Hertford Place, Coventry
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.
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
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.
left to right:
Karen Gooch (Thompson),
Jeff Harris and
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.
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
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.
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)
There's now a website where you can find many of Britain's best loved voices
all in one place: www.auntiesvoices.com.
On the site you'll find people who read the shipping forecast,
tell you what's coming up next on the telly, read the news
or provide the voice of authority on comedy programmes.
All of them are BBC Radio and Television freelancers, professional
voices with many years experience in public broadcasting
and the commercial world.
Have a listen, and make a choice for your next production
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.
"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?
Mercia FM (Mercia Sound) building in Hertford
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)
Andy Lloyd, Jim Lee, Paul Robinson & Les Clayton
Roger Hall & Mike Henfield
Mike Salisbury, Jeff Harris & Steve Lee
Clive Skelhon & Gary Hynes
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!!