The Golden Age Of Radio Commentary: Manoj Joshi

Many commentators had come into a discussion along with commentary on only one sport, but today, especially private broadcasters prefer multi-game commentators for the Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. A commentator is expected to do so on all Olympic sports.


Once Radio commentary was the only way to get to know the games live. Then it reached the private broadcaster via Doordarshan and then FM worked to connect sports, lovers, again with radio commentary but now in today's era, TV is the most powerful media.

The TV commentary remained the center of attraction as you could see the game closer or more like a playground sitting at home and the commentary from above worked to convey the nuances of the game with visuals that proved to be better than the playground. But now mediums like Hot Star or Sony Liv have captured a large section of the audience. Sometimes their viewership in India has crossed the one crore mark.

Sports commentary is incomplete without naming Melville de Mellow and Jasdev Singh. Both are pillars of English and Hindi commentary respectively. Both worked for a long time in AIR and DD. Both came into the limelight by covering the live coverage of the Republic Day parade. Melvill's commentary on the Mahatma Gandhi funeral and Queen Elizabeth's coronation program was very much talked about. Both were well-liked in their eloquent commentary, especially for the hockey matches.

Gradually, cricket commentary became the most popular on radio, as well as commentary on Olympic and Asian Games were also heard parallelly on TV. Along with the sports commentary on TV, the shortcomings of radio commentary also started to be exposed. In cricket, the midwicket for a right-handed batsman is the same cover region for a left-handed batsman, but when left and right-handed batsmen were at the crease, the commentators of that time often got confused in the field position. 

Transistor takers to the cricket stadium caught this mistake and started pointing fingers at the mistake by shouting towards the commentary box. At the same time, some such ardent cricket lovers who used to listen to radio commentary by turning off the sound of the TV at home also missed this very much. On seeing the commentary panel of former cricketers started being made on TV and today the situation is that only a few non-cricketers are seen while 99 per cent commentary is done by former cricketers only.

Whereas in other sports, the scenario is different. Former players usually appear as experts in the commentary, but it is also true that in other games the commentary has been kept alive by sports experts and journalists. In this, the sports knowledge and iconic language style of many commentators become the subject of much discussion. 

Here, especially DD has to be praised which had live coverage of Indo-Pak, Punjab Games and live coverage of the North East Games, promoting the games at the grass-root level. DD  has proved that they are not interested in chasing glamour or TRP. In those days DD had the

biggest impact on the public. In the 90s, there used to be an in-house advertisement on DD that Jaspal Rana was the best shooter in the country. Then everyone started becoming shooters in the desire to be like him.

There has also been a big change in this area. Today's commentators give more information. Apart from giving the profiles of the players, they also analyse them minutely but then they were asked not to carry on a detailed discussion in the TV commentary. The emphasis was on speaking in limited words only on what was visible. It was advised to avoid giving too much knowledge. Being a commentator, I  also had to go through all these problems.

Many memorable moments came out while doing commentary for the last three decades. I remember doing a commentary on DD on wrestling at the National Games held in Guwahati. During the games, the coverage of outdoor events could not be organized due to rain. At that time, wrestling bouts were going on in the indoor hall. DD's entire focus was at this event and there was no other commentator with me, hence, I had to do live commentary for about five and a half hours alone.

It was actually a very challenging task. To be honest, I have loved the challenge from the beginning. The games that commentators usually avoided commenting on, I would gladly accept as challenges. At that time my only effort was to do my best commentary in the games like Wushu, Chinese martial art, Kurash, Uzbekistan's Art and Sapak Takra, a Malaysian sport. I enjoyed TV commentary on these games just like my other favourite games like cricket or wrestling.

Similarly, commentary for a National Championship is no less challenging. Where generally the commentator has to work hard for the line-up of matches or bouts. The line-up of the World Military Games held in Hyderabad, even after being prepared, could not be received on time because it was not signed by the concerned official, due to which it was not received by the media or the commentary panel. 

I wish, the federations and all the organisers would realize the importance of commentary and also the fact that their events are reaching across the country through TV commentary. Without it, they would have been confined to the audience present at the venue.

On December 31, 2005, at an outdoor event at Nidhani in Jind district of Haryana, it was so cold that it made everyone shiver. It became a big challenge to put the words properly. Similarly, in the riots of the village countryside, it was also very challenging to do commentary by climbing on the scaffold. The wrestler who won the biggest dangals, for the spectators was no less than a superstar. At that time interviewing him was the biggest challenge.

After playing the role of a wrestling expert in Amir Khan`s film Dangal and having done commentary for the Pro Wrestling League, the difference was that now whenever I am in the commentary box, some unfamiliar faces come to meet me. This was not usually the case before. There is no doubt that cricket commentary is the most listened to and watched. I realised this during the 1992 World Cup when I was doing commentary on AIR from studios in Mumbai. Then there was the beginning of my career but people who did not know me also started to know about me on AIR or other forums. This fact was heart-tickling and motivated me to work hard in this field. Over time, the opportunities for doing cricket commentary on TV decreased but the opportunities for commentary in Olympic sports kept increasing.

Some events of Olympic sports even gave a tough competition to cricket commentary. In the 2012 London Olympics, I was doing commentary on Sushil and Yogeshwar Dutt's bout. When Sushil reached the final, I got countless messages and phone calls asking everyone to know what time is Sushil's final wrestling match.

A major change in the field of commentary is that in the 80s or 90s a commentator usually commented for two to three games. Many commentators had come into a discussion along with commentary on only one sport, but today, especially private broadcasters prefer multi-game commentators for the Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. A commentator is expected to do so on all Olympic sports.

Opportunities in this field have also increased due to the happening of different leagues of all sports in the country. Today, apart from IPL, with the advent of leagues of Kabaddi, Wrestling, Football, Hockey etc, players have got a chance to improve their financial condition, while commentators have also got a lot of opportunities.

Many challenges are meant for the government channels today. Once AIR and DD had the rights for live coverage of the National Games and Championship of all the sports, but then professionalism started dominating in this field and the rights of many of these competitions

started being sold. Today the situation is that even private broadcasters have started broadcasting National Games and Khelo India. Now events like Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are also covered by private broadcasters and the feeds of Indian importance have to be shared with DD. Here the disadvantage was that the private broadcaster's own commentators came into existence and DD's had its own. 

The author is the only Indian TV commentator to do 550 hours of live TV commentary on wrestling. He has been named in the Limca Book of Records. He was doing live TV commentary on five Olympics, five Asian Games and two Commonwealth Games. 

Tags assigned to this article:
Golden Age india Radio Commentary Manoj Joshi

Around The World

Our Publications