It was a ITN television news
report in April
1980 that tempted me to tune into 96.0 MHz VHF. The news
was that CBC, the first of a further seven new Independent Local Radio
stations, authorised by the new Conservative Home Secretary in 1979,
went on the air in Cardiff on 11th April 1980. CBC boasted the youngest
DJ working in radio at that time and ITN were reporting these
facts. CBC was the twentieth ILR
station in the UK, the nineteenth was Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton
which went on air in 1976 - the last at that time as the then Labour
government decided to bring a halt to the expansion of commercial radio
in the UK.
I was fifteen
at the time
and we lived in the south West Midlands and having seen the television
news story, noticing that CBC transmitted on 96.0 MHz FM and 221 meters
medium wave, I decided to see if it was possible to hear the station in
the Midlands. Such long distance listening is called "DX-ing" among
radio enthusiasts. I tuned the family's Sony STR-3800 Hi-Fi receiver
(which had a roof aerial) to
MHz and found music with a strong signal, I found the same music and a
strong signal on 221 medium wave too! I thought that I had
received CBC for a moment, but then an announcement said "You are
to test transmissions from the Independent Broadcasting
Authority. These transmissions are in preparation for the new
Independent Local Radio station for Coventry and the surrounding area,
which will be provided by the IBA's contractor Midland Community Radio
Ltd., and broadcasting under the name of MERCIA SOUND. This
service starts shortly and will be heard on 220 meters on the medium
wave, or 1359 kilohertz, and 95.9 VHF in stereo. For further
information about this new service and Independent local radio
elsewhere in Britain enquiries should be addressed to The Local Radio
Officer, Independent Broadcasting Authority, Albany House, Hurst
Street, Birmingham." "Mercia Sound - a whole new listening
experience for the eighties!" "...Coventry, Nuneaton,
Atherstone, Coleshill, Meriden, Kenilworth, Leamington, Warwick, Rugby,
Hinckley - Mercia Sound is your radio station entertaining you,
informing you, serving you." "Mercia Sound will start
broadcasting at two minutes to seven on the morning of Friday May
I had just found the twenty
ILR station to go on air in the UK!
Various selections of music were played during these test
three of which come to mind; an instrumental version of "The Age Of
" a tune called "Popcorn" and the orchestral work "The
We lived just
official 'surrounding area', but from the moment I picked up these test
transmissions from Mercia Sound I was hooked.
I have always rather liked the version of The Age of Aquarius
that was played in the test transmissions, but it was not until recently
(2012) that I was able to discover who performed it. I still have
the original chrome BASF cassette on which I recorded it from the Mercia Sound
test transmissions. Sadly it's rather hissy as we lived a few miles
outside the VHF contour of Shilton and at the time I only had a wire
ribbon antenna of the familiar T shape Blu-tacked to my bedroom ceiling.
I guess the signal to my Akai AT-2200 was slightly less than 100uV so
stereo noise was a problem. The recording was made on an Amstrad 7050 top
loading stereo cassette deck (which really did have pretty good quality). I later installed an external yagi aerial
that was directed at Shilton in order to receive a good quality signal
from Mercia Sound.
Mercia Sound had moved into a former working men's club in Hertford
Place in Coventry, and broadcast from transmitters just outside the
city. The address of the station was (and remained so until 2011):
Above Left : Mercia Sound's premises at the former working mens club
Above: Close up of the receiving aerials used by Mercia
Hertford Place Studios as they looked in later years.
The information panel above is
the IBA's 'Television And Radio' publication. The map shows
VHF contour for excellent reception on FM. In practice the
that Mercia Sound served was much wider than this, and the area of good
medium wave reception
extended beyond Warwick, Lutterworth and
shown in the map below:
Broadcast Area Map Produced by the Sales Department
White Area shows the principal transmission area
Pink are depicts the Marketing area of MERCIA SOUND where
acceptable reception should be possible, particularly on medium wave.
Station map from the Birmingham Evening Mail in 1980
showing the "lound and clear" reception areas of Mercia Sound,
Beacon Radio and BRMB Radio.
ON THE AIR
ground running at two minutes to seven on the
morning of Friday 23rd May 1980 with the highly informative
and amusing 'Good Morning
Mercia' breakfast show presented by the fabulous and hilarious Gordon Astley.
Gordon Astley's very first words on air were "Hello, is there anybody
out there?". The first record played was "This is it!" by Dan Hartman.
Mercia Sound's initial daily
schedule was as follows.
the fun breakfast with Gordon Astley including a
sideways look at current news with 'Merry' Mike Henfield, Mercia Magic
Mobiles (car of the day) and 'Thought
For The Day' with Will Mills.
