George Addo Jr and Gary Al-Smith

For any pair of boots to fit snugly and make the wearer feel great, both feet must fill them well. And that’s exactly what JoyNews have got in George Addo Jr and Gary Al-Smith.

When it comes to finding exciting journalistic duos, it’s a delicate thing, because such combos rely heavily on chemistry, which is not easy to achieve. Indeed, such alliances are even rarer among sports journalists, mainly because the art is so personality driven – and examples abound of hard it is to match two strong egos to operate as a successful tag team.

But there have been some good ones in the past.

Who could forget the Martin Tyler – Andy Gray combination that delighted global football audiences for years? Or, before them, Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves between the 1970s until the early 1990s on British television and radio? Ghanaian sports journalism history has struggled to find such natural combinations, but two readily spring to mind: Kwabena Agyapong (who was an excellent sports journalist before becoming a politician) and Paapa Painstil of the late 1980s GBC days; and the exciting Kofi Asare Brako – Charles Osei Asibey duo of Peace FM’s Power Sports.

Born by accident

For the last four to five years, the local media scene has seen the rise of another dynamic duo again, in Gary and George.

George Addo Jr and Gary Al-Smith running a Ghana Premier League match commentary at Accra Sports Stadium

“As with most things, it happened by accident,” Al-Smith tells Graphic Showbiz, recalling the origins of his partnership with George. “We were both scheduled to run commentary on Joy FM’s coverage of Euro 2016, and happened to be paired on one of the games. It just took off.”

What listeners were treated to was a contrast that will become synonymous for years to come: George’s distinct, sing-song commentary voice; and Gary’s almost husky, analytical, fact-laden colorization of games.

“Gary and I are very detail-oriented. I spend hours readying for games, practicing scenarios, and going over previous match information. You will find him to be similarly meticulous,” George says.

The Showbiz has previously – in 2016 and 2018 – profiled George Addo as Ghana’s best English commentator, while the African Union of Broadcasters has also described him as “a future household name across the continent” after his superb work at the last African Cup. The man himself explains why he seems to work best with Gary. “I think it’s because of his depth, and it shines through when he is summarizing games.”

Al-Smith is well-read and well-travelled, and his inferences to everything from current affairs, history, geopolitics, literature and the sciences provide JoyNews and Joy FM audiences with insightful background. “I’ve always thought providing sporting content should not be boring, and offering audiences a bit more is what I aim for. George complements me extremely well because he also offers a poetic style. The synergy keeps our audience guessing.”

What makes them tick?

Both old boys of the Presbyterian Boys’ Secondary School, the duo have credited their success as a duo to three key things. “Mutual respect, acceptance of each other’s weaknesses, and a commitment to amplify our respective strengths,” Addo says.

He is right, because even though radio is where their combo was born, the duo transitioned the experience to television almost seamlessly. Once you watch their TV shows, it stays with you, as audiences have noticed from their bi-annual Joy Transfer Deadline Day specials since 2016, coverage of competitions such as the World Cup and European competitions.

Last year, Gary and George delivered a truly world class tag-team offering when they starred on JoyNews’ coverage of the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. They appeared in television bulletins together, gave live updates of matches from the stadia, and brought exclusive interviews to viewers, even after the Black Stars had exited the competition.

“We were the only Ghanaian media with a solid presence there, and it was really great to be sharing booths with the BBCs, the BeIN Sports, the France 24s and the like,” George – who also strings for the BBC – admits.

Gary Al-Smith and George Addo Jr at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final in Egypt

Gary is no stranger to the global scene either, as he regularly does features for the Guardian, Al Jazeera, Premier League, CNN and others. “For me, our training when it comes to these international news houses demands nothing but world class output for every gig, and I think that attitude is what we bring to sports production for JoyNews,” he says.

During the lockdown, the true international reach of the duo was brought to bear on JoyNews as they paraded a host of global newsmakers on almost weekly basis: among them Peter Drury, Jim Beglin, Jon Champion, Robert Marawa, Carol Tshabalala…and on and on.

“The interesting thing is that JoyNews has had a culture of lining up such big hitters and newsmakers in our sports news for years. I think people just took proper notice during the lockdown,” Gary surmises.

Gary and George credit their chemistry to a friendship that has gone beyond the studio. “Everyone at work knows we vibe a lot, and I think the audience can feel that vibe on the screens and the airwaves,” George says.

The duo are currently the editors at Joy Sports, but throughout the conversation, repeatedly alluded to the strength of their entire team. “People just see the final output, but we have a really solid team working beside us. A lot of team planning and brainstorming from all the guys on the desk goes into what we do,” George emphasizes.

JoySports is rapidly becoming the most engaging sports media brand in Ghana today

Digital dynamism

Indeed, of all the JoyNews sub-brands, Joy Sports is probably the loudest, especially on digital media, where their edgy, colourful promos and artworks are hard to miss. Cumulatively, the two men have close to half a million engaged followers on social media, and their pages are always busy.

“Our team’s digital media accounts currently have the largest followings in sports media in Ghana now. When the cameras go off on our radio and TV shows, our audiences know the conversation is still live on those platforms,” Gary, the team’s digital media lead, notes. Readers may recall that in one July 2017 edition of this paper, columnist Francis Doku had high praise for Gary’s unique ability to drive conversations between traditional and digital media.

According to the duo, the key lessons from these years of building a partnership are chemistry, discipline, trust, and relentlessness. With these attributes, it sure sounds like JoyNews sports content will continue to wow audiences and be even more exciting.