from Mexico. The signal on the Atlantic Ocean path (AOR) utilised by the European was not sighted in Malaysia. The signal was not available on the India Ocean Satellite (IOR). The ABU Operational Group headed by Ir Lawrence Lo of HKTVB discovered a miniscule path from an isolated outpost in the north-western edge of Mexico at Hermosillo that sighted the Pacific Ocean Satellite (POR) and were clearly received in Hong Kong and Kuantan on 4 dedicated paths using a hired portable earth station, after several tests. It was sent from Mexico City via the busy western corridor link of Mexico to USA. So RTM enjoyed dedicated satellite signals shared with other ABU members. At the end of the tournament I received personal complains from my counterpart in TVRI-Indonesia, the Thai TV and SBC-Singapore that they were jolted by the bosses for not following RTM’s footsteps in showing all the matches. It seems from reports many of their citizen move over to the Malaysian borders temporarily to watch RTM’s live telecasts. The following tournament saw different scenario where the other countries did not want to be left behind in telecasting live all the matches.

Olympic Rivalry: By the time the next Olympic Games 1988 in Seoul, South Korea came, TV3 was full-pledge broadcasting entity, with some experience in sporting coverage. They have decided to join the ABU as a member in order to secure many benefits including broadcasting rights of the Olympics at a reasonable rate under collective negotiation. Malaysia had the strange distinction of having rival stations covering the Games alongside each other. As usual we had the disadvantage of red tape regulations enforced on financial expenditure making uncertainties in our preparation. The approval came at the last minute and we were able to send only a crew of 5 to Seoul. I opted to direct operation from Angkasapuri by sending Zulkarnain Hassan as the team leader with the able Isamudin Ahmad as the producer. The commentator was Dato Hasbullah Awang. The other two was the technical and camera crew. We were operating on a dedicated satellite path from Seoul which was booked years ahead, come what may. I had a 24 operational set-up at Angkasapuri with all the Sports Department staff working on shift. The cooperation from the Engineering and Technical crew was splendid. I had a dedicated monitor monitoring TV3 broadcast in order to counter their preesentation. We had Dato’ Rahim Razali as our studio anchor who worked tirelessly for the whole duration of the Games. Our rival was having their operation in Seoul but half way through have to follow our way of operation as their inexperience crew in Seoul was not up to the mark. Again diligent work carried the day for us and the print media was full of praised.

Sponsorship Trust Account: “Akaun Amanah Tajaan” was not a sporting event but a special trust fund created by the Finance Ministry for RTM in the finance of sports coverage initially. It came about after the difficulty in getting approval for big and recognised sports coverage abroad that was well received by the audience and attracted the sponsors. All programme sponsorship and expenditure of the Sports department came under the account. It was managed by 3 officers headed by the Ministry Finance Division Secretary, Dicky Lee. Looking after the commercial aspect was the head of the Commercial Division, Hanan Alang Endut, and I as Head of Sports look after the coverage and programme. It was well managed. The system worked well. The coffer was swelling to the tune of millions of ringgits. In order to encourage the dwindling sponsorship of the privatised drama, it was later incorporated into the account. A big improvement in quality and commercial support was clearly seen in the local drama. Later the Engineering Division was seeking entry into the account as an entity as the technical facilities needed for the operation was handled by them. The account started after the Olympics difficulties. I am not sure when the account was disbanded as I was not member by then due to my promotion and having to deal with other chores. When the account started it change complexity of sports coverage for the better. I personally feel it should be continued but I suppose they have discovered other means to streamline the financial procedure in the public sector.

Those were the main sporting coverage that influenced my career while at RTM. There were other events which merit mentioned later on.

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