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Goodbye Hertford Place, Coventry
After 31 years Mercia FM formerly Mercia Sound is to move out of Coventry to be re-located in Birmingham's BRMB radio building.
Saturday September the 3rd 2011 saw many ex Mercia Sound staff reunite to say farewell to Hertford Place.


  Paul Robinson
"The death of commercial local radio?" by Paul Robinson (left)

The closure this month of a major UK city's commercial radio station studio and HQ is a significant nail in the coffin for local radio.

This month Mercia FM, Coventry and Warwickshire's local commercial station for 31 years will move to Birmingham. Once the station with the highest weekly reach of ANY station in England (at an unsurpassed 60% -Source Jicrar) Mercia Sound, established by John Bradford (latterly head of the Radio Academy) will leave Hertford Place Coventry and move in with BRMB, the Birmingham station. Both are now owned by the Orion group backed by the TSB, although Beacon, the Wolverhampton station will remain located in the Black Country. Orion claims the relocation is to save building costs and is possible as a result of relaxation in Ofcom rules.

Last weekend a group of thirty executives, sales executives, journalists and presenters from the station's Mercia Sound days in the 1980s gathered at Hertford Place to say farewell to the building that had played host to one of the UK's most successful commercial stations. Mercia was the 21st to come on air in the second wave of expansion following a pause in the late seventies for the Annan Committee's report on Broadcasting. Amongst those who travelled from all over the UK were former MDs Ian Rufus and Stuart Linnell, journalists Gary Hudson, Mike Henfield and Naomi Bishop and presenters such as Radio 4's Jim Lee, David Yarnall (Radio 2), Jeff Harris, Mike Salisbury, Andy Lloyd, Karl Stein, Annie Othen, Jon Heasman (Ofcom) and myself. I was the weekday breakfast DJ at Mercia Sound from 1984 to 1988.

So why does this matter? Of course ultimately the most important goal of any radio station is the quality of the output. It is true that a radio station's studios can be located anywhere, and that is probably particularly true of a national network station. But for a local station that only gets you part of the way. Never underestimate the power of a front door in the patch that you serve.

A public face is really important if you want to integrate the radio station in the community. That was what Mercia Sound achieved in spades. Yes we played pop records, yet the station was so much more than that. We were part of Coventry and Warwickshire, whether that was the Sky Blues, the Belgrade, local fundraisers, Carols by Candlelight at the Cathedral, The Schools Quiz or the Goldrush. I accept that the market has changed, as have station economics, but what made Mercia so huge was that it was not made in Birmingham. Prior to Mercia Sound, Coventry and Warwickshire always felt like a poor relation. It just isn't possible for DJs and journalists based at BRMB to properly serve Coventry. Orion have I am sure made this decision in good faith, but its a bad one for the citizens of Coventry and Warwickshire.

Another piece of sad news for commercial local radio was the passing of Michael Buhkt, the "father" of Capital Radio and Classic FM. The latter station of course continues to be a superb flagship for Global Radio its owners and commercial radio as a whole. Capital whilst re-energised under Ashley Tabor and his team fails to hold the attention it once enjoyed. It was Michael Buhkt who understood how to make a London station "local" and connected to its audience and that is probably the main difference between Capital now and in its first 15 years. Initiatives such as Jobfinder, the Capital Flatshare, Swap shop, Headline Debates, Open Line, the Flying Eye, C.O.D. and Help a London Child made Capital local radio for London. Buhkt was a pioneer and innovator. He understood how to beat the BBC. Commercial radio is without question getting better, but whether it's future is local radio, or merely national brands as quasi local networks is another question. At the moment the trend is clear. Local commercial radio is retreating from its roots in many major markets of which Coventry is merely the latest.

September 2011


left to right:

Liz Holmes, Mike Henfield, Andy Lloyd, Jenny Stokes, Ian Rufus, Sam Hudson, Jan Lackhoff, Dave Kitto, Gary Hudson, Jim Lee, Dave Yarnall, Annie Othen, Steve Lee, Les Clayton, Paul Robinson, Mike Salisbury, Naomi Bishop, Karl Stein, Gary Hynes, Karen Gooch (Thompson), Jeff Harris and Jon Heasman.

