Behind the motorcycling microphone: Keith Huewen on four decades of broadcasting

MotoGP fans worldwide will remember 2020 for many reasons, and not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On track, the action was thrilling, with Juan Mir stepping out into the limelight to secure his first championship in the premier class, and Suzuki’s first since 2000.

The pandemic resulted in changes across the board: a truncated MotoGP season of just 14 races started in July, culminating on November 22nd in Portugal. Some broadcasters stayed away from the paddock, including UK broadcaster BT Sport, who recently extended their deal to cover MotoGP until the end of the 2024 season.

BT based themselves to begin with at Triumph’s UK headquarters in Hinckley, before moving to the iconic BT Tower in London from September. For the personnel involved, 2020 meant a season closer to their loved ones, for the first time in years.

During the Czech Republic weekend, I mused around BT’s temporary Triumph base to see how they were adapting to the ever-changing pandemic, chatting to the stars in front of the camera, including lead commentator Keith Huewen.

But little did I, or perhaps he, know at the time, 2020 would be Huewen’s last with the BT Sport team. Following the season finale, Huewen announced that he was stepping down as BT’s lead commentator.

Here, we look back at Huewen’s broadcasting career…

The early days

Before stepping into the broadcasting arena, Huewen raced across the UK and overseas, like many before and after him, including at Mallory Park, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Triumph building where we recollect about the past.

Huewen raced into his early 30s in the 1980s, when injury forced him onto the side-lines at a “relatively early” age. “I won my last British championship when I was 30, and retired when I was 31,” he tells me.

“The fact is, at a certain age, you know as a rider, that the time is right [to retire]. Some go through denial; others are forced out through injury. For me, it was a bit of both. I had shoulder injuries that were hampering me, and it felt like the time was right to move on.”

It was during his racing days that Huewen met journalist Julian Ryder, a friendship now almost 40 years in the making, and one that has evolved over the years through various commentary stints with multiple broadcasters.

The two began their partnership with Eurosport, before moving to Sky, in an era where satellite TV was just coming to the forefront, and the sports television boom on pay-TV was beginning.

“It was pioneering back in those days,” Huewen recalls. “I always remember my mates at the BBC and elsewhere laughing their socks off when they knew I was going satellite.”

“But, of course, within two or three years, all the sports departments you had at Anglia Television and Look South had gone. A lot of the people I worked with at, say, Anglia are now working with different production companies all over the country.”

“Satellite television really took sport on and improved it in my view. There’s a lot of people that baulked at the idea that sport would cost people money to watch on TV but the fact is sport pretty much lives off the television nowadays.”

Whilst pioneering, there were fewer people involved in front of the screen compared to today, with the likes of Huewen ‘doubling up’ as both presenter and commentator.

Huewen not only presented Sky’s World Superbikes offering from Chiswick in the mid-1990s, but would then join Ryder in the commentary box straight after. Whilst “quite good fun,” Huewen does look back on certain aspects of their commentary slightly differently, and not with rose-tinted glasses either.

“TV commentary has moved on hugely since the ’90s. I listen to some of our old commentaries and cringe slightly. I’m sure if you spoke to Jules, he’d be exactly the same!”

“The professionalism involved in our television broadcast now is hugely better than it was back then, in both the production standards, and I hope in commentary standards,” Huewen believes.

As with many commentators, Huewen has bounced around various places, on both two wheels and four. See if you recognise the commentator in the clip above, published to F1’s YouTube channel, featuring Lewis Hamilton climbing from back to front during his karting days in 1998…

The second coming

With Sky moving away from World Superbikes however as the 1990s ended, the Huewen and Ryder pairing ended, for now at least.

Huewen spent the 2000s presenting Sky’s motor sport portfolio, from A1 Grand Prix to IndyCar, and whilst he admits he “could have ticked over at Sky forever,” presenting motor sport in a studio when other broadcasters were evolving their offering around him, was not where he wanted to be.

In addition, the emergence of Sky F1 at the beginning of 2012 meant that Sky’s existing motor sport rights became even less of a priority.

For Huewen, MotoGP’s move from the BBC and Eurosport to BT Sport ready for the start of 2014 season, presented new opportunities, and more importantly, a potential return to what he loved doing.

“The point here is that I really, really, really felt the loss of not being at the track covering World Superbikes or MotoGP and when BT took MotoGP on, I wanted to be there.”

The jigsaw fell into place for the Northampton-based commentator. Internal support from the powers that be at BT Sport sealed the deal for Huewen, whilst Huewen himself made it clear to Dorna, MotoGP’s Commercial Rights Holder, that he wanted to be back in the paddock.

