Vox in the Box: Kelly Cates

Kelly Cates began her broadcasting career at Sky Sports News and has also worked for Setanta, ESPN and TalkSport. She currently works for the Premier League channel, presents 606 on BBC Radio 5Live and Football League Tonight on Channel 5.

Tell us a little bit about your background…

I was doing a maths degree, but didn’t like it and wanted to do something else. Sky Sports News were just starting up, and they were looking for people who were young – and cheap – and enthusiastic. I ended up leaving in the middle of my university course and going down to work at Sky Sports News when you couldn’t even buy the right dish to get the channel, so we were literally broadcasting to just the building. I did that for seven or eight years, then went to Germany for the World Cup in 2006 and left just after that.

The atmosphere at Sky, in the past couple of years anyway, has seemed quite ‘laddy’ – like Soccer AM spread throughout the office. Was it like that when you were there?

It didn’t feel like that at all. When I started, right at the beginning, we were all pretty much in our early 20s and really keen. We worked weird hours because we were trying to put this channel out at all hours of the day, so we socialised a lot together. It was just a really easy place to be because we were all kind of similar, all interested in the same things and all learning on the job. We were in our own little bubble, in the old Sky Sports News ‘dome’. There were a lot of girls – and we really were girls at that time too – who started then. We were all quite outgoing, none of us were shrinking violets so I don’t think there was any room for any laddishness there.

On Football League Tonight, it’s sort of felt like you’ve been working out the format of it as you’ve been going along…

It was quite a late signing by Channel 5, they did pick up the rights quite late on, so it was quite a speedy process that the production team had to go through to get something ready. It took a while to find a balance between Sunset and Vine, who are so skilled at putting sports programmes together, and this Saturday night, 9pm timeslot – they’re not necessarily natural partners. I think they were right to try something different, but then it’s settled into what feels more comfortable now.

You’ve taken away the studio audience now…

To be honest a lot of that was just practical – it’s filmed out at Sky, so trying to get people to come out to Osterley (in west London, not far from Heathrow airport) for 9pm on a Saturday night…practically, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. There were loads of reasons for it, but practicality is a big one of them.

It’s split into two sections now – you’ve got the Championship games in one, then the League One and Two goals in another…

I think it works quite well in that sense, because actually although it’s officially split, there’s the same amount of time devoted to both. If you’re a fan of a team in League One or Two, you want to see how you’ve got on or the teams around you have got on, but if you don’t follow one of those teams you just want the goals. Calling it ‘The Goal Rush’ helps with that, although actually it’s not really that different, it’s just called something different. If it’s all one camera coverage you can’t really do extended highlights from seven different angles.

You’ve got so much to cram into this relatively short period of time, so you don’t have that much scope for analysis and so forth. But at the same time it doesn’t feel rushed, which would be very easy to do…

And that’s down to the analysts as well. Having whoever the analyst is standing at the touch screen and actually taking you through the game as they analyse it, you’re sort of doubling up – you’re not watching highlights then coming back for analysis. Especially with the Championship show, we have a maximum of two questions, so you have to be really focused on what you want to get out of your guests.

Do you see your role as being the voice of the fans?

Not really. Because it is so fast, it’s more that you’re steering it, you’re just knocking it on, just trying to point it in the right direction and keep it focused on what you might need next. There isn’t really room for anything more, like to take that sort of fan position. If you did that then you’d be talking about things like Charlton fan protests every week, and you can’t do that because you need to talk about different things. You have to think ‘This week, what do we need to pick out, what’s the most interesting thing about it’, and you’re trying to do that in a couple of hours from when the games finish and when we go on air. Our job really is just to point the guests in the right direction, I think.

Do you get any of that weird stuff on Twitter that Match of the Day seem to get about the running for Football League Tonight?

Yeah, but I understand that. If it’s your team it’s the biggest story of the day. ‘Why are you not showing more of this game?’ – because we haven’t got the time. Anybody who’s vaguely sensible understands there are time constraints and you can’t go into depth on everything. People do get het up about it, but I think that’s completely normal from a football fan’s perspective – your team is the biggest story, and that’s kind of how you should feel.

Perhaps that sort of thing might be even more prevalent for the Football League, because a fan of, say, Everton is interested in their team, but more interested in the wider Premier League than a Forest fan might be in the rest of the Championship…

Possibly. People might be more interested in the broader narrative, but I think there are Championship fans who are more interested in the top and the bottom – I don’t know. You sort of have to assume that people are interested in the top and the bottom, otherwise you just have to pack up and go home! You’re telling the story to people who are interested – you can’t force people to be interested, but you have to make an objective decision about what the most interesting thing is. Sometimes the Sky game has been picked weeks in advance, so by the time it comes around it’s not really meaningful, but it’s the one where you’ve got ten cameras at – you’ve got more to show of it and you can go into more detail. Sometimes people say ‘Why are you showing that again?’ but it’s not the Premier League – you don’t have dozens of cameras at every game.