(Later presented by Tony Gillham)
with Dave Jamieson - the highly polished scottish tones of
Dave Jamieson with music and features such as local history and Mercia
Mouthwateres (recipes). Through Till One also featured
guests including Ernie Biddle, the antiques expert, and Harvey Williams
the chartered surveyor.
including the news programme Mercia Reports with MikeHenfield
(Later presented by Jim Lee)
including the news programme Mercia Reports and the "Late Duty
(Later presented by John Warwick)
programming with Sarjit Myrrpurey (Monday 7 pm to 7:30 pm)
Great Western Radio Show - Country music with Stuart White (Monday 7:30
pm to 9 pm)
Shock Wave with Andy Lloyd (Tuesday)
Rock Show with Andy Lloyd (Wednesday)
Aakash Deep - Asian programming with Sarjit Myrrpurey (Thursday 7 pm to
Mercia Folk with Norman Wheatley (Thursday 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm)
Sports Call - with Stuart Linnell
Decision Makers - an IRN production
Private Life Public Image - with Ian Rufus (the station boss)
Mercia At Westminster - local politics
and tons of fun with John Warwick
(Later presented by, amongst others, Tom Clapton and Annie Othen)
breakfast show with Andy Lloyd
chart show - with Tony Gillham
- presented byAndy Lloyd - a
of music and fun to put listeners in to mood for going out.
- with Dave Jamieson - music, quizzes and fun with
phone ins though until 1 am including Dave's infuriating Six
The Best competition. (Do you remember Dave's rabbits -
a programme of local religious news with Roger Hall
- Sunday morning music, information and fun, including
The Heritage Quiz, with Andy Lloyd
- with Robbie Mason (and later Jim Lee)
music with Lyndon Jenkins
Andy Lloyd - including the unmissable, and
unforgettable Lateral Thinking Quiz
MERCIA SOUND PRESENTERS:
|ONE OF GORDON ASTLEY'S
"Gordon Gordon will drive away your boredom,
If you wake up feeling ghastly,
Tune To Gordon Astley."
quirky Mercia Sound jingle:
"Every morning I wake up
Drink some of my favourite cup
Brush my teeth and go and walk my Dasch -
When I get back to the house
I reach for my wire-louse
And tune my favourite station Mercia Sound!"
Carl keeps in contact with Jim Lee, who now works for BBC Radio, via
amateur radio. Jim thinks that this jingle was made by John Warwick and
was another one of those recorded with a strange chorus and pitch
increasing device which went mad at the end!
Gordon Astley: Presented
the very funny Good Morning Mercia breakfast show that he called 'The Porridge Prog' - it was always a
difficult choice of listening; Gordon Astley on Mercia Sound or Les
Ross on BRMB! Gordon Left Mercia Sound after a year or two to work for
the kids tv programme TISWAS on ATV/Central television - what an old
'poo bag' as John Warwick would say!
Arrived at Mercia Sound via BBC Radio Leicester and BRMB in Birmingham
in the 1970's. Dave presented the 'Through Till One' show
was always packed full of
features, local information, news and of course music. Dave
around 1983/4 to move up to Humberside where he launched another new
ILR station called VIKING RADIO. Dave returned to the
1989 when XTRA AM launched in the area.
Presented 'Afternoon Delight' ("oh gosh what fun" - John Warwick),
'Sportacular', sports phone-ins and documentary style
Stuart went on to become Programme Controller and then Managing
Director of Mercia Sound until 1994/5. Mercia was taken over
GWR in 1993/4 and Stuart left some time after this.
Presented various weekend and evening programmes including 'Shock Wave'
the new music programme, 'The Rock Show', A 'Saturday Night Out', 'A
Of Class' and Sunday's 'Night Express' programme where Andy presented
lucky audience with the infamous Lateral Thinking
Andy always promised to produce a book of all his lateral thinking
questions, but he moved on to radio in the Bedfordshire area (I think)
and I don't think the book materialised.
Andy would spend the
up to midnight asking questions such as " A man is lying dead in a
puddle of water - how did he get there?" Listeners would then
ring in and each be allowed to ask a question in order to get more of a
clue and then guess the answer. When the answer was guessed
correctly then Andy would unleash the next dastardly lateral thinking
question on his audience. Andy also invited listeners to send
their own Lateral thinking Questions. The quiz became
an institution and listeners formed into teams such as The Lawley
Laterals, The Toytown Lateral Thinkers and The Aldermoor Lane Left
Handed Thinkers. There was someone who always rang in from
Hampton On The Hill too - but I forget who they were now.
answer to the
above question was: It was winter - the man opened the front door and
bent over to pick up his bottle of milk and a large icicle broke away
from the eves above and stabbed him in the back, killing him.
Later, as the day wore on, the offending icicle melted away and left
little clue as to what had killed the victim - just a puddle of
water surrounding the body.)
Started off on the Night Express with one of the funniest ever night
time programmes on the radio - it was always a 'must listen'.
John moved on to the Good Morning Mercia breakfast show (which must
been when Gordon Astley left the station). John presented
Morning Mercia until around the middle of 1984 when he left Mercia
Sound and moved on to Northampton where he joined Hereward Radio which
was opening its Northampton operation in October 1984. John,
sadly, is no longer alive.