“I’d made sure that the right people had known that we [Huewen and Ryder] were available to the point where I’d even gone out to Le Mans in 2013 to meet with [CEO] Carmelo Ezpeleta at Dorna to make sure that he knew so that if anybody from BT asked the boss at Dorna his opinion regarding commentators, he would know that I was in the marketplace,” Huewen recalls.

“Grant Best [BT’s Executive Director of Talent, Creative and Programming] at the time decided that he wanted Jules [Ryder] and I back together again. That meant that the likes of Steve Parrish and Toby Moody both very capable commentators, lost out.”

“But they lost out on the BT deal because it was decided that Jules and I were going to get back together again, and the rest is history as they say.”

Huewen is full of praise for the BT team that he leaves behind.

“The team that’s on BT is a well-oiled machine, everybody works well together. We’re very fortunate in that everybody shares information, which you don’t get in broadcasting that often. It’s an unusual situation.”

“Going back to the racing analogy, it’d be like sharing your notes as far as your data is concerned, with somebody that’s outside of your team, it’s rare.”

Commentating with Ryder and Hodgson

Contrary to what some on social media may believe, Huewen and Ryder are genuine friends, even if they sometimes did “aggravate each other” in the commentary box!

“People often ask ‘do you actually like each other.’ And we really do, we are good mates. We’re opposites in many of our viewpoints, but we always end up properly agreeing.”

“Our arguments have always been whoever can argue the most reasonably wins. If you’ve got the most reasonable argument over the other person, you win, eventually.”

“He’s never hit me. Although I think he probably wanted to.”

Hopefully not in commentary…

“It’s been close! I’ve had to stand up in front of the screen so I can get a go sometimes.”

Joking or not (reader, I will let you decide), Huewen’s and Ryder’s friendship goes beyond the commentary box, and the two still speak regularly about the action on track.

“Yeah, we still speak every week about what’s going on. We’re all connected in our field, journalists, riders, mechanics. We’ve known each other for decades.”

“Motorcycling is your life, and the fact you’re broadcasting now, even though it is a job in comparison, you’re still just as enthusiastic about it as you were then. I’ve spent nights lying in bed, looking through time sheets. Some people think that’s bloody ridiculous,” Huewen laughs.

“And it’s not because I have to, it’s because I want to!”

More recently, Neil Hodgson has succeeded Ryder in the commentary box alongside Huewen, a pairing that in Huewen’s eyes has worked “really well.”

“He’s got personality and he knows what he’s talking about at the end of the day. He’s like me, man and boy came up through the paddock. I knew his Mum and Dad for a long time, and I of course commentated on a lot of stuff Hodgy had done.”

“We have a very similar sense of humour, which always helps. We’re like brothers from a different mother, and that works really well.”

Citing the “unexpected positive effect of the pandemic,” Huewen stepped aside from BT’s offering following the conclusion of the 2020 season, but is also keen to emphasise that, like Ryder a few years earlier, he is not retiring.

What next then for both Huewen, and BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage? Who will succeed Huewen in the BT box? That is the next chapter to follow…

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MotoGP to remain on BT Sport until end of 2024 season

BT Sport is to remain home of MotoGP until the end of the 2024 season, after agreeing a new three-year deal with the series, the two parties announced today.

The pay-TV broadcaster has held exclusive live rights to the championship, including the feeder series Moto2 and Moto3 since the 2014 season, taking over from the BBC and Eurosport.

Their latest deal with MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna was set to expire following the 2021 season.

Now, both parties have confirmed that their relationship will stretch an additional three seasons, taking their partnership through year nine to eleven.

BT will continue to screen live and exclusive coverage of MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3, as well as the electric MotoE series.

Fans unwilling to pay for BT can purchase a Video Pass directly from MotoGP, at a cost of €199.99 (Β£176.58) covering the whole season.

BT’s MotoGP viewing figures rise

The news of a new three-year deal comes off the back of a positive year for BT.

Analysis conducted by Motorsport Broadcasting on consolidated audience data released by BARB shows that an average audience of 186,000 viewers watched MotoGP action on BT Sport during 2020, an increase of 15 percent on the equivalent 2019 figure of 161,000 viewers.

The good news for BT spreads to all three categories, with Moto2 and Moto3’s audiences rising by 49 percent and 80 percent respectively, mirroring similar increases to that of Formula Two and Formula Three.

An average of 111,000 viewers watched Moto2 action in 2020, compared with 74,000 viewers in 2019, while Moto3’s average rose from 53,000 viewers in 2019 to 96,000 viewers last season.

