George Cheyne: Glasgow, Dec 2021
We’ve all experienced those awkward few seconds of satellite delay after being asked a question from left-field.
You know the type…
What time did you get in last night?
Where did you leave the car keys?
How much were those new shoes again?
A self-defence mechanism usually kicks in as you punctuate the silence with an “ehh…” here or an “erm…” there while formulating your response.
Now, imagine you were going to make your debut on live radio and the only brief you’d been given was never, and I mean NEVER, allow any dead air.
That was the situation I found myself back in 1977 when I was asked to cover a Clydebank-Hibs game for Radio Clyde in my days as a local newspaper reporter.
It was no biggie, they said. A wee pre-match chat with presenters Richard Park and Paul Cooney, throw in some team news, another chat at half-time, phone in any goal flashes and then a full-time wrap, as they say in Radioland.
The producer, on hearing it was to be my first time doing a live broadcast, then gave me my pep talk about making sure there was no dead air.
“Just remember, George, radio silence might be good in war-time…but it’s no effin good any other time.”
Fair point well made.
I turned up at Kilbowie Park in plenty of time, got settled in to my seat in the left-hand corner of the social club – which doubled as a press box on match days – overlooking the pitch and pored over the team sheet when it was handed out an hour before kick-off.
This information would form the basis of the pre-match chat so I duly noted the changes in both sides from the week before, made a few notes and – as it was November 5 – dusted off a few Guy Fawkes Night puns.
You know the ones…the Bankies will have to light a bonfire underneath themselves if they’re going to get out of relegation trouble, Hibs have a few sparklers of their own up front today and Clydebank boss Bill Munro will be hoping he doesn’t have to give his side a rocket at half-time after falling behind to an early goal again.
I was ready as I’d ever be and put in the call to Radio Clyde HQ and spoke to the producer.
“We’ve got a few minutes before you’ll be on,” he said, “They’re just starting to go round the grounds just now. By the way, how do you pronounce your surname?”
“It’s Cheyne, as in gold chain.”
“Really?…okay then. Stay on the line and you’ll hear a click just before you’re due to go on.”
I spent the next 10 minutes or so trying to prepare for any curve-ball questions which might be coming my way – and so avoid the dreaded dead air.
Click. This was it, my live radio debut…..
“And now we’re off to Kilbowie Park where we can speak to our reporter George Shyann ahead of the Clydebank-Hibs game. Tell us, George…which way is the wind blowing at Kilbowie today?”
If I’d prepped for a week solid I could never have anticipated that question. Left-field doesn’t begin to cover it.
A trickle of sweat meandered its way down my back as I looked out the social club window for a clue, any kind of clue – about which way the wind was blowing.
Nothing, not a damn thing. Meanwhile, I had broken the world record for the number of times anyone has uttered the “ehh…” and “erm…” sounds on live radio.
After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to blurt out: “It appears to be swirling all around the ground.”
“Ah, well, and what’s the team news today, George?”
I was completely thrown by the question about the wind and went on auto-pilot to read out the teams, formations and changes.
No Guy Fawkes references, no witty chat…nothing.
The call ended, I slumped back into my seat and and said a silent prayer for a 0-0 game so I wouldn’t need to go back on to tell the waiting world about any goal flashes.
No such luck. Clydebank scored through Billy McColl before half-time and I had to put in the call.
Click. “And we’re off to Kilbowie where George Chainey has news of a goal.
Who’s it for, George?”
No dead air this time as I managed to give an account of the goal without tripping over my tongue.
Half-time arrived and, just before I checked in again, a press box pal sidled up to me with the reason behind the question about the wind.
He’d been listening to Radio Clyde on his way to Kilbowie and the topic du jour was whether games should be called off because of high winds.
That would have been handy to know, but I wasn’t able to hear the broadcast while I was waiting to go on.
No matter. I could go out in a blaze of glory with my full-time wrap peppered with references to the winds of change blowing through Kilbowie after a 1-0 win and tweak the Guy Fawkes Night puns that I never got to use.
I check in with the producer and he tells me I’m next up. “One thing,” he says, “Don’t use any references to high winds or Guy Fawkes Night…everyone else has being doing that today.”
Aaargh! That’s showbiz…