Radio Hornet (Volume 5)
For fans in the 1980s, the sound of Radio Hornet was part of the Vicarage Road matchday experience. Its voice Adam Cummings reminisces with Geoff Wicken
“Would the owner of the white Ford Escort parked illegally in Cardiff Road please move it immediately, as it’s causing an obstruction. If you don’t move it within the next five minutes, the police will move it for you!”
For fans at Vicarage Road in the 1980s, the match-going experience was incomplete without such an announcement on Radio Hornet. It was invariably delivered by the familiar voice of Adam Cummings, and it still rolls easily off his tongue today. Supporters from the period could sometimes spot the guilty party hurrying towards an exit. Many would have had record requests played on their behalf, and might recall the acknowledgements given to Past and Present Records of St Albans Road.
Football at Watford in the 1980s seemed different from football elsewhere. This wasn’t only thanks to the golden era on the pitch, but the entire environment at Vicarage Road. The decade overall was notorious for crowd trouble. Stadia were rundown and lacking in investment – apart from the fences put up to keep supporters separated and prevent pitch invasions. There was talk of identity cards being imposed on fans. But Graham Taylor and Elton John wanted Watford to be a friendly, welcoming and inclusive place to visit, for home and visiting supporters alike, and the evolution of Vicarage Road reflected that. Radio Hornet was designed to be a part of this, acting as an interface between club and fans. Adam was part of the team who set it up in 1978, and was its frontman for 16 years. He readily admits how – as with so much at Watford Football Club in that era – Graham Taylor was key to how it developed.
Engaging with fans
As soon as Graham joined in 1977 he set about involving the club with its supporters. Radio Hornet was one of his early initiatives, conceived towards the end of the 1977/78 Division 4 championship season. He wanted the club to engage more with fans on matchdays. This meant upgrading the communication from rather basic tannoy announcements (team changes, badly-parked cars’ registration numbers) to a radio-style service.
He must have thought back to an encounter with the team he had met from Mount Vernon Hospital Radio in Northwood six months earlier. Adam takes up the story: “I was volunteering at Mount Vernon, and I’d always been a Watford fan. By the time I was 19 or 20, once we were off air on Thursday nights we would rush off to The Gate pub in Chorleywood. We got to know Bobby Downes and Brian Pollard, who used to drink in there. They told us that the new manager wanted to get everybody involved in the community. So we thought: why not ask to do a feature on the football club for hospital radio? We wrote to the club and, amazingly, they said yes! We went along and interviewed Elton, who was there.”
He has kept a newspaper clipping. The picture is a gem. It shows three young men. From left to right, we see the dynamic football manager who’s starting to make a name for himself; the world’s biggest pop star; and a hospital radio presenter. Their clothing choices speak volumes. Graham Taylor gives an impression of seriousness in his formal suit and period kipper tie. Elton John is expensively tailored, even if dressed down by his usual sartorial standards. Adam Cummings has gone for the student look, with denim jacket and Mount Vernon Hospital Radio tee-shirt. Behind them, the Shrodells Stand rusts, rots and crumbles before our eyes.
Graham invited Adam and his colleague Dave Dawson to join the players for a training session, and to travel on the team coach to an away game. “I think the training was at Woodside. We did the very basic stuff, and only lasted about five minutes – I smoked then – but we did some more interviews with other members of staff. The following day we went on the coach to Aldershot. We weren’t allowed in to listen to the pre-match talk, but we talked to Graham on the way back. We then edited it all into a 30-minute programme for the hospital radio.” Another of Adam’s clippings shows him jogging with Roger Joslyn, Luther Blissett and Keith Mercer. In case of doubt, Adam is the one with the spindly legs, wearing the rugby shirt!
Six months later the club got back in touch. “We got a call from Eddie Plumley, the Chief Executive, who said: ‘’we’re looking to do something more supporter-orientated, by starting a proper pre-match entertainment programme. Would you be interested?’ We decided to go for it. At the time Ron Rollitt was putting on a few discs on a record player underneath the stairs up to the old directors’ box, with a mixer linked to all the loudspeakers.” The new service launched in August 1978. It was featured in the season’s opening match programme under the heading ‘Radio Hornet Is Go!’, with fans being encouraged to send comments and suggestions.
The early days
Things were pretty basic in the early days. As Adam relates: “They put us up next to the hospital commentary broadcasters at the back of the old main stand. But they didn’t have time to get in proper equipment, so for the first six months we had somebody down below with the old machine cueing up the records. The new scoreboard went in at the same time, and the operators were in the same room as us. It wouldn’t always work – it was frustrating. It was very easy to over-flick the switches – you’d jump from one to three goals and have to go back.
“This was all voluntary – we weren’t paid to start with, until around the time Watford got to the first division, at which point we said ‘we’re working pretty hard here’, and they put us on the stewards’ wages. But it certainly wasn’t a fortune.”
They instituted some regular music features. “Graham had brought the Z-Cars theme back, and we started the idea of playing different tunes up to kick-off. The main one was Chariots of Fire after that film came out in 1981. I thought that summed up what Watford were about – the little guy fighting back – and it is very stirring.