The Styrian Grand Prix was BT’s high point during 2020, as an average of 254,000 viewers watched their MotoGP race broadcast on August 23rd. The feeder races that day averaged 107,000 viewers and 128,000 viewers respectively.

Not only did MotoGP benefit from viewers staying at home during the pandemic, the rise comes in the face of many clashes with Formula 1: 9 of the 14 races clashed with F1 in some way last season.

The news of BT’s renewed commitment to MotoGP will be great for those that enjoy BT’s offering, but disappointing for those that were hoping that MotoGP would return to free-to-air television.

Whilst BT does offer excellent coverage, their figures are lower than those achieved when the championship aired on the BBC, when an average of around one million viewers watched each MotoGP race.

As The Race outlines, pay television broadcasters have considerable sway in the paddock due to the money they invest in the championship, and without that money, some teams or riders would simply be unable to race.

If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic means that pay-TV money becomes even more important for championships such as MotoGP.

What they say

In a statement, Simon Green, Managing Director at BT Sport, said “We are extremely proud to continue as the home of MotoGP in the UK and Ireland.”

“BT Sport has the best presentation team delivering the most comprehensive MotoGP coverage that UK fans have ever enjoyed, with every single practice, qualifying and race broadcast in full.”

“I would also like to congratulate Dorna on safely and successfully completing the 2020 season, one of the most exciting we have seen, and thank them for collaborating with us to bring some great new programming to our audiences during last year’s lockdown,” Green added.

Manel Arroyo, Managing Director at Dorna Sports, said “BT Sport are one of our most important partners and we are delighted to see MotoGP remain with them until at least 2024, securing top quality coverage for the sport in one of our most important markets. Fans in the UK and Ireland couldn’t ask for more.”

“After a thrilling but challenging 2020 season, we are proud to see this partnership confirmed to continue and mark a decade of collaboration.”

“We would also like to thank BT Sport for their support in 2020 and look forward to at least another four seasons working together,” Arroyo concluded.

The 2021 season is currently set to begin with a double header in Qatar on March 28th and April 4th.

BT will begin the new season with a new lead commentator following Keith Huewen’s decision to step down from his role. The identity of the new lead is currently unconfirmed.

Keith Huewen steps down as BT Sport’s MotoGP lead commentator

Note from David – Another big development on the commentary front, this time on two wheels.

Keith Huewen has announced that he will stand down from his role as BT Sport’s MotoGP lead commentator with immediate effect.

He is the second high-profile commentator to leave his role in recent weeks, following Ben Edwards’ decision to leave Channel 4’s F1 team. Huewen, 64, has been part of BT’s team covering the sport since the broadcaster took over coverage from the BBC in 2014.

Writing on Twitter, Huewen cites the “unexpected positive effect of the pandemic restrictions” as his main reason for stepping aside.

“At a highpoint in both MotoGP coverage and my commentary career, I have decided after much consideration, and with the agreement of BT Sport, to step away from their brilliant coverage,” he said.

“It is my intention to be trackside again soon, but there has been an unexpected positive effect of the pandemic restrictions – spending more time with my family.”

“This upside helped me to decide to spend more time in the UK in the future, but I’ll echo the words of Julian Ryder not that long ago: β€˜I am not retiring'”

Huewen’s broadcasting career, like Edwards, has spanned four different decades, across a variety of different broadcasters. His MotoGP role in recent years has thrown Huewen back into the limelight, after spending most of the 2000s away from the motorcycling paddock in a commentating capacity.

Julian Ryder has partnered Huewen in the commentary box for most of his commentary career, before Ryder himself stepped aside following the 2017 season.

Since then, the likes of Gavin Emmett, Michael Laverty and Neil Hodgson have partnered Huewen to take viewers through the three classes during a race weekend.

“My sincere and heartfelt thanks go to BT, Dorna, IRTA [International Road-Racing Teams Association], North One, Tall Audio, and all my lovely colleagues for their company through the last seven years,” Huewen added.

“They are the best in the business and I’m sure they will continue to bring you outstanding coverage of MotoGP. I’ll now do what we all do – shout at the TV and tell anyone in the room the things the commentators have missed. It’s easy when you’re sat at home on the sofa!”

“Thank you for your support, I’ll see you trackside again soon.”

BT Sport will confirm Huewen’s replacement in due course for the 2021 season, the last year in their current arrangement with Dorna.

The parallels between Huewen and Edwards, and the COVID impact
The decisions by both Huewen and Edwards in recent weeks to leave their respective commentary positions have caught many by surprise, but underneath the surface, their careers have followed very similar paths.

