Track Talk Interview: "Behind The Microphone" with Liam Jenkins
The person that provides the voice for any commentary in motorsport is able to help provide the play-by-play action that unfolds every time the lights go green. One such individual, who is a recent addition to the ranks of those commentators that are travelling to race tracks, be it either on the national or international, is 19-year-old Liam Jenkins, who was the winner of the MotorsTV Got Talent competition, which took place at the Autosport International Show this January past.
Liam now is part of the commentary team for Motors TV for their coverage of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, which has some excellent talent in their ranks, which includes an Olympian in the form of Sir Chris Hoy. This promising young and talented young hopeful took part in his very first TV live broadcast for the opening round of the series at the Home of British Motor Racing, Silverstone.
Lima kindly took the time to speak to us here at National Vehicle Contracts about his initial thoughts when he got the call from Motors TV, the advice he’s been given and lots more, ahead of another busy weekend at another race track.
Nationwide Vehicle Contracts: Liam, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us here at NVC. What were the first thoughts and reaction when you got the news of being the winner?
Liam Jenkins: Honestly, I thought it was a prank call at first. My left hand was shaking so badly that I couldn’t even hold the phone properly when I was told that I was now an official MotorsTV employee. I said: “Are you serious?”
It sort of sunk in after about ten minutes and then I went and told the family what had happened. It was honestly one of the best feelings, knowing that something you’ve worked hard for over the last four or five years doing work that is not at that sort of level, for it to pay off for something that big is just absolutely brilliant.
NVC: How did you come to be inspired to follow the path that would lead to being in the commentary booth?
LJ: I think that the first point that gave me that spark was when I was 13. In my philosophy class, my teacher said that I should have my own radio programme in the dead of night and be allowed to talk as long as I like and no one would listen.
It kind of struck a chord, and may have just been coincidence that it could have led from that. I started doing YouTube videos whilst having that “dark spot” that many youngsters have during their teenage years, but it was a release for me to put them up and use F1 2010 on Xbox and shout over the races like Martin Brundle or the great Murray Walker.
I got in touch with Jack Nicholls, who currently does work with Radio Five Live, Blancpain and now Formula E, and being that I was only fifteen at the time, he was able to give me a lot of advice.
The Autosport competition in January of 2012 was to put a video out of yourself commentating, so I decided to use all the videos that I had made into a compilation of me screaming over the video whilst people were crashing. I somehow won and got invited to attend the show and commentate on the Live Action Arena show, but they felt it was not long enough.
So they decided to give me trackside experience, which was alongside David Addison doing Formula 3 at Brands Hatch, which was just brilliant. I was still only 16, but it was also a great experience. After that, Sim Raceway picked me up and gave me a contract to make me exclusive to them for a while.
That was rather humbling and I thought that it was going to be as big as it could get. But at the time, I didn’t know that they were also linked with Radio Le Mans, so one evening, I came home from work, with the broadcast set to start in about 40 minutes.
They then tell me that I have a co-commentator, so I was thinking, “OK, it’s probably a driver or a player to give some insight,” but they told me that it would be John Hindhaugh. It was almost like a dream come true, after I pinched myself, so we had a great chat, even though he has been a role model for me to look up to.
I got a phone call from him a couple of weeks later, talking about routes to go down, best people to get in contact with, choices for university. I started to do some work for BBC Radio for their sports coverage, and the Head of Sport has been keeping a close eye on me, as well as everything that I’ve done on MotorsTV ever since.
He then advised me to get in touch with Radio Devon, so I did some interview piece there, and then the MotorsTV competition showed up. A lot of my friends posted on my Facebook timeline that I should really think about entering.
So I skipped the shift from work to get to Autosport, but I ended up going on my own, as my family were all busy, there were no friends available either. I took a five-hour trip by coach to enter this competition, which took me no more than a couple of minutes or so and then that was it. Then I just went around and had a look at the cars, which was nice, but going up there on your own wasn’t quite the way that I planned it.
