Rolf Kalb – Germany’s Voice Of Snooker
For 34 years, Rolf Kalb has been the key figure in snooker broadcasting across Germany, during a period which has seen the country acquire a legion of passionate fans for the sport.
Whether it be commentating from his purpose-built home studio or working in front of thousands of people at the iconic Tempodrom in Berlin, Kalb has devoted his life to snooker.
After a stint as the media officer for the German Cuesports Federation, while Kalb studied at university, he was asked to join the team at Eurosport.
At this point snooker was still very much a niche sport in the country, but 1989 marked the beginning of German language commentary on Eurosport. Kalb was seen as the perfect fit for the role and took up the mantel with open arms.
Kalb explained: “When Eurosport started up international commentary, the head of German commentary already knew me and asked if I would join the team. He thought I would be good for the channel, I did a couple of programmes and it went well. At that time, there were no German journalists that had any clue about snooker other than me. It was an obvious choice for who should be the commentator.”
Kalb doesn’t do things in half measures and has thrown everything at his role as head commentator. This has involved building a studio in his house, which has allowed him to broadcast from home. He has also put in a huge amount of time delving into the statistical minutiae of the sport.
Alongside Belgian commentator Rudy Bauwens and British broadcaster David Hendon, he has put together a comprehensive statistical database. This has taken up countless hours of Kalb’s time.
“There are basically only two days each year when I don’t work on snooker, that is Christmas and New Year!” he laughs. “Every other day I am working, because I am following everything which is going on. I follow all of the qualifiers and fill out my spreadsheets with results, breaks and all of the other stuff.
“When we go on air covering an event, that is all thanks to my daily work. They say that for one hour of programme, if you are well informed about the sport, you need two hours of preparation. Very often I am on air for up to ten hours at a time. That would mean I’d need to prepare for another 20 hours. Even my day only has 24 hours in it! I need to eat and sleep.
“People always think I’m sitting in a cellar doing commentary. That isn’t true, it is a fully equipped studio. I started setting this up in 2006 and the kit required has been evolving ever since then. A lot has changed, because in the beginning we got the production feed from satellite. I needed a massive dish on my roof to pick that up. Nowadays everything is electronic and you get the feed via IP on the internet. I have a proper mixer and headset now and control what goes through to Eurosport.”
Snooker has enjoyed a meteoric ascension in popularity in Germany over the years while Kalb has been in the box. The German Masters is now one of the best attended tournaments on the calendar and the Tempodrom in Berlin regularly hosts bumper crowds of nearly 2,500.
For that week, Kalb combines his duties as a commentator with being the event’s official Master of Ceremonies. He introduces the players into the arena and then dashes backstage to take up his place in the commentary box.
While the rise in snooker’s popularity in other regions have required a catalyst, in Germany it seems to be a more organic intrigue. The growth in the Chinese market began when Ding Junhui acquired superstar status in his home country by winning the 2005 China Open. Although Germany does have a professional in world number 100 Lukas Kleckers, they are yet to have a player reach the very top of the sport. However, Kalb believes that isn’t the be all and end all for snooker in the country.
He said: “You have to be careful. Tennis had a huge boom with the likes of Boris Becker and Steffi Graf, but once they called it a day and their careers were over, they crashed down again. It wasn’t a healthy development in tennis. You see in snooker people aren’t only interested in Ronnie O’Sullivan or a top German player. They love the sport and they are genuine snooker fans. That is much more healthy. We do not depend on one or two players. I think it is the quality of the game that attracts people. It is fascinating. I try as a commentator to get that across and show how amazing snooker is.
“You can really see how popular snooker is when you attend the German Masters. I love the atmosphere in Berlin. I love my work, but as a commentator you always try to serve your viewers. Working in front of a live audience, as an MC, is completely different. I love that aspect of my work at the German Masters. It is a privilege to stand in the middle of an arena with 2,500 enthusiastic people all around you. When you look at the grandstand, it is a wall of people that never seems to end. It is a really great feeling and it gives you goosebumps.”
Kalb is aware that he won’t be broadcasting forever and concedes that retirement may not be in the too distant future.
He added: “I am working in a job where you don’t have to stop at a certain age. I am 63 right now and there will be a day when I will stop. It is a lot of work. I am running around like a ping pong ball at events like the German Masters. You can’t do that forever. I’ve seen so many great colleagues who didn’t know when to call it a day. Although they did such great things for their sport, they arrived at the point when others were saying they should realise their time is over. I don’t want that. I want to end on my own terms having enjoyed every second of it.”