Radio broadcaster and producer Adam Mountford started his career in local radio with BBC Coventry and Warwickshire Radio (CWR) before moving to BBC 5 Live. He took over as producer of cricket’s Test Match Special in 2007 from Peter Baxter, who had held the reins for over 30 years.
Mountford has helped shaped both the new roster of commentators, as well as increased coverage of Test Match Special. This was realised in 2019, through the Ashes and World Cup, when 5 Live Sports Extra recorded its highest ever audience figures of 2.2 million weekly listeners – a 50% increase.
My first two bosses were known as the two Andys. I had applied to work in BBC local radio at CWR after my university radio days and Andy Wright and Andy Conroy were ever present.
Station manager Andy Wright was calm, laid back and hugely passionate about radio and what it could do. Andy Conroy, the programme director, had a bundle of energy, countless ideas and was an inspirational character. Between the two of them, they were the perfect combination of how to run a radio station or, indeed, any line of business. I’ve tried to look for the same in how I’ve worked ever since.
I remember working for a programme called PDQ (known as Pretty Damn Quick), a youth show produced by young people in the Coventry area, where voices such as Victoria Derbyshire, Phil Mercer and Phil Williams first learnt their trade. The magazine programme ran to 30 minutes and Andy Conroy would come along and tear it apart.
Every moment was dissected and, being new to radio, I was simply amazed at this level of scrutiny. I’ve never received that level of feedback since and, for a 19-year-old, it was absolutely inspirational. Meanwhile, Andy Wright’s role was to decide whether Conroy’s ideas were workable. It was the perfect combination.
What I love about TMS, from the old transistor radio to BBC Sounds today, is the way that people have their radios so close to them, be it listening through the night to the Ashes or in India. It is so intimate.
Working in local radio was even more intimate in some ways. It wasn’t just these voices close to you, they would talk about where you actually lived. The two Andys just had this incredible passion for connecting with the audience, and what really mattered in your area.
It was the ideal place to learn. I think I presented every single programme on the station, too. From a Polish show called Poles Apart, to FemFM for women, sport, news and weather, I covered every aspect. It was incredibly valuable to what I do now, like experiencing technical difficulties live broadcasting from Dambulla, Sri Lanka and just having to get on with it in order to get a programme on the air.
Just as in local radio, people are really passionate about TMS and there is focus on every change you bring about. You bring in a new voice and listeners are fascinated or if a voice leaves the programme then that comes under huge scrutiny. It’s like a family and a bereavement.
Looking at the streaming figures of what the audience would be like from the recent England v New Zealand Test series, TMS was doubling the likes of Eastenders and the Today Programme. This is why I’m just so lucky that I inherited a role which was so loved by people and still going strong after 65 years, one which has always evolved and never stood still.
Most importantly, it is the connection with the audience and TMS’ characters and tone. It’s not just a sports commentary, it’s a programme and a way of life for some people.
I try to make sure the commentary team is as diverse as possible, and if there is the very rare occasion when there isn’t a female voice on the programme I get as many complaints about that than I used to get about having female voices on TMS. It is so important that the programme now reflects the listeners.
Having voices like current players such as Steve Finn and Alex Hartley through to Vic Marks who has had that great wisdom and wit honed from years on TMS, that combination of voices is why the programme works.
Finding that break can be hard. I was lucky – I got my foot in the door after a sports bulletin presenter had broken his leg on a skiing holiday. The bosses had asked if anyone loved sport and Andy Wright later said if I wanted to take over his job as he thought I was better. I had volunteered but it was all down to being in the right place at the right time.
I would urge anyone with a passion to listen endlessly to radio, follow other outlets and being an all-rounder is key. Don’t commit or limit yourself to one skill, but perhaps find that niche.
If someone goes out their way to show that extra initiative, then there’s no doubt that does work, either through producing their own podcast, coming up with an idea that would work better or sending a tape to me of a bit of commentary.
It’s an incredibly competitive industry. But there’s no doubt that having that initiative and putting yourself forward really does work.
Listen to BBC Test Match Special on BBC Sounds or 5 Live Sports Extra