Both started their broadcasting career around 25 to 30 years ago. Edwards quickly became a popular figure leading Eurosport’s Formula 1 offering alongside John Watson, whilst Huewen did likewise as part of Sky’s World Superbikes coverage alongside Ryder.

But both spent most of the 2000s outside of the spotlight comparatively speaking. Huewen fronted most of Sky’s motor sport offering on four wheels from Chiswick. Edwards remained in the commentary both, helping the profile of A1 Grand Prix towards the end of the decade.

It was only during the 2010s, however, when the two returned to their roots. Edwards was a beneficiary of the Sky and BBC split of Formula 1 rights, joining the BBC’s F1 team.

For Huewen, the move of MotoGP from BBC and Eurosport to BT Sport opened the doors for him to return to where he wanted to be: the motorcycling paddock, and the MotoGP commentary booth, reuniting with Ryder.

Fast-forward to 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in both Huewen and Edwards commentating on two and four-wheels respectively from off-site.

And both have reached the same decision after a period of reflection: to step down from their respective duties, spending more time at home with their families.

Whether we are likely to see more changes is unclear, but what is clear is that the pandemic has caused some in the industry to reflect on the current situation, and conclude that they do not want to be part of the travelling circus (at least in a permanent capacity moving forward).

F1’s record-breaking 23 race calendar for 2021 has been the main talking point in recent weekends, but MotoGP too has a record-breaking season scheduled, with 20 race weekends on the agenda.

Whilst broadcasters are adapting behind the camera because of the pandemic, they also need to adapt in front of their camera.

In my view, as discussed previously, broadcasters need to be willing to rotate their on-air talent, keeping not only their programming fresh, but also avoiding the potential of having more talent walk away in the future.

The candidates to replace Huewen
The person Huewen beat to the BT position, Toby Moody is likely to be a front runner to step back into the commentary booth, having led Eurosport’s MotoGP coverage for many years in the 2000s.

Current MotoGP World Feed commentator Steve Day could be another contender for the BT role. Alternatively, BT may decide to look in-house, promoting Gavin Emmett up to the lead commentary position.

If BT Sport and production company North One already know the answer to the question then we may well find out the answer very soon, and knowing my luck, we probably will…

Keep an eye out for an exclusive interview with Keith Huewen when Motorsport Broadcasting re-launches in 2021.

Scheduling: The 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix

For the first time in 24 years, Formula 1 heads to Portugal for the Portuguese Grand Prix!

Instead of heading to Estoril, which hosted the last race there in 1996, the championship instead heads to the 2.9-mile circuit in the Algarve for its inaugural visit.

Live coverage of the race airs as usual on Sky Sports F1, the Grand Prix itself beginning at 13:10 UK time.

Later, the IndyCar Series concludes with the race that was meant to begin its COVID-19 disrupted year in St Petersburg. Scott Dixon looks set to clinch the crown, but Josef Newgarden is close in his mirror.

As if that was not enough, Sky are also airing live coverage of the Spa 24 Hours on Sky Sports F1! The majority of the 24 hours air live on the channel. I would expect the remainder to air live behind the Red Button, but this is unconfirmed as of writing.

With F1 and IndyCar, it means there is over 37 hours of live motor sport on Sky next weekend.

Elsewhere, the British Touring Car Championship starts earlier than usual on ITV4, as the nights draw in heading into the Winter months.

NOTE: Clocks go back one hour on Sunday 25th October, with the change from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time. The times listed are for BST on Saturday and before; GMT for Sunday and afterwards…

Channel 4 F1
24/10 – 17:30 to 19:00 – Qualifying Highlights
25/10 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
23/10 – 10:30 to 12:45 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 10:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 11:00 – Practice 1
23/10 – 14:45 to 16:45 – Practice 2
24/10 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3
24/10 – 13:00 to 15:30 – Qualifying
25/10 – 11:30 to 16:30 – Race
=> 11:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 13:05 – Race
=> 15:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 16:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
23/10 – 16:45 to 17:15 – The Story so Far
25/10 – 16:30 to 17:30 – Race to Perfection
28/10 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Midweek Debrief

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
25/10 – 13:00 to 15:20 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

MotoGP – Teruel (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on MotoGP’s Video Pass (Β£)
23/10 – 08:00 to 10:45 – Practice 1
23/10 – 12:00 to 15:00 – Practice 2
24/10 – 08:00 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
25/10 – 07:45 to 15:00
=> 07:45 – Warm Ups
=> 09:30 – Moto3
=> 11:30 – MotoGP
=> 13:15 – Moto2
=> 14:30 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Teruel< (Quest)
26/10 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

