On radio, talk goes back and forth and ...

Radio Wimbledon: On the air 14 hours a day for 13 days, the station really has more to talk about than the weather.


July 04, 2002|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England - On Radio Wimbledon, Rupert Bell is known as the voice of Tim Henman.

Bell, a tennis play-by-play man, is an unabashed Henman homer, openly rooting for Britain's top tennis player.

He will urge Henman on, "C'mon, Tim," and shriek when one of Henman's dramatic rallies goes Britain's way.

And with the help of the Internet, Bell's voice travels a long, long way on Radio Wimbledon, 87.7 on your FM dial if you're within five miles from the All England Club and www.wimble- don.org if you're online.

"An American e-mailed me last year and said I was biased to Tim Henman," Bell said. "Well, I am. I have no shame."

Like Marmite and Monty Python, Radio Wimbledon is one of those peculiarly English things with a devoted worldwide audience. About 500,000 people will tune into the tournament annually via the station's Web site broadcast.

It is all tennis all the time for 14 hours daily for the tournament's 13 days, as Radio Wimbledon focuses on the serves, volleys and quirks of the world's most famous tennis event.

The station is a source of information, wall-to-wall matches presented by announcers in hushed voices trying to keep up with 100-plus-mph serves.

And on rainy days, like the past two at Wimbledon, it's nearly the only game in town.

Talk about filling airtime.

They'll load up the broadcast with weather reports. The bad news - it has rained for 12 straight hours. The good news - it can't rain forever.

They'll interview almost anyone associated with tennis who happens to pop up near their studio wedged into the back of Centre Court.

The future of men's doubles. The number of umbrellas popping up on Centre Court. It's all fair game for the staff of 22 engineers, producers, gofers and announcers.

Steve Butterick, the station's executive producer, runs the show that begins at 8 a.m. daily and ends an hour after the last ball is struck. Created in 1992 as a source of local information, the station has grown with technology via the Internet. The station has also grown in stature around the All England Club, moving from a trailer on a muddy slope to the back of Centre Court.

"We're not saying that you're there, but you can follow what is happening at Wimbledon," Butterick said, summing up the station's philosophy to provide all the tennis news from different views on the grounds.

The station has broadcast booths on Centre Court and Court 1, and can dispatch two more announcers with microphones to cover other matches.

There was a match, though, where one announcer, Guy Swindells, was speaking too loudly while covering Henman, of all people, on Court 2.

Henman turned to Swindells and told him to shut up.

Bell broke etiquette one year when he interviewed Chanda Rubin's mother shortly after the player won a marathon match on an outer court.

"I got told off by officials," Bell said, adding he still has a soft place in his heart for Rubin.

Bell said broadcasting tennis on radio isn't such a tough thing, even though for a novice it seems like announcing chess.

With tousled hair and a wrinkled suit, Bell looks a little like a man on permanent vacation. But he is a terrific broadcaster, with a flowing voice and knowledge of a range of sports, including golf and horse racing.

"I tell the shot, where it has gone, and I hope to make it explainable," Bell said. "The women's game is easier. The men's game, you just try to pick a player. If a ball is coming down at 100 miles an hour, it's going to come back with interest."

The other day, Bell and Bill Bowrey, the 1968 Australian Open champion, were perched in a booth high above Court 1 announcing a match between Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands and Mark Philippoussis of Australia.

It was a little like watching heavy construction.

But Bell was doing his best to inject some humor into a turgid serving contest.

"I was just being distracted by Richard Krajicek throwing his toys out the bath water," Bell said after Krajicek threw a racket.

Later, Bowrey talked of the delights of tennis on radio compared with what occurs on television. "Most American commentators are just filling in airtime," Bowrey said. "American announcers are just chatting to themselves, giving out irrelevant facts."

Bell and Bowrey try to describe the action, the clash of personalities, the weather.

"Krajicek ends it in a disconsolate way," Bell said as the tiebreaker went against the Dutchman. "And the Scud [Philippoussis] has his nose in front."

You didn't have to be there to know what was happening.

And that's the beauty of Radio Wimbledon, a 13-day wonder filled with tennis, weather and a guy shamelessly rooting for Henman.

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