Jim Lee: Joined
Mercia Sound after leaving his career at a bank behind him.
started to present Afternoon Delight, once Stuart Linnell had left this
particular slot. He also presented the request show on a
morning From Me To You. Jim left Mercia Sound
to join CWR - a new BBC station in Coventry and Warwickshire - and was
part of a group that, in around
2000, was part of a team that ran an RSL (short term licence) radio
station in the Abingdon
area of Oxfordshire. Jim Lee went on to work as a continuity announcer on
national station BBC
Presented the Night Express programme a few years after Mercia Sound
initially went on the air. He ran 'Tom's Pyjama Club' whereby
listeners could join his late night listeners club and receive a
By 1981 the schedules had been fine-tuned and were changed
slightly. On Saturday mornings there was a new programme for
younger audience called "THE SATURDAY THING" presented by the mad-cap
duo of John Warwick and Dave Jamieson. They ran silly
competitions such as Find The Phone Box, where they gave out clues as
to the whereabouts of a particular phone box and listeners had to
locate it and be there to pick up the receiver when Dave and John rang
through to the phone box.
Dave also was keen on collecting donkeys and received many postcards
with pictures of donkeys on from holidaying Mercia Sound
listeners. They also celebrated The Saturday Thing Christmas
the middle of summer! Quite mad!
off in hospital radio, United
Biscuits Radio and then to the large ILR station Radio Tees.
joined Mercia Sound to present the drive time show, 'RadioActive', in
the true professional style that was the hallmark of Mercia
Sound. When Gordon Astley left Mercia to join ATV/Central
TV, Tony gained the high profile breakfast show
'Good Morning Mercia'. Tony also presented the 'Mercia Music
Computer' chart show. He later went on the work for the BBC
Radio Two and Radio Devon. Tony's excellent show, 'Gillham
can be heard on BBC Radio Oxford and BBC Radio Devon.
the jingle went:
"Good Afternoon From Mercia Sound, Time To Relax So Sit
Some of the first records played on Mercia Sound in May 1980 ( They
were vinyl records - CD's had not been invented in 1980!)
- The Beat
life - Michael Jackson
love - Jimmy Ruffin
doubt about it - Hot Chocolate
is painless) - The MASH
groove - Rodney Franklin
shoulda loved ya - Nirada Michael Walden
- Average White Band
up - Mystic Merlin
in the kitchen at parties - Jona Lewie
are glass - Gary Numan
gave me love - Crown Heights Affair
shell) - Squeeze
self control - Peter Gabriel
frame/white light - Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark
seduction (love theme) - James Last Band
Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway
in Paris - Frankie Valli
love - David Essex
race - The Specials
alive - Electric Light Orchestra
eyes have it - Karel Fialka
|The original news team
was a very strong line up of journalists, they were: Mike Henfield (News Editor),
(who took over as News Editor when Mike Henfield left), Gary Hudson,
(the late) Alan Turner, Kay Oliver, Mike Henfield and Andy Armitage.
Left To Right, Kay Oliver,
Andy Armitage, Jan Lynch, Alan Turner, Julie Carter.
"Have a good time,
If you're home or away,
Hope the weather is fine,
For this holiday,
From all at Mercia"
In the summer of 1981 our family
a holiday to Cornwall and I, being the unrelenting radio enthusiast,
obviously took a
portable radio! I had fashioned an external VHF aerial that
clipped to the rear window of the car - held in place when the window
was fully wound up. Medium wave reception was almost
car, but with this external aerial it was amazing to find that Mercia
Sound could be heard on the M5 motorway in Worcestershire, and right
down to Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire on 95.9 MHz
signal disappeared, I tuned
the radio around the dial and found another new station, SEVERN
SOUND, on 95.0 MHz VHF and 388 meters (774 kHz) medium wave, another
ILR station that had come on air in
1980, and this could be heard all the way down the M5 past
When we approached in Devon it was a nice surprise to find yet another
radio station - DEVON AIR. This was advertised on hoardings
the motorway, so we tuned to 450 meters medium wave (or 95.8 VHF) as we
approached and drove past Exeter, and
then to 314 meters (or 95.1 VHF) as we went past Torbay.
arrived in Cornwall I tuned into Plymouth Sound on 261
night I tried a spot of DXing in an attempt to receive Mercia Sound on
220 meters, but all I heard was a very strong MANX RADIO from the Isle
Of Man on 219 meters (1368 kHz) - amazing in itself, but I was
dissappointed not to hear MERCIA.
was that we saw several cars on the
way to, and
around and about the South West that, like our own car, had a MERCIA
sticker in the back window. It caused quite a stir when other
SOUND listeners saw us, or we saw them - it caused a lot of smiles,
laughter, waving and tooting of horns!
