Trackside Radio’s demise another serious blow for NZ sporting world

Chicago's Michael Jordan, left, and Horace Grant defend against Phoenix's Richard Dumas in the 1993 NBA Finals. Picture: AP

There are no upsides to the decimation of another specialised sports programme in New Zealand.

Radio Sport became the first victim of the economic uncertainty created by Covid-19 when, without warning, it was suddenly ditched by owner NZME on March 30.

On Tuesday Trackside Radio, a station that promoted much more than just horses and dogs speeding around a track, was added to the scrap heap by the TAB.

Although the morning hosts and race commentators on Trackside Radio had mostly been silent since March 23, when the station went into hiatus along with many other companies during lockdown, staff still crossed their fingers and tried to be optimistic.

With Radio Sport no longer in existence, they hoped their bosses at the TAB would seize the opportunity to promote their channel when sport and racing was permitted to re-start.

The Kick Off morning show, hosted by Glen Larmer and Riccardo Ball, entertained listeners with their opinions and interviews in the mornings before the live race commentaries took over.

TAB media manager Mark Stafford and veteran Sky commentator Grant Nisbett were familiar voices on “On The Sidelines’’ show at the weekend. Now they, like Larmer and Ball and a number of producers who helped make these shows tick, are no longer required.

The TAB cut 230 jobs, including 150 permanent staff, in the wake of the financial turmoil caused by Covid-19. The sports and racing betting company’s parent, the Racing Industry Transition Agency, formerly the Racing Board, has stated the reduction is 30 per cent of its workforce.

In conjunction with other cost-saving strategies, it hopes to save up to $11 million.

It’s understood 10 fulltime staff who worked on the Trackside Radio programme have been made redundant, as well as a number of contract workers.

A month ago those staff were asked to provide feedback as management reviewed the operation.

With Radio Sport no longer in the market, employees put forward their ideas on how their show could take advantage of their competitors’ decision to step out of the market.

It was no avail. Some staff, understandably, were angry and disappointed to learn they were not listened to.

Although NZME effectively blamed Covid-19 for the demise of Radio Sport, its decision not to renew the rights to broadcast live commentary of New Zealand Cricket’s domestic and international matches played in New Zealand suggested all was not well.

But it was still a shock when it was shuttered. With the benefit of hindsight the demise of Trackside Radio shouldn’t have come as a great surprise, either, but that doesn’t make it any more palatable for staff or listeners.

While its market share was small (for example Radio Sport was understood to have cornered only around two per cent of the country’s listeners) presenters such as Larmer, Ball, Stafford and Nisbett, along with their guests, offered lively and colourful comment about the sporting issues of the week.

They went out on a limb and questioned the administrators’ decisions and the players’ actions which, in turn, kept the public informed – just as the presenters on Radio Sport did. Not anymore.

It just got quieter on radio land. No doubt some precious officials and professional sportsmen and women will shrug their shoulders and say “so what?’’

Those types can always turn to friendly broadcasters or podcasts hosted by their mates, people who won’t ask difficult questions, to state their case.

Nothing to see here, in other words. Trackside Radio might have been a small time operator in the media industry but it played an important role.

It’s another blow to sport in this country.

 

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