By Jason McKeown
There will be no Bradford radio station covering Bradford City this season. Whilst BBC Radio Leeds will continue to perform an admirable job providing match day commentaries, its commercial rival, the Pulse, will devote its time and money on other matters instead.
It follows the station’s acquisition by the Baeur media group, which humbly calls itself the UK’s most influential media brand network. Baeur boosts a portfolio of magazines and radio stations, and reaches over 22 million UK adults. But it has no interest in covering live football, and sadly isn’t about to start doing so now. It seems the decision to stop live commentaries is Baeur’s.
It’s a significant loss to Bradford City and its fanbase. Maybe not financially, although in return for granting commentary rights, the Bantams received free advertising on the Pulse during the week, worth five-figures annually, which was used to promote season tickets and special offer games like the Oxford match last season. But whether you loved or hated the Pulse, this is the end of an alternative voice about the club. One that goes back decades.
Whilst Radio Leeds has always covered City in a professional, BBC way, it comes at the price of operating from a distance that curtails the sharpest highs and lows. You can always rely on Radio Leeds to tell you the story, and the people I’ve dealt with are undoubtedly very passionate. But there is a line that’s always there. They’re just not going to be as excited or as downbeat as you.
And that’s absolutely fine and valued by thousands of City fans. But the Pulse sought to do things differently. Professional and knowledgeable still, but with an unashamed Bradford bias from a proud Bradford radio station. The commentary and pre and post match shows were more opinion-led. Emotions were on greater show. They wanted Bradford City to win, and were not afraid to be explicit about it.
Of course such bias is not to everyone’s taste. And after a season as wretched as 2018/19, it’s no surprise that criticism of the Pulse grew sharper from some quarters. But think of the glory moments too. The history makers season. Chelsea. Both Thornton brothers produced iconic commentaries of these moments that now form part of the memories. In the nicest possible way, Radio Leeds used the professional but downbeat Dave Fletcher over 2012/13. He was certainly less excitable.
The commercial radio approach of leading with opinions will always see the Pulse’s punditry disputed by some. How often do we as fans agree on anything? I know I’ve driven home from a game many times with the Pulse on the car radio, shouting loudly about my disagreement over their post match assessment.
I sometimes hated the Pulse, but more often than not I enjoyed it. As a supporter going to games, the drive home from the match with the radio discussing City is a key part of the matchday routine. You’ve watched 90 minutes of action, and you want to reflect on events and hear from the manager. For many years I had chosen Radio Leeds over the Pulse, due to disliking adverts. But at the time, half of the Radio Leeds post match coverage was devoted to Huddersfield Town. I grew increasingly fed up of listening to Kieran O’Regan droning on about a team I didn’t care for. So many years ago I switched to the Pulse.
And whilst the adverts can go on a bit, the 100% devotion to Bradford City made for much more interesting listening. Tim Thornton and Ian Ormondroyd were a strong commentary team, with opinions you could respect. In 2014 Tim joined Sky Sports and was replaced by his brother Jason. He was also an excellent commentator and not afraid to share his views.
So as City fans, we were blessed with choice – which is always a good thing. The calm, assured traditions of the BBC. Or the more emotional, claret-and-amber-spectacled Pulse. There was such a clear difference between the two styles, and no right or wrong on which was better. It was all down to personal preference.
Of course I write this with a large degree of bias for the Pulse. In the summer of 2017, Jason Thornton approached me about co-commentating on games for the 2017/18 season. My debut was a League Cup defeat to Doncaster Rovers. I absolutely loved the experience, and though I didn’t think I was particularly great, I got plenty of good feedback. Over the last two seasons, I’ve co-commentated on some 30+ matches. Jason is brilliant to work with and I learned a huge amount.
Doing live radio is exhausting but really fulfilling. I’d spend part of the week preparing notes on the opposition and nicking some useful stats from fellow WOAP writer Tim Penfold. I enjoyed the pre and post-match chats especially. You got a glimpse of behind the scenes at Valley Parade and what life is like in the press box. There’s some really nice, dedicated staff who work behind the scenes who deserve more appreciation than they get. Seeing managers and players up close after games, for post match interviews, is also interesting. Some are friendlier – and more intelligent – than others.
Commenting on live events can be exhilarating but also challenging. We have no replays of incidents in the Valley Parade press box. You’re making an instant judgement on big moments. Inevitably we got some things wrong, and the response from some listeners wasn’t forgiving. And yes, the referee would be blamed often on the Pulse which some didn’t like. I always found that a bid odd. When I’m sat in the stands as a fan, I and plenty of others are always blaming the ref even when it’s harsh on them.
What I also learned to appreciate doing the Pulse was the extreme reactions you get from fans. If City were losing (and sadly that happened a lot over the last 18 months), some fans would be tweeting in their anger – not at the team, but at me and Jason. It was quite bewildering that something I might have said at 2.20pm without massively remembering would be brought up, out of context, in anger at 5.30pm after another home defeat. “How can you say Player X has had some good games this season – he was awful today!!!”
You sometimes get the impression, from social media, that everyone hates the Pulse. Certainly the Bradford City-bias annoyed some who seemed to prefer impartiality from their local radio station. But so many other fans loved it passionately. You’d see it in the Tweets you received or from talking to fans at matches. I remember at one game a bloke came up and handed out chocolate bars to us. A lot of fans would get in touch to say how much they enjoyed my comments. You’d see other guest commentators, such as former City heroes, get much bigger reactions. Lee Duxbury, for example, was well liked.
The Pulse’s roots lie in the old Pennine Radio, which was set up in 1975. In the 80s Pennine Radio provided live broadcasts of City matches, with the commentary of the Fire Disaster by Tony Delahunty one that has become really well known as a regularly-used and definitive account of how that fateful day unfolded. In 1991, Pennine FM was rebranded “The Pulse”.
Aside from short breaks in 1992 and the late 90s – when the station sponsored Valley Parade – Pulse commentaries have been a firm part of the Bradford City scene ever since the 80s. But for this season, there won’t be any commercial coverage of Bradford City. From speaking to the club today, there are ideas about improving the iFollow experience, but they’re very early on and would obviously need to be commercially viable to actually be implemented. So for now, only Radio Leeds will provide live coverage of the Bantams.
They’ll do a great job of course. But if their post match coverage is like recent seasons, we’ll have to fight it out with Leeds and Huddersfield to get any post match coverage. Last season I spoke to several Leeds United fans who were frustrated that there was no radio station devoted solely to their team post-match, and that their drive home from Elland Road would see BBC Radio Leeds’ airtime taken up talking about Huddersfield and City. They were jealous of City for having the Pulse. Unless Radio Leeds changes their approach, we’ll soon know how they feel.
Along with the retirement of the Bantams Banter podcast, there will be less voices talking about Bradford City. And even if that voice wasn’t for you, the Bradford City community is poorer for having fewer ways to engage and follow the club.