Our car sticker said: Mercia Sound is Warwickshire
Other stickers said: Mercia
Sound is Nuneaton
Mercia Sound is
Sound is Leicestershire
MERCIA SOUND - A BIG HIT
MERCIA SOUND was obviously a big hit with the local population, even
from casual observations very many people were listening and lots of
were tuned in to 220. Time and again Mercia Sound was cited
favourite station. It has been stated that in the early listening
figures Mercia Sound had an audience reach of around 60% - which was a
record at the time for an ILR station and unheard of thirty years
MERCIA SOUND wasn't just about music. News and current affairs played
an important part of the
station, of course, but listener involvement was also extremely
Mercia Sound got involved in the community with major features such as
MERCIA ACTION (see below), the long running annual charity programme
'GOLDRUSH DAY', and catered for a wide range of
tastes among its audience across Coventry, Warwickshire and South West
There were specialist music programmes of 'new wave' and rock along
with programmes for lovers of Jazz, Big Band, Classical and
Country. Regular Asian programmes and a Sunday religious programme were also included in Mercia's comprehensive schedules. Almost everyone in the area could find something to
to on Mercia Sound if they so desired.
In those early days Mercia Sound wasn't just a radio station, it was
more like a club that its listeners readily identified with and that is
probably why it became so very popular.
In 1981 Mercia Sound announced its profits for the first year of
trading - they were reportedly a remarkable quarter of a million pounds.
really was remarkable bearing in mind the very tough economic
conditions of the time, the UK was facing a recession and there were
not many places as badly hit by this economic downturn as Coventry.
Through excellent management, advertising sales and more importantly
programme output finely tuned to the area's needs and always presented
professionally, - but also at appropriate times not taking itself too
Sound was a massive hit and deserved the good results that everyone
there had worked so hard to achieve.
at Mercia Sound buzz with action on the annual
charity GOLDRUSH day in the 1980's. (BBC
operated the special community service unit, Mercia Action', since it
began broadcasting in 1980. The scheme was funded originally by the
Manpower Services Commission (MSC), and began with worthwhile but
limited intentions: as a simple message-taking service staffed by one
person helping distressed owners to find lost pets, assisting charities
with appeals for much needed items, and so on. This information was
then broadcast in hourly bulletins throughout the day on Mercia Sound.
soon became apparent that the potential was much greater than this,
that there was a need for Mercia Action to take the initiative within
the community, calling local voluntary groups to ask how the service
might help them. In 1984 the service was re-launched as an
funded Community Programme, employing five people - a full-time project
leader, a full-time secretary and three part-time project assistants.
scheme continued on that basis until the middle of 1986, when its
administration was taken on by Community Service Volunteers
with a commitment to reviewing and increasing the scope of the project
further still. CSV have also undertaken responsibility for securing the
funding required to ensure the longterm continuation of Mercia Action.
number of special projects through the year, working
alongside the radio station's presentation team. These ranged from a
No-Smoking week to a Job Creation fortnight. A lot of detailed planning
was involved and the photo below shows Mercia Sound's Managing Director
and Programme Controller, Stuart Linnell at the head of the table
leading the discussion. On Stuart's left and right are Mercia
presenters Dave Simms and Annie Othen with members of the Mercia Action
integral part of
the work of Mercia Action is the on-air promotion of its activities.
The above photo shows project leader Steve Lee records a 'promo' giving
details of a special project. Acquiring new skills, such as those
required for broadcasting, is also a part of the Mercia Action brief.
It tries to widen the experience of its own staff so that they may find
a day was
set aside for a team of experts in a specialist area to come to Mercia
Sound and provide advice and information to listeners in a special
off-air phone-in called the 'Helpline'. The 'Helpline' features often
required fact-packs giving important follow-up information. They could
be requested by telephone or letter - but listeners often call in to
collect them personally. The photo above shows Steve Lee
out a Mercia Action Fact Pack.
feature on DIY is carried on into the evening, as Night Express
presenter Annie Othen (above) interviews one of the experts. ... all
Independent Radio working, often round the clock, to serve the local
Action" was adapted from from an IBA feature]
MAKES YOUR DAY!
Happy Christmas From Mercia Sound
"220 Mercia Sound
Even Though It's Cold All Around
Step Inside And Close The Door
You'll Find We Give You So Much More"
MERCIA SOUND Information Panel from the IBA's publication 'TV &
MORE MERCIA PROGRAMMES AND
with Steve Williams
newspaper advert placed by Mercia Sound in The Coventry Evening
Telegraph in 1989
Novello Awards with Richard
with Jeff Harris
Mercia Sound Roadshow at the 1989 Town and Country Show in Kenilworth
PROGRAMMES In December 1991
Jordan - presented several programmes on Mercia, including the
the 102.9 transmitter
- MARK KEEN on Mercia FM
Mark worked on Mercia from 1989 to 1995
Read more about Mark Keen HERE
Clive Skelhon on Mercia Sound
| MERCIA WINS AWARDS
1992 Mercia Sound won a bronze medal in the Urban Contemporary section
of the International Radio Awards - the station had also won an
for the best eclectic radio station.
