Wednesday, 04 August 2021

Bringing the excitement to the rest of the world

REGATTA Radio will celebrate its eighth year of broadcasting at this year’s Henley Royal Regatta. A team of more than

REGATTA Radio will celebrate its eighth year of broadcasting at this year’s Henley Royal Regatta. A team of more than 30 volunteers, including directors, commentators and presenters, will provide comprehensive coverage before, during and after the event to more than 20,000 listeners. DAN ROBINSON talked to some of the key members.

PETER MCCONNELL is chairman of Regatta Radio.

The 50-year-old, who lives in Henley, first joined the station as a commentator in 2008 and has been chairman for three years after taking over from co-founder Adrian Smith.

He has expanded Regatta Radio beyond Henley by providing commentaries at regattas up and down the country as well as the world rowing junior championships at Dorney Lake in 2011.

Mr McConnell, who is also Henley’s town centre manager, says: “I’ve tried to get us involved in more events and make it more professional in how it sounds and the output. We’ve really concentrated on what our listeners want to hear, which is rowing. They’re really keen on everything that’s going on with rowing.”

At the royal regatta itself, there is now live commentary on every race.

Mr McConnell, an accomplished rower himself, says: “When I first started, we only commentated on every third or fourth race. Doing every one is a bit of a challenge but we’ve become more professional and it sounds better.

“Moving forward, we would like to do more interviews with movers and shakers.”

Martin Unsworth, 53, of Reading Road, Henley, is a director and one of four presenters.

From arranging sponsorship deals to organising interviews with athletes, he is what he calls the “fixer”. A full-time lecturer at The Henley College, where he also manages the rugby team, Mr Unsworth has helped form links with the community and businesses since joining Regatta Radio in 2007.

He says: “I do the munchy bit they don’t want to do, like networking and trying to get sponsorship.”

He rowed himself and is the stepfather of Olympic bronze medallist Will Satch and father of Jo Unsworth, who was in the crew that won the inaugural junior women’s quadruple sculls event at last year’s regatta.

George Thomas, 29, from London, is a presenter and studio technician.

One of the three founding members of Regatta Radio with his father Bob and Adrian Smith, Mr Thomas continues to work as one of the main presenters and sorting out the technical side of the station.

He has been involved in radio since university and works for the BBC’s World Service and Radio 4 as a studio manager.

Mr Thomas, who was born and bred in Henley, first started presenting because he couldn’t make it as a rower. He says: “I’m too short to be a rower so I thought ‘why not combine my two passions of rowing and radio?’

“We thought Regatta Radio was something we could add to the event and we’ve broadly succeeded. In that time, we’ve come on leaps and bounds.

“I’ve worked on quite a few temporary radio stations and this is the one that gets the most reaction by far.”

The station has listeners all over the world who tune in online.

Mr Thomas came across one when he was hiking in the Himalayas several years ago. He recalls: “I was standing at the top of a mountain at 5,500m admiring the view when I got into a conversation with another man. I was wearing some Regatta Radio clothing and it turned out he was a listener.”

Robert Treharne Jones, 62, from Middle Assendon, is head of the commentary team and known as the the “voice of rowing”.

Dr Treharne Jones, who has commentated at Olympic Games and world championships, has been involved since 2008 and trains the commentary team of about 20 volunteers.

He says: “We have a large team of very enthusiastic people who are doing a great job of bringing the excitement of Henley to our worldwide audience, not simply those in and around the town.

“What’s really exciting for me is the programme that we’ve put in place for bringing in novice commentators.

“We’re seeing guys coming up through the ranks and improving their expertise. This year, three of our best commentators were working at Dorney Lake for the world cup.” Dr Treharne Jones, who was a GP for 20 years and is now press officer for Leander Club, says there are three key components to good commentary — informing the listeners, entertaining them and using the senses when reporting.

“Doing commentary is a dramatic performance,” he says. “If you give your best then at the end of a shift you feel exhausted and can go away knowing it was a job well done.”

Charlie Wiggin, a 63-year-old accountant from Shiplake, is the finance director.

He won a bronze medal in the coxless pairs at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

As well as looking after the station’s finances, he has been a Regatta Radio commentator since the station began.

“In the first year, I was up a tree with a mobile phone and a radio in my ear,” he says. “In a way it was much simpler then but they tell me I can’t do it like that anymore, which is a shame because it was easy.”

One race last year sticks in his memory.

“Leander lost to Harvard in the Ladies’ Challenge Plate by 1ft,” he recalls. “It was their coach Harry Parker’s last ever race and Leander had been leading all the way but were pipped at the end.

“It’s great when it’s all so nip and tuck but in terms of commentating you have to balance your emotions. It’s easy to get overexcited but your job is to report on what’s going on and give the listener an insight into what’s happening.”

Mr Wiggin, a member of Leander Club and a coach at Upper Thames Rowing Club, says the station has a tight budget but feedback is always positive.

He says: “Everyone you talk to says it’s fantastic and tells us they know what’s happening at the regatta thanks to our coverage.”

Regatta Radio will be on air from June 28 to July 7 on 87.7FM and online at

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