“We couldn’t always afford to buy the records, so we borrowed some from the hospital radio. Past and Present Records let us have a few – sometimes lent, sometimes for keeping. A fan called Malcolm Hill was an A&R man with EMI and let us have a lot of their records; then Muff Winwood who was at CBS came on board, so we’d get their records through him. We got quite a lot of records for free one way or another.”
Almost everyone involved with the club in the 1980s talks of Graham Taylor’s influence on them, and Adam is no different. “I learned more about life from Graham than anyone else: values such as honesty, decency and loyalty. I also learned about the need for teamwork – Radio Hornet wasn't just me but a team – and above all how important community was. Watford FC was part of the wider Watford community, and the things we did were all designed to enhance that at a time when football was threatened by hooligans from one side and government on the other.
“We started the use of the phrase ‘Enjoy the Game!’ after reading the teams out. We were very careful to include the opposition. On behalf of the club we genuinely meant it when we wished a warm welcome to all supporters, players and officials from…maybe even Luton, given that Graham and David Pleat were trying to improve the atmosphere between the two clubs.”
In the last week of the 1982/83 season Luton brought their first team to Vicarage Road for Ross Jenkins’ testimonial match, despite being due to face a final-day relegation battle at Manchester City four days later. During the game some hostile chanting started. Adam recalls how Graham reacted: “He ran up the stairs to our box, and burst through our door saying, ‘I want the microphone please.’ He grabbed it, and demanded over the PA system that the chanting must stop, as Luton should be shown proper respect in the circumstances.”
Falling foul of the manager:
Adam occasionally got the wrong side of Graham too. On one occasion a prank backfired: “There was a cup match against Chelsea on a Sunday. I had a friend who supported Rangers, and the day before they’d lost 0-1 to Hamilton Academicals in the Scottish Cup, the goal being scored by Adrian Sprott. At half-time on the Sunday I announced: ‘here’s a dedication for the Glasgow branch of the Chelsea Supporters Club from Adrian Sprott’. A week later, Graham asked me who had made that request. I said I wasn’t sure and that I must have jotted it down quickly; he said: ‘be very careful next time’. So he knew, and I knew that he knew, but he wasn’t going to call me out, and I wasn’t going to admit it. That sums up how he knew everything that went on in the club, even with us. He marked my card there.”
That wasn’t the only incident. “In 1980/81 Malcom Poskett scored two goals in a 4-2 win against Cardiff. The second was very fortunate, the kind that hit both posts and went in off his knee. I said over the PA system: ‘that goal was scored by Malcolm Poskett, and he’ll never score a luckier one than that’, and Graham and Sam Ellis turned round and glared at me from the bench. Graham used that to make a point in the local press, and for the rest of that season, every time Sam Ellis saw me, he’d say: ‘hello Adam, seen any more lucky goals recently?’
“One year we asked the players to tell us their favourite records, and we played them up to kick-off. Steve Harrison chose ‘The Laughing Policeman’. So we played it just before the match, and Steve was out there warming up, giving it all the moves. Graham did not approve – there was a sense of humour failure there!”
Adam found the players generally very friendly, and in a small way Radio Hornet’s facilities helped one of them with his CV. “In midweek Nigel Callaghan used to come up into our box after training at the ground – I don’t know how he got the key – and would go in and play his records. We had some proper decks by then, connected up to the loudspeakers. It was a mix of playing his own music and practising for what turned out to be his post-football career.”
There were events away from the stadium too. “We started to get involved in other things, for example the Benskins promotion on Thursday nights in 1981/82, when supporters could get a free pint if Watford had won the previous week. The players would go along to pubs, and we’d go too. That was a great season, when it really felt that everybody was in it together, and we were made to feel part of it.
Looking through match programmes from the era, there aren’t many pictures connected with Radio Hornet – not surprisingly perhaps, given that it was an audio medium. But one front cover catches the eye. It’s from October 1986, nine years after Adam, Elton and Graham were first photographed together, and had been taken the previous week. Watford were now in their fifth season in Division 1, and a comparison of the two pictures demonstrates how much progress the club had made. Two of the four subjects re-appear. Graham isn’t visible, although he was still the manager. The Shrodells Stand isn’t in the picture – it had been demolished and replaced by the new Rous Stand, subsequently of course re-named the Graham Taylor Stand. Elton John is there, wielding a large key as he participates in the opening ceremony. Adam Cummings, far smarter in 1986 than 1977, is on the pitch conducting proceedings.
The three men in the 1977 picture are still part of the Vicarage Road scene today. Graham is memorialised in statue form, Elton a spectator when his time permits. Both have stands named after them. That was never going to happen to Adam of course. But he was lucky enough to be there as the golden age unfolded, in a unique role as participant and observer. And he’s still a season-ticket holder to this day – in the Graham Taylor Stand.
This article is taken from Volume 5 of The Watford Treasury. To purchase please click on the link below