Inside Revolution: Behind the Mic

Monday 05 December 2022

In this month’s edition of Revolution, we speak to some of the UK’s leading commentators to find out what it takes to make motorsport sound magic on a microphone.

Revolution is available online, as a PDF download and on the Revolution app (for both iOS and Android devices). 

Motorsport is a complex combination of drama, rivalry, strategy, and action. Whether you are watching the cars speed past trackside, or live streaming the British Karting Championship on your laptop, the voice behind the microphone makes a huge difference to your experience.

There is far more to calling a race than you might think. The words ‘lights out and it’s go, go, go’ will always send a tingle through the spine of any fan, but for a commentator it marks the start of a frantic non-stop challenge where attention to detail and the ability to excite is crucial to keeping people engaged.

David Addison has been at it a long time. His is one of the voices you hear when watching the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) on ITV. It is also one you will hear over the public address (PA) system at the British Grand Prix. He has covered more different forms of motorsport than you could think of, and for him it’s all about building belief.

“Your audience has got to be able to trust the voice,” he explains. “When you are listening to a commentary, you have to allow yourself to be carried away by that voice. If a commentator is out of their comfort zone, their voice lets you know that and you’re not comfortable. You are almost cringing listening to it.

“The best sports commentator ever, in my mind, was Barry Davis. Whatever sport he was doing – football, tennis, swimming, athletics – you felt it was his specialist subject. He would say enough to give you the information and never said things that would leave him exposed. Far too many people say, ‘I don’t know this or that’ – well, the secret is, if you don’t know it, don’t say it.”

All commentators have their own individual style. Some holler and scream; some focus more on facts and stats; some are serious while others throw in a bit of comedy. Developing that approach is the most important thing a commentator will do, and all agree there is no perfect formula to achieve it all.

Anthony Jordan commentates alongside Henry Beaudette on AlphaLive’s WERA Tools British Kart Championships’, and is also on the PA at many club racing events, and he says: “I’m very much about looking at what’s happening right there and now. A lot of commentators talk about statistics, things from the past. My style is about bringing people to the edge of their seats and making them really focus on what’s happening.

“When I ask people if they watched the live stream, a lot of them say ‘yeah, I had it on in the background.’ They’re not watching it, they’re listening to it and doing something else, so they listen for the audible change in your voice, and they react when I get excited. If I bring my voice up and down, lowering and raising the tempo, it gets people looking. Too much, though, and people will turn you off!

“The best must be Murray Walker. He could talk about a race so simply and so effectively. You think how he would start a Grand Prix back in the day and it was ‘Lights out. Go!’ Then it was silence until they got to turn one. Even when he made mistakes, he wasn’t criticised, he was loved for it. But you have to get everything right first before you can start making mistakes.”

Continue reading this feature in November’s edition of Revolution