SOUND BECOMES 'MERCIA FM'
forces with neighbouring BRMB Radio in Birmingham
to form a group called Midlands Radio plc. Some experimental
split AM / FM programming was carried out on both BRMB and Mercia Sound
leading to the launch of a new AM only station which was created using
220 meters (1359 kHz) transmitter of Mercia Sound and the 261 meters
(1152 kHz) transmitter of BRMB called XTRA AM which
Mercia Sound (and BRMB) became FM
only radio stations. Mercia Sound was renamed 'MERCIA FM' and
gained a new VHF / FM relay for the Leamington and Warwick area on
1990 / 1991 Rob Jordan presented a daily South Warwickshire afternoon
show (carried separately from 97.0) on the 102.9 Leamington Spa
transmitter. This programme had ceased by 1993 as Mercia
seemed to contract and re-focus, with more music and shorter news
bulletins, in the face of competition from new national and regional
In 1993 the Midlands Radio group was taken over by
Capital radio plc who kept BRMB but, within a year, sold Mercia
to GWR, a deal
that was complete by 1994. Mercia soon lost much of its charm and
comprehensive output, as by 1994 it became a bland replica of other GWR
network stations with the "Better Music Mix" slogan - later "Playing the
best mix of the 80's, 90's and today" slogan was used before reverting
back to the "Better Music Mix" slogan.
"Mercia Sound 220 Makes Your Day" Mug !
| MERCIA SOUND
- THE AUDIO
HERE to go to the MERCIA SOUND AUDIO PAGE
> > >
MESSAGES ( E-Mail that we have
to go to the MERCIA MESSAGES Page > > >
an area of around 700,000 people in Coventry, Warwickshire and South
West Lecestershire. The
IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) built a new mast and installed new
transmitters specifically for the purpose at Shilton, a site
east of Coventry, grid reference SP410836. The facilities
were then paid for by the
station in fees to the IBA. The IBA owned and operated the
The Medium Wave (AM) transmitter used 1359 kilohertz (that is 220
with an effective radiated power of 175 Watts. This was
directional as there was a sloping wire reflector located on the
north side of the mast which reflected the greater portion of the
signal to the south - i.e. over the city of Coventry and across to
The VHF (FM)
95.9 MHz with 250 Watts of effective radiated power using mixed
aerials (that is 125 Watts in the vertical plane and 125 Watts
the horizontal plane). The aerials were mounted on one face of
mast facing west, so
there would have been a slight 'mast null' to the east which
probably helped prevent too much overspill into
polarisation involves transmitting equal powers in the horizontal plane
and the vertical plane which helps reception on portable
Traditionally the BBC had employed only horizontal polarisation which
favoured fixed, roof-top radio aerials that had their rods (elements)
positioned horizontally. Since the introduction of ILR, in
the IBA had employed this new technique of 'mixed polarisation' to help
the reception of their
lower power local radio stations on portable and car radios that
used vertically positioned aerials.
Reception Report QSL
Card Issued By The Mercia Sound Engineer Laurence Frayne
transmitter mast, constructed by the IBA to carry the special mixed
polarized VHF / FM aerials. The VHF / FM aerials can be seen
at the top of the mast (on
the right hand side in this photograph) and consisted of four stacked
vertical dipoles and
four horizontally mounted circular 'halo' aerials. The mast
itself acts as the Medium
while the sloping wire (the dangling 'ladder section) is a
reflector that adds directivity to the
to the south and across Coventry.
POWER INCREASES AND
By 1985 the
/ FM transmitter at Shilton had had a nominal increase in power from
Watts effective radiated power to 500 Watts e.r.p. (i.e. 250 Watts
vertical and 250 Watts horizontal). The IBA Pocket Guide to
transmitting stations also noted that in 1986 that the medium wave
transmitter was radiating 270 Watts effective monopole radiated power -
up from the original 175 Watts e.m.r.p.
In 1979 the
Administartive Radio Conference) followed by the Regional
Administrative Conference in 1984 paved the way for expansion of the
VHF / FM band from the original 88.0 to 97.6 MHz allocation to the full
use of 88.0 to 108 MHz. In the UK the VHF /FM band was
re-organised in the years between 1985 and 1987 to take
of this. This
meant that many ILR and BBC local radio transmitters had to change
frequency to allow efficient use of the band. Therefore the
moved Mercia Sound from its original allocation of 95.9 MHz to
97.0 MHz VHF on 10th
July 1986. This was a relief to some listeners, particularly in the
western fringes of the area, where reception of 95.9 had been marred by
interference from a powerful new BBC local radio transmitter on The
96.0 MHz for BBC Radio Shropshire which opened in 1985. Once
Leicester Sound had moved
from its original 97.1 allocation to 103.2 on 28th May 1986 Mercia
move to its new 97.0 spot on the dial - from then on reception of
Mercia Sound was very much in the clear!
By 1989 The
transmitter was radiating 2000 Watts e.r.p. on 97.0 MHz.