24 Hours of Spa (Sky Sports F1)
Also airs live on YouTube
24/10 and 25/10 – Race
=> 15:30 to 20:00
=> 21:30 BST [Saturday] to 11:30 GMT [Sunday]

British Touring Car Championship – Snetterton (ITV4)
25/10 – 10:05 to 16:55 – Races

IndyCar Series – St Petersburg (Sky Sports F1)
24/10 – 20:00 to 21:30 – Qualifying
25/10 – 18:30 to 20:30 – Race

If details change, this article will be updated.


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Scheduling: The 2020 Eifel Grand Prix

Formula 1 returns to the NΓΌrburgring for the first time in seven years this weekend, for the inaugural Eifel Grand Prix!

Live coverage of the race weekend airs on Sky Sports with Ted Kravitz and Simon Lazenby re-joining the team. It is unclear if Martin Brundle is also back with the line-up as of writing.

Elsewhere, with Triumph’s visitor experience centre in Hinkley reopening to the public, BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage is moving.

The crew are relocating to the BT Tower in central London for the remainder of 2020.

The main races for F1 and MotoGP this weekend both begin an hour earlier. F1’s change is driven by the earlier sunset times as the European season concludes later than usual, dictating a change for MotoGP to avoid a head to head clash.

Channel 4 F1
10/10 – 17:30 to 19:00 – Qualifying Highlights
11/10 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
09/10 – 09:30 to 11:50
=> 09:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 10:00 – Practice 1
09/10 – 13:45 to 15:45 – Practice 2
10/10 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3
10/10 – 13:00 to 15:35 – Qualifying
11/10 – 11:30 to 16:30 – Race
=> 11:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 13:05 – Race
=> 15:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 16:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
09/10 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The Story so Far
09/10 – 17:00 to 18:30 – F1 Pro Series Draft
10/10 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Race to Perfection
14/10 – 19:30 to 21:00 – F1 Pro Series Race 1 and 2
14/10 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Midweek Debrief
15/10 – 19:30 to 21:00 – F1 Pro Series Race 3

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
09/10 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
09/10 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
10/10 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/10 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race Updates (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – FranceΒ (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on MotoGP’s Video Pass (Β£)
09/10 – 08:00 to 10:45 – Practice 1
09/10 – 12:00 to 15:00 – Practice 2
10/10 – 08:00 to 16:00
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
=> 15:00 – MotoE
11/10 – 07:45 to 15:00
=> 07:45 – Warm Ups
=> 09:30 – Moto3
=> 11:30 – MotoGP
=> 13:15 – Moto2
=> 14:30 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – FranceΒ (Quest)
12/10 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

British Touring Car Championship – CroftΒ (ITV4)
11/10 – 11:30 to 18:05 – Races

World Rally Championship – ItalyΒ (All Live)
Also airs live on WRC+Β (Β£)
09/10 – 06:45 to 16:45 – Stages 1 to 6 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 06:50 – Stage 1
=> 07:44 – Stage 2
=> 09:40 – Stage 3
=> 10:34 – Stage 4
=> 15:14 – Stage 5
=> 15:59 – Stage 6
10/10 – 06:00 to 17:45 – Stages 7 to 12 (BT Sport Extra 3)
=> 06:38 – Stage 7
=> 07:30 – Stage 8
=> 09:07 – Stage 9
=> 10:00 – Stage 10
=> 15:00 – Stage 11
=> 16:02 – Stage 12
11/10 – 06:15 to 12:45 – Stages 13 to 16Β (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 07:15 – Stage 13
=> 08:00 – Stage 14
=> 10:10 – Stage 15
=> 11:00 – Stage 16

World Rally Championship – Italy
10/10 – 00:30 to 01:00 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
10/10 – 07:30 to 08:30 – Stage 8 (BT Sport 3)
10/10 – 10:00 to 11:00 – Stage 10 (BT Sport 3)
10/10 – 15:00 to 16:00 – Stage 11 (BT Sport 3)
11/10 – 02:00 to 02:30 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
11/10 – 08:00 to 09:00 – Stage 14 (BT Sport 1)
11/10 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Stage 16 [Power Stage] (BT Sport 1)
11/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
TBA – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

World Touring Car Cup – SlovakiaΒ (Eurosport)
11/10 – 07:55 to 12:00 – Race 1
11/10 – 11:30 to 12:30 – Race 2

This article will be updated if schedules change.


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