When Radio Five started I listened for the football and other sport, and then heard Danny Baker – a broadcasting genius. I stayed. Endlessly entertaining. The ability to riff on phone calls/e-mails and take off in directions you’d never imagine.
I was won over on one of the first of his shows I heard. He had a phone in on things you’d done as children and were embarrassed about. He had a phone call from one guy who said he and his younger brother had a Scalextric. He’d connected it up then asked his brother to put his tongue on the track to test something. The brother agreed. he got a shock. That shouldn’t have happened, he told him, and after fiddling with a button told his brother to try again. The brother did – with the same result.
Baker was at his peak on 6-0-6. Originally a show for football fans with stories about being a fan – about following your team to desolate grounds and losing; about the small joys, the small quirks that made supporting a delight. He was never that interested in the big clubs. And when he presented the show the small things – eg players whose names you can’t pronounce – took over. It was like having a spokesman for When Saturday Comes on your radio. I particularly remember the time that a supporter that had bought a debenture for his club’s new stadium came on and started whinging. he was cut off. “I only want real supporters” he declared and went on to the next caller. Acerbic. Witty. And accompanied by the great Danny Kelly – Baker was a broadcasting behemoth, a man that had transformed sports broadcasting on the Beeb.
And then he left – replaced by David “that’s a very good point, and if I may so very eloquently put” Mellor, prior to the stead ydownward spiral (and to imagine it went downwards after Mellor) that has seen Tim Lovejoy, speedy Steve Claridge, Spoony, and Alan Green (fine as a commentator but not the best host for the show) take over. The show has become all about the big clubs, whingers complaining about referees (they support big clubs, the reality is they get the majority of dodgy refereeing decisions in their favour as Baker pointed out when Leicester were dumped out of the League Cup against Chelsea IIRC following a dodgy decision, and Baker’s fury led to his sacking from the Beeb), about poor management, signing this or that big star. Baker was never interested in that and his return to Five Live last night demonstrated it:
limericks about countries in the European championships; his ministry of official spokesmen (the tirade against the whooshing replay logo for Euro games); the guy who could predict scores of international games by watching the traffic flow. Those people that haven’t contacted 6-0-6 since he left were back on last night, and a show that has often descended into pomposity was back at its entertaining best. Now, will someone either persuade him to come back permanently, give him free rein; or bring him into Fighting Talk, or better still replace the increasingly sexist Fighting Talk on a Saturday morning with something like his old Morning Edition show.