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Jim Lee


"It was good to be back there on Saturday, but I have to say, that for me it's not the building, it's the people. Once Ian and John B had set the framework, it was a very special bunch of people who turned their plans into a very special radio station.

The building has seen better days externally - frankly it's a bit grubby and overgrown on the outside. Inside was only re-decorated in the last year (!) so apart from the red woodwork in the studios it was very different from the pastel rainbows we would recognise.

There's not been a reception for several years so it wouldn't matter so much that what we knew as the Centre (talks) studio is, for now, their main studio.

We were made very welcome by the Mercia team of Tina, Hayley and Justin - whose combined ages probably didn't match Stuart's! They were genuinely fascinated by stories of the early days about which they had no idea.

Jim Lee (left)

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left to right:

Jim Lee, Gary Hudson, Sue Linnell, Jan Lackhoff, Stuart Linnell, Andy Lloyd, Mike Henfield, Liz Holmes, Brian Saunders, Ian Rufus, Julie (Fellowes) Philpot.
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Tony Gillham


"I remember some research we did before going on air which indicated that the good people of Coventry and Warwickshire resented the fact that their “local” programmes came from Birmingham. Now that Orion have committed the ultimate crime in moving the studios to that very city, there is just one question: Isn’t it time for us to bring back “The Mercia” and do it properly?

Thoughts please!"

Tony Gillham
(left)




Pictures right:

Mercia FM (Mercia Sound) building in Hertford Place, Coventry
Mercia Sound in Hertford Place Coventry

Gordon Astley


How sorry I am that I didn't catch up with you guys at the weekend, but I found out about it too late.

Mercia Sound was the best radio job I ever had. The region was gagging for us...as we found out from day one. I am now what is regarded as "old school" but I do believe the studios and offices of a real local radio station should be in the region they broadcast to. I am now a full time grandad..but if anyone has a gig for me, I still have my prep files !!!. Jim, remember that afternoon in the pub after the others had gone and some hardcases were about to give us a hard time until they found out who we were and they had been schoolkid listeners and fans? Give me some notice and I will be at the next reunion.

PS. Never trust a boss who says " I am a fan" or " It's all about the music" .

Gordon Astley (left)


 

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Andy Lloyd, Jim Lee, Paul Robinson & Les Clayton

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Roger Hall & Mike Henfield
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 Mike Salisbury, Jeff Harris & Steve Lee
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Clive Skelhon & Gary Hynes

David Yarnall - right click and save as for large image


I was with Mercia Sound from the start and generally deputised for Jim on his evening and weekend programmes such as 'Night Express', Monday to Friday, and 'From me to you' which went out Sundays at 12 noon.

I might as well come clean - they can't touch me now - my first programme was indeed 'From me to you' and although reasonably used to independent local radio as I had been presenting programmes at Beacon 303 for a little while, I completely forgot to play the ads in the first hour!! Needless to say, the second hour was a little "over-commercialed" - but I got there and as far as I am aware, only Jim knew - because it was him that told me during the 1 o'clock news!!

David Yarnall (left) MCIAT.

Chartered Architectural Technologist
Architectural Services
Telephone 01543 491205 or 07854 143976


 


pictures right:

Mercia FM studios in Hertford Place, Coventry as of 3rd September 2011 - presenter is Justin Walker.
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Jenny Stokes
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Les Clayton, Karl Stein, Paul Robinson, Gary Hynes, Jon Heasman & Andy Lloyd
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Gary Hudson and his son Sam
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Gary Hynes & Naomi Bishop

pictures left to right:

Mercia FM offices:
1) Originally sales office
2) Originally the news room
3) Originally the community area
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Phil Hurley & David Yarnall
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Phil Hurley, Jenny Stokes & Jim Lee
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Jan Lackhoff (Lynch) & Jenny Stokes
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Ian Rufus & Paul Robinson
     

Here's a video montage I produced to mark the end of an era for Coventry's "local" radio station Mercia FM (Mercia Sound) and to celebrate what was!

Kevin Sykes
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YouTube link

 
       
       
       
 
Photographs © Jim Lee and Di Kitto, many thanks to Jim and Di for the premission of their use.

Site © Kevin Sykes

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