In April 1989, now being part of the Midlands Radio plc Group, MERCIA
SOUND lost its medium wave (AM) transmitter on 220 meters (1359
kilohertz) to a new AM only radio station called XTRA-AM.
the station became known as MERCIA FM.
XTRA AM was a
MERCIA & BRMB (the Midlands Radio plc group) to provide
prgramming on AM (medium wave) and FM (v.h.f) - as stipulated by the
government and overseen
by the IBA. XTRA AM
distinctive local programmes based on a 'Classic Hits' (oldies) format
from both the Mercia Sound medium wave transmitter at Shilton on 1359
AM and the
BRMB medium wave transmitter at Langley Mill on 1152 AM.
The loss of the Medium Wave (AM) output meant that MERICIA SOUND would
have poor coverage in parts of Warwick and Leamington Spa - areas
which had relied on the medium wave signals where the VHF / FM signal
from Shilton was quite patchy and weak in places. A new
transmitter was authorised by the
IBA and installed at the existing television relay tower near Newbold
Comyn in Leamington Spa. This new 50 Watt relay transmitter
102.9 MHz VHF / FM stereo and was switched on on the day that XTRA AM launched - on 4th
Initially the Leamington Spa relay took off-the-air signals from the
Shilton transmitter on 97.0 MHz and relayed them on 102.9. A
landline to Mercia Sound's studios in Hertford Place, Coventry, was
installed at a later date so that the
Leamington transmitter could carry separate programmes and different
local adverts. In particular Rob Jordan presented a special
Warwickshire programme during the week exclusively from the Leamington
Spa transmitter which covered Leamington Spa, Warwick and
parts of Kenilworth and the surrounding area.
Some years later, possibly around 2000, the VHF aerial system was
renewed. The new system consisted, again, of four stacked vertical
folded dipoles, but the horizontal 'halo' aerials disappeared in favour
of four straight horizontal folded dipoles. The overall
radiated power was now slightly lower at 1800 watts - that is 1000
watts in the vertical plane and 800 watts in the horizontal. The
horizontal radiation pattern would obviously be slightly different, but
this would not really concern many listeners.
the 97.0 VHF (at 500 Watts), 102.9 VHF (50 Watts)
and MF coverage contours
as of December 2003
More coverage maps for Mercia Sound and other stations HERE
Changes Of Ownership
|When Mercia Sound first opened on May
23rd 1980 it was a stand alone company - Midlands Community Radio Ltd.
Even after only one year of broadcasting the company was in profit.
In 1988 that Mercia Sound merged with neighbouring BRMB Radio in
Birmingham to form a group called Midlands Radio plc. Between them
BRMB and Mercia split their AM frequencies of 1152kHz and 1359kHz to
form the AM classic hits station XTRA-am-am. XTRA-am was highly
successful for 4 years: then, in 1993, Midlands Radio plc group sold out
to London's Capital Radio plc who kept BRMB but within a year had sold
Mercia Sound together with Leicester Sound, Radio Trent and RAM FM to
the the GWR group, a deal that was complete by 1994.
In 2004 GWR and Capital Radio plc merged to form GCAP Radio in 2004.
Since then the Labour government and its regulator, Ofcom, have
continually reduced local programming commitments and relaxed ownership
rules. Local programming standards at many stations that were once
established as local entities have slipped. From the late 1990's
onwards Mercia was typical of many in that it became increasingly banal.
The Labour government's Digital Report and other industry reports
weakened any remaining thread-bear commitments to quality and locally
produced programming still further. Already, by 2009, many so-called
local commercial radio stations provide only the bear minimum of four
hours per day of local programmes, the remainder being networked in from
sources outside the transmission area.
In April 2008 GCAP itself was bought for £375 million by Global
Radio - owners of the banal Heart FM brand and other stations such as
Galaxy and LBC in London. This formed a massive radio conglomerate
including Capital 95.8 in London, the XFM brands, Choice FM, Classic FM,
the Gold network and the so-called "Hit Music Network" consisting of
stations such as Mercia, BRMB, Beacon,Wyvern, Chiltern, GWR, Horizon,
Southern FM, Invicta FM, Mercury, Essex FM, Fox FM etc.
However the deal was somewhat too large for the Competition Commission
and OFT to allow, so they required Global Radio to dispose of a number
of stations. To this end in August 2008 Global put Mercia in Coventry
(97.0 & 102.9) up for sale along with BRMB in Birmingham (96.4),
Beacon Radio in Wolverhampon and Shropshire (97.2 & 103.1), Wyvern
FM in Hereford & Worcester (97.6, 96.7 & 102.8), Heart 106 in
the East Midlands along with the associated medium wave, AM licences in
Birmingham (1152), Coventry (1359), Shrewsbury (1017) and Wolverhampton
Among bidders for these stations were a consortium headed by former BRMB
Programme Controller Mike Owen, another group led by former BRMB and
Chrysalis Radio executive Phil Riley and another from the German radio
and publishing group Bauer - owner of former EMAP owned stations in the
north of the UK.