You do 606 and you’ve done stuff for Talksport before too – are you more comfortable on TV or radio?

I’m probably more comfortable on TV just because I’ve done more of it, and I know more of what to expect, but I love working on the radio. I think Mark Chapman said something similar last week, but on telly you constantly find yourself moving to the next point and you need to be really concise, but somebody might say something and you might think ‘I really want to pick up on that, but we’re four minutes over already and we need to crack on.’ But with radio you go in with your running order, and most of the time you stick to it, but every now and then someone says something and you think ‘Hang on, that’s really interesting’ – you have to assume other people will find it interesting, so you can go off on a tangent. That’s much more fun and much more rewarding, and you get more out of the guests that way, I think.

You do and have done radio things with people like Jason Cundy and Ian Wright, people who have, shall we say, plenty to say for themselves…

And so they should! Otherwise what’s the point?

Absolutely. Do you see your role as trying to keep them ‘under control’ or more to encourage their more ‘talkative’ side?

It depends. With Wrighty, we’ve been working together for three seasons, and we’ve got to know each other quite well. Jason, I only worked with once a week over a season, so [our relationship] wasn’t automatic in the same way. But working with Wrighty I almost know what he’s going to say about stuff before he says it. It’s quite difficult to explain, because I find working with him really easy. I don’t think it’s one or the other – I don’t think it’s my job to reign them in or encourage them, but it’s about trying to find what he really thinks about something.

But I think he’s doing that on his own now. Especially since he started doing Match of the Day, it’s really made a difference on 606, because he’s doing much more analysis, whereas when he’s been asked to do telly stuff before he’s sort of been brought in almost as a mascot. This time they’ve given him a more grown-up role and I think it really suits him. Strangely, at 50, it’s given him more confidence to be able to run with that. Before I think he thought he’d been brought in to be ‘Wrighty’ and be that cliched version of himself, but being on Match of the Day has given him the confidence that he’s got more to say.

On radio now, he’s much more like he is off air. I don’t want to speak for him, but before he’d been put in a box I think that didn’t really tell the whole story about him. You’d watch games with him, he’d say something and you’d think ‘Why would you not say that on air? Say that on air!’ I don’t think he felt that’s why he’d been brought into places. He’s much more considered and obviously he understands the game, but I think he didn’t understand that’s what people wanted from him, because they hadn’t asked him.

It does come across on air when you get on with people, like you do with Wright, but is there anyone you’ve worked with that you didn’t get on with so much, and were you conscious of that coming across?

Never guests, only ever co-presenters. And never horrendously, and I hope not to the point that it came across. It’s different with the guests, because you’re asking them questions and it’s a different relationship – it’s quite difficult not to get on with someone like that because they know so much. You’re probably not going to sit there and think ‘You’re an idiot.’ In terms of co-presenters, sometimes people have different ways of doing things so they go off in different directions, but I sort of see it as part of my job to get on with whoever I’m working with. If you create a bad atmosphere then it’s just miserable for everyone. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say there have been tensions, but even if there have been moments where I’ve thought ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake’, I just get on with it.

Mark Chapman said last week, quite diplomatically, that it requires a lot of ‘patience’ to deal with some of the callers to 606…

Well, yes but I think Saturdays and Sundays are very different. On the Saturday you have more people who have just come from matches and their emotions are really high, and it’s really hectic, and there’s a fast turnaround of calls. Whereas on aSunday there aren’t as many games, so everybody has had a bit of time to turn things over in their heads a bit, and also we used to get messages from people who were doing the washing up after a Sunday lunch, so in my head that’s who I’m talking to. You’re not so much talking to people coming back from games, so the listener is that sort of ‘post-Sunday lunch, bit chilled out on a Sunday evening’ person. They can still get themselves wound up about stuff but on Saturdays it’s a different feel and a different job, just because it’s more immediate. And also if you’ve been to see a game on a Saturday, you might come home, see a replay and think ‘Oh, actually that might not have been offside’…

You can follow Kelly Cates on Twitter (@KellyCates)

You can follow Nick Miller on Twitter (@NickMiller79)

Vox in the Box: Kelly Cates
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