"You're LISTENING to Keys and Gray on TalkSport," said Richard Keys, almost shouting the emphasis on the second word. Perhaps he wanted us all to know that the medium had changed, as if we hadn't guessed already. Those TV days have gone, maybe for ever.
But here they were, the sexism row behind them, the small hiatus finished; here were Keys and Andy Gray in what many might see as their spiritual home – the unashamedly brassy TalkSport. But if we'd tuned in hoping for any slip-ups, un-PC language or off-mike muttering, we were going to be disappointed. And disappointment was very much the order of the day early on, as they sucked most of the life out of the weekend's Premier League games. Maybe they were nervous. Maybe they were just being careful. Whatever it was, the airwaves weren't crackling.
The pair were introduced with the kind of up-tempo, rococo, ZZ Top-style cock rock that sports programmes like to use to give a sense of (usually misplaced) dynamism, as highlights of the weekend's goals were played. I've not listened to this station much, preferring to stick with the advert-free FiveLive for my Saturday football radio fix (unlike some of my fellow New Statesman bloggers, I have a great love for the beautiful game); but it appears that TalkSport has hired someone to grunt and bark every time a goal goes in. Fancy that.
"We've got a goal! WHAT A GOAL! Oh my word. YOU BEAUTY! HA HA! Oh! OH! Grrrrrrrr! BANG!" were some of the choicer cuts. Compared to which, "Would you smash it?", Keys's infamous off-air comment to Jamie Redknapp, seems like the kind of polite thing you might hear over the gentle clinking of brandy glasses at a gentleman's club. Perhaps, after all, these two were being hired to lend a bit of gravitas to proceedings. Maybe TalkSport needs them more than they need TalkSport.
The show, sold as "unmissable debate and exclusive interviews from the biggest names in sport", began shakily, with the eminently missable Dion Dublin musing over whether Wayne Rooney's goal for Manchester United against Manchester City at the weekend was the best goal ever in the history of the world ever.
"Was it the best EVER? What was it? The best? His best?" roared Keys. "It's up there," said Dublin laconically. And that was that. Gray and Dublin reminisced about Big Ron's Corridor of Uncertainty. And then it was time for "Incey", Paul Ince, to wander through the same topics, telling "Keysy" that Eric Cantona's chip against Sunderland was the best goal he'd seen for United. Peter Reid, Gray's old Everton team-mate, turned up minutes later, and when asked about that Cantona goal, had to remind the pair that he'd been manager of Sunderland that day. "That's how much you've lost the plot since you've been away," laughed Reid.
Lost the plot? They didn't do too badly, to be fair, for a first attempt back at radio since the glory days of Sky Sports. There were only a couple of errors – Keys accidentally cutting off Ince in his prime, and one ill-advised use of the verb "smash" apropos a goal by Matt Le Tisser – but the only way is up. First show done, it can only get better. After an hour and a half, I was beginning to warm to them, despite myself. There was no self-pitying, no angry defiance; they just got on with it. I actually ended up rooting for them.
There was just a moment of sadness, though, a tinge of Alan Partridge, where you could sense it all struck home for Keys. "You're listening to Richard Keys and Andy Gray on TalkSport With WICKES, get down to Wickes for 33 per cent off Palma ceramic wall tiles, now only £14.56 per pack," he said, barely able to contain his excitement.
The heady days have gone, indeed. But maybe all isn't lost.