In mid May 2009 the group headed by Phil Riley and backed by Lloyds TSB
venture capital emerged as the winning buyer of the Midlands stations.
The original price asked by Global for these stations was thought to be
in the region of £40 million, the actual final figure is unclear.
From the beginning of 2009 Global Radio started a mass re-branding of
their so-called 'Hit Music' network to the "Heart" brand. The result was
that famous heritage stations names - so well known since the inception
of ILR - started to be expunged from the radio dials: Plymouth Sound,
GWR, Hereward, Orchard FM, FOX FM, 2-TEN, Ocean FM, Southern FM,
2CR, Invicta, Chiltern, Horizon, SGR, Gemini FM, Lantern FM, Q103,
Coast, Champion, Marcher Sound - all fell under Global Radio's axe to be
replaced by the banal Heart network. Power FM in Southampton was
replaced by the Galaxy brand. which itself was later to be re-branded to
the Capital FM brand along with Trent FM, Leicester Sound and Red
The further government relaxation of local programming requirements may
allow all these essentially local licenses to transmit what will
effectively be a full-time nationally networked Heart programme, with
the only local content being locally inserted advertising and minimal
Too much competition, too little and ineffectual regulation as well as
massive pressure from the commercial radio lobby helped allow the
widespread loss of real local radio. The sad thing is that it was
allowed to happen by the audience which was seemingly uninterested in
community and local (or even national) news, but accepting of
meaningless 'prattle' and narrow, focused and repetitive playlists that
are increasingly used by commercial radio.
From 1994 onwards I listened less and less as the once high quality,
interesting, amusing and at times challenging radio services. Mercia
became a bland, boring and soulless jukebox. I tended to prefer the
BBC's LOCAL radio output from then on. Tuning in to Mercia from time to
time always proved a very disappointing and empty experience.
Coventry Evening Telegraph.
September 21 2009
THE boss of the new company which owns Coventry and Warwickshire
station Mercia FM has spoken of his plans to put the local back in
local radio. Phil Riley, chief executive of Orion Media, which
purchased six Midlands stations from Global Radio, believes in closer
links with management and the stations themselves.
He has already pushed through a restructuring programme, transforming
the group from an outpost of the ex-owner’s empire into a
self-contained Birmingham-based company. Mr Riley said: “We will be
more focused on playing the right music for our core audience, more
focused on local content and more focused on events and personality.”
The private equity-backed takeover also included the purchase of BRMB
in Birmingham, Beacon FM in Wolverhampton & Shrewsbury, Radio Wyvern in Worcester,
Gold in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, and Heart 106 in the East Midlands (later rebranded GEM 106).
In 2009 it had been hoped that Phil
Riley together with his Programme Director David Lloyd at Orion Media
would show a better commitment to commercial local radio in the Midlands
than GWR, GCAP and Global did before it - as it turned out, however,
the reality was quite different.
September 2011 - Orion Media pull out of Coventry and close the Hertford Place studios and offices
The story reported by Radio Today, 8th July 2011:
A number of changes have been announced to staff at Orion Media this
week, including moving Mercia out of Coventry to co-locate with BRMB
at Brindley Place in Birmingham and share mid-mornings. Beacon is also
on the move, leaving Tettenhall Road after 35 years in favour of a less
expensive out-of-town unit.
The news team across the West Midlands will also be reduced, with 10
journalists now having to re-apply for one of eight positions. Robin
Banks, who hosts the network evening show across BRMB
, Beacon, Wyvern and Mercia is also leaving ahead of a new show being introduced, and Mercia will network mid-mornings with BRMB
Phil Riley, Group Chief Executive told RadioToday.co.uk: “Orion Media,
like all businesses, constantly reviews its property portfolio. On this
occasion, the company has taken the opportunity afforded it by a new
deal at its Brindley Place HQ to locate its Mercia commercial and
production operations there – as it is permitted to do within current
He added: “Mercia will of course continue to serve Coventry and
Warwickshire with local output specifically made for the area throughout
the majority of the day, including the highly successful JD breakfast
show. News, traffic and travel and other information for Coventry and
Warwickshire will continue to be broadcast exactly as now. The station
will continue to have a significant presence in the area, including its
long term commitment to ‘The Mercia Live Level’ at the Ricoh arena, its
partnership with Coventry City FC, its support of major local events
such as the Godiva festival, and its long-standing community
commitments, as evidenced by the recent highly successful Walk of
Warwickshire, which the station hopes to repeat next year. The station
will continue to have a dedicated local sales team, working with
advertisers across Coventry and Warwickshire”.
Orion owns BRMB
, Mercia FM, Beacon FM, Wyvern FM, Gold stations in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton and Gem 106.
Above: The somewhat weed ridden Hertford Place studios of Mercia FM as they appeared after
GWR/GCap's ownership. The rather good advertising hording around the top of the building that was present under
the original owners and which was visible from the ring road, had by this time disappeared to be replaced
by a couple of smaller black name boards.