Surprisingly enough, I thought I’d done a lot better in the presenting side of it, rather than the commentary, which was a little weird, but ever since then, things have kind of snowballed. I ended up doing a Britcar race for the circuit commentary after MotorsTV, and because they were really impressed, they asked me to come back and commentate for the rest of the season.
MotorsTV asked me to be the lead commentator for the live broadcast, so I had Martin Haven standing behind me for three hours just in case I did mess up, so if I did make a mistake, he would step in and give me a chance to have a break.
Being 19 and commentating on a live broadcast for a race that is pretty much considered the jewel of the season was quite daunting, but luckily, Martin was never needed, and I thought it went rather well. After landing the TV work, everything has just snowballed, as I am living the dream.
NVC: You say that John’s been a big help giving you pointers, as Martin will have done so too. It is a case of you having a very steep learning curve, if that’s the best way of putting it?
LJ: Definitely, as I noticed the first thing was that on live TV, there are cuts to commercial breaks every so often, so I had to time that. It all stemmed back to the advice that John gave me when it came to delivery and tone of voice. He said that if you are calm in the lead up to a battle, the fans will get more from it, and then when it all starts, then you pick up your tone and put more vocal depth to it.
This is rather than screaming for 2 hours, where people will lose interest and think that the commentary is “air pollution” instead. So I have taken a lot of things on board, as both Martin Haven and Europsort have given me some advice as well. It has been such a massive help, when it comes the advice I’ve been given, I would not be anywhere near this situation right now. This is because that nurturing it rather than it being a screaming mess into a microphone.
NVC: You recently did your first live broadcast. From your own perspective, how did it feel from the moment you started running through the grid order before the race started, and were you nervous?
LJ: It was a strange sensation, because it was funny having a headset on, with someone talking to you all the time. They will give updates such as updates on the grid, interviews coming up, as well as on-track battles, so there is a lot of information to process.
In all honesty, the start felt a bit wobbly, because I had to try and keep track of all the information being sent my way, as the field made their way around the last couple of corners before the green flag.
After the first five minutes of frantic action, the racing calmed down quite a bit, which in turn helped me to get into the routine of treating it like a regular broadcast. That is the best way to approach it, because if you think that it is going to be the biggest moment in your career, then a lot of mistakes can be made.
Sometimes it is best just to ignore a lot of the things that are going on, as it makes things easier to deal with as the race carries on. You’re not always sure on just how to react to the madness at the very start, but nice to get into a rhythm that I didn’t think was possible.
NVC: Finally, Liam, there is the recent news that NISSAN have announced their return to the LMP1 scene with the GT-R LM NISMO. What are your thoughts on the Japanese manufacturer deciding to come back as the “bad boys” of endurance?
LJ: I think it is brilliant, as the excitement and promise that the Deltawing brought was just fantastic. But the potential that they have with their driver roster in not just their own ranks, but with GT Academy drivers such as Jann Mardenborough and Florian Strauss. Alex Buncombe is also another that is their secret weapon, with what he can do in a GT3 car, as well as Sir Chris Hoy wanting to compete at Le Mans in 2016.
A lot of drivers like Jann will be ones to watch, especially if you put him in a fast car, then they are going to be competitive. If they can get the car right, then it will be an exciting World Endurance Championship, which is exactly what the sport needs. Last season was great to watch and this year already has another big name in the form of Porsche here to shake things up. With Nissan’s return, we could see endurance racing back to its glory days.
NVC: Liam, we here at NVC would like to wish you all the very best for the future.
LJ: Thank you very much.
Liam is constantly learning his trade step-by-step, and is humbled by the chances that he has been given in order to follow in the footsteps of well-known names that prove that being that voice that can entrance us to enjoy racing, no matter where it may be.
We’d like to thank Liam for taking the time to talk to us, and look forward to seeing how he progressed in his own right as a motorsports commentator. (you can read more interviews in the series here).