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With no desire for fame, Adam became Northern Ireland's voice of sport quite by chance

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They talk about broadcasters being larger than life figures but you wouldn't have remarked upon the presence of the unassuming Adam Coates in a crowded room even when he was BBC Radio Ulster's leading sports anchorman.

But put a microphone in front of the likeable, self-effacing Scotsman, who passed away yesterday aged 76, and the popular presenter with the instantly recognisable radio voice came into his own.

A natural-born broadcaster who was the voice of sport in Northern Ireland for two decades up until he finished presenting Sportsound in the autumn of 2007, it may surprise some that Adam's broadcasting career came about by chance and only after he'd survived a heart attack.

Coates was amusingly self-deprecating about his big break in radio, explaining how, as Secretary of the NI Football Writers Association at the time, he'd been asked to send a letter of complaint to the BBC about their coverage.

The late Joy Williams, then Head of Sport, offered an audition with the BBC and, as the letter-writer, Adam said he felt obliged to go along. The rest, as they say, is history and the sporting public reaped the benefits for many years.

He began covering Irish League games on Radio Ulster and took over as Sportsound presenter when Mike Nesbitt, more recently leader of the UUP, moved on to current affairs in 1987.

The BBC and Adam may have stumbled on each other by chance at a relatively advanced stage of Coates' career, but he took to the role most impressively and made it his own for two decades.

That he lacked the public profile of some sports presenters is partly a reflection on radio compared to television but was more a result of a conscious choice to shun the limelight, for Adam modestly took the view that the audience was much more interested in who he was interviewing.

Sociable and warm with no end of amusing anecdotes to relate, he would have made a good raconteur but, even after many years in broadcasting, Coates never developed an ego or craving for personal attention.

Characterising listening to Sportsound as being like eavesdropping on a conversation, Adam enjoyed radio's less structured style compared to television and the distinctive voice, with that Scottish accent Coates never lost, meant he was readily recognised by listeners when out and about.

That conversational style, underpinned by building good relationships with sportspeople across the spectrum, adaptability and doing his homework, made Coates very effective in conducting insightful interviews with a wide range of guests.

Although a radio rookie when he started with the BBC, Coates had a good grounding in sports journalism having worked in newspapers all his professional life from the early days as a reporter back home in Scotland.

Having grown up in a village in northeast Scotland, Adam had a lifelong affinity for Aberdeen FC. Even though he moved to Glasgow aged 18 to work for the Sunday Post, he retained a lasting love of the Dons.

By his own admission, a keen but average footballer and cricketer, Coates became an all-rounder of sports journalism because, while most of his colleagues wanted to write about Rangers and Celtic, he took an interest in everything.

In 1964, he was offered the chance of a posting to Belfast and the prospect of getting to cover Northern Ireland internationals home and away at a time when George Best was coming through was very appealing for the then 22-year-old.

A trip to Albania wasn't the most glamorous start but Adam made Northern Ireland his home and, having put down roots in the province, never contemplated leaving in spite of the Troubles breaking out.

Greatly respected and well-liked by his colleagues on the journalistic circuit and in the sporting community, Adam appreciated the many friendships formed down through the years.

In spite of that accent he never lost, Coates came to regard himself as an honorary Ulsterman with few fixtures between Northern Ireland and Scotland to test his loyalties.

Although an outstanding print journalist, who was with the Daily Mail for a prolonged period, Coates' calling was clearly presenting sport on the radio and that is how he will best be remembered by the Northern Ireland sporting public.

Deepest sympathies are extended to the Coates family and all Adam's friends at this sad time.

Belfast Telegraph

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