Happy Memories - Stuart Linnell on Hertford Place:
Stuart Linnell notes on Digital Spy that the Hertford Place studios
were: "...home to some great radio produced by some remarkably
talented people for more than 30 years. It was never the most
architecturally attractive building, but it was a great place to work
and I was proud to be part of the Day One team at Mercia Sound (as it
then was) and, later, Mercia's Programme Controller and Managing
Director. While I understand that things change and economically times
are tough, I note Mercia's move out of Coventry with some sadness. That
said, it will leave BBC [Radio] Coventry & Warwickshire, where I
present some programmes these days, as the only full service radio
station broadcasting from Coventry".
A former presenter on the same Digital Spy thread adds: "As a Cov lad I
grew up listening to the radio magic that emanated from Mercia Mansions,
and I still remember the excitement of turning up on the doorstep at
5:30am on my first day working there.
I spent eight happy years at West End House. I will always remember with
fondness Goldrush Day, charging across the NAC in the Radio Lada at the
Town and Country Festival, up on the roof with a gin and tonic
"borrowed" from the kitchen whilst watching the solar eclipse, and
sleeping on the floor in Studio B because it was snowing and someone had
to be in to answer the phones for Snowline in the morning! Oh, and
getting escorted to the car park by one of Banger Walsh's security
guards every night after finishing the late show as there would be some
random drunk or stalker (or both if I was really lucky) waiting for me
on the park bench outside. Ok, so the only daylight we got in the
studios was through the little window alongside the front door, but
somehow that didn't matter.
As for getting to host the breakfast show some years later . . . well, I
don't think I'll ever top that. Watching the large studio clock count
up to 6 o'clock, with a 238 from the vending machine close at hand . . .
I even got to design the sign on the top of the building. Jolly nice it
looked from the ring road. I've been genuinely sad since I heard this
news this morning. I don't get home much, but I always drive past the
old place to see how it is doing when I'm back in the city. CV1 3TT we
will miss you, with your backup generator so noisy that the Deaf Centre
next door would complain about the racket, your ever-collapsing
suspended ceiling, and your wonderfully maintained disabled toilet. A
quick question though. Are Orion taking the ghost from the back stairs
with them to Brum?"
"The death of commercial local radio?" by Paul Robinson
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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."
you to Paul Robinson, the author, for submitting this article. Paul
Robinson is CEO of KidsCo Television and was the Good Morning Mercia
presenter from 1984 to 1988, taking over the programme from John Warwick
the big corporate groups that aquired stations in the 1990's, such as
Mercia Sound, systematically dumped the archives and jingles without
giving a care about thier history or heritage. The material here is just
a small part of that heritage - we hope that former employees and
presenters at Mercia Sound and sister stations that now no longer exist,
will have saved a good deal more material for the archives.
|R.I.P. MERCIA SOUND - 23rd May 1980 to 26th March 2012
In January 2012 Orion Media called it a day on Mercia.
had decided that it was time to kill off its heritage brands Mercia,
Beacon, Wyvern and BRMB and abandoned individual stations names in
favour of a one name for all approach across its transmitters.
Under the terms of its franchise, won from the IBA (Independent
Broadcasting Authority) in 1979 Mercia Sound had to offer some content
to all interests and sections of the community - like all "ILR" stations
of that time Mercia had to be an 'all things to all people' station. So
for the first decade or so the station offered mixed format programming
with 'pop' music during the day interspersed with news, sport,
interviews, shopping tips, reviews and recipes and the like. In the
evening specialist programmes were broadcasts. Over the years, as IBA
franchises became Ofcom licences, and most programming requirements and
directives were dropped from the licence conditions.
By 2012, of course, local radio was becoming a distant memory. The
Coventry studios had been closed and programme output moved to
Birmingham - with 75% of all output was shared across the Orion owned
network of stations. The once separate stations were essentially a
single network in all but name - some local peak time hours remained,
however having separate local names was becoming meaningless and
pointless to the point that it was hampering the marketing of the
Having four separate names does not allow a presenter to make a live
reference to the station name during networking - he cannot refer to the
name "BRMB" while also broadcasting live across Mercia, Beacon and
Wyvern! Why indeed make four separate pre-recorded station name
identification announcements in a programme that was being shared across
Mercia was essentially dead as far as being understood as a traditional
local radio station was concerned it seemed to be a logical conclusion
to kill off the name entirely and replace it with one new all
encompassing network brand.
The name chosen was Freeradio which had a soft launch on 26th March
2012. The well known 'hertiage' names of Mercia, Wyvern, Beacon and BRMB
merely faded inauspiciously from the airwaves; phased out between 21st March and 26th March 2012.
As Mercia finally 'croaked it' a new name, Freeradio with its green frog logo, hopped onto the airwaves.
Mercia Sound tribute video on You Tube
by Kevin Sykes of KPS.org