MDS975 logo Memories Of

local radio in Coventry, Warwickshire & South West Leicestershire
By Mike Smith
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Click to play my short Mercia Sound retrospective

The story begins a long long time ago in a land that we call Mercia......

Mercia Logo


It was a ITN television news report in April 1980 that tempted me to tune into 96.0 MHz VHF.  The news story was that CBC, the first of a further seven new Independent Local Radio (ILR) 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 ITN television news story, noting 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 96.0 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 listening 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 new 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, Bedworth, 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 23rd." 

I had just found the twenty first ILR station to go on air in the UK!

Various selections of music were played during these test transmissions, three of which come to mind; an instrumental version of "The Age Of Aquarius" a tune called "Popcorn" and the orchestral work "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".

We lived just inside the 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):

Mercia Sound
Hertford Place

Mercia Sound

Hertford Place Coventry

Hertford Place
                                    Place Coventry
Above Left : Mercia Sound's premises at the former working mens club
in Hertord Place Coventry.  
(BBC News)

Above: Close up of the receiving aerials used by Mercia Sound.

Left: The Hertford Place Studios as they looked in later years. (Mercia)
Mercia Sound - your local station
 Mercia info
The information panel above is taken from the IBA's 'Television And Radio' publication.  The map shows the VHF contour for excellent reception on FM.  In practice the area that Mercia Sound served was much wider than this, and the area of good medium wave reception extended beyond Warwick, Lutterworth and Atherstone.   As shown in the map below:

Coverage Map

The Broadcast Area Map Produced by the Sales Department
The White Area shows the principal transmission area
The 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
Station map from the Birmingham Evening Mail in 1980
showing the "lound and clear" reception areas of Mercia Sound,
Beacon Radio and BRMB Radio.


Mercia Sound hit the 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.

5 am to 9:30 Good  Morning Mercia - 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)
9: 30 to 1pm Through Till One - 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 regular guests including Ernie Biddle, the antiques expert, and Harvey Williams the chartered surveyor.
1 pm to 4 pm Afternoon Delight - with Stuart Linnell
including the news programme Mercia Reports with MikeHenfield
(Later presented by Jim Lee)
4 pm to 7 pm Radio Active - with Tony Gillham
including the news programme Mercia Reports and the "Late Duty Chemists" rota.
(Later presented by John Warwick)
7 pm to 9 pm
Aakash Deep - Asian 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 7:30 pm)
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
9 pm to midnight Night Express - music and tons of fun with John Warwick
(Later presented by, amongst others, Tom Clapton and Annie Othen)

5 am to 9:30 am
Good Morning Mercia - breakfast show with Andy Lloyd
9:30 am to 1 pm
Mercia Music Computer - chart show - with Tony Gillham
1 pm to 6 pm
Sportacular - with Stuart Linnell
6 pm to 9 pm
A Saturday Night Out -  presented byAndy Lloyd  - a programme of music and fun to put listeners in to mood for going out.
9 pm to 1 am
A Saturday Night In - with Dave Jamieson - music, quizzes and fun with phone ins though until 1 am including Dave's  infuriating Six Of The Best competition.  (Do you remember Dave's rabbits - Marcia and Hertford?)

7 am to 8 am
That Certain Sound - a programme of local religious news with Roger Hall
8 am to midday
A Touch Of Class - Sunday morning music, information and fun, including The Heritage Quiz, with Andy Lloyd
12:00 to 2 pm
From Me To You - with Robbie Mason (and later Jim Lee)
2 pm to 6pm
Lazy Sunday - with John Warwick
6 pm to 7 pm
Bandstand - with Ian Rufus
7 pm to 9 pm
Concert Hall - classical music with Lyndon Jenkins
9 pm to midnight
Sunday's  Night Express with Andy Lloyd - including the unmissable, and unforgettable Lateral Thinking Quiz


Gordon Astley
Dave Jamieson
Stuart Linnell
Gordon Astley
Dave Jamieson
Stuart Linnell

Andy Lloyd

John Warwick

Jim Lee
Andy Lloyd
John Warwick
Jim Lee


"Gordon Gordon will drive away your boredom,
If you wake up feeling ghastly,
Tune To Gordon Astley."

Carl Peake remembers this quirky Mercia Sound jingle:

"Every morning I wake up
Drink some of my favourite cup
Brush my teeth and go and walk my Dasch -
Hooouund !
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!

Dave Jamieson:  Arrived at Mercia Sound via BBC Radio Leicester and BRMB in Birmingham in the 1970's.  Dave presented the 'Through Till One' show which was always packed full of features, local information, news and of course music.  Dave left around 1983/4 to move up to Humberside where he launched another new ILR station called VIKING RADIO.  Dave returned to the Midlands in 1989 when XTRA AM launched in the area.

Stuart Linnell:  Presented 'Afternoon Delight' ("oh gosh what fun" - John Warwick), 'Sportacular', sports phone-ins and documentary style programmes.  Stuart went on to become Programme Controller and then Managing Director of Mercia Sound until 1994/5.  Mercia was taken over by GWR in 1993/4 and Stuart left some time after this.

Andy Lloyd:  Presented various weekend and evening programmes including 'Shock Wave' - the new music programme, 'The Rock Show', A 'Saturday Night Out', 'A Touch Of Class' and Sunday's 'Night Express' programme where Andy presented the lucky audience with the infamous Lateral Thinking Competition.  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 hours 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 in their own Lateral thinking Questions.  The quiz became somewhat of 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.

(Oh, the 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.)

John Warwick: 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 have been when Gordon Astley left the station).  John presented Good 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, very sadly, is no longer alive.

Tony Gillham:  Started off in hospital radio, United Biscuits Radio and then to the large ILR station Radio Tees.  He 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 at Radio Two and Radio Devon.  Tony's excellent show, 'Gillham Gold', can be heard on BBC Radio Oxford and BBC Radio Devon.

Jim Lee:  Joined Mercia Sound after leaving his career at a bank behind him.  Jim started to present Afternoon Delight, once Stuart Linnell had left this particular slot.  He also presented the request show on a Sunday morning From Me To You.   Jim left Mercia Sound around 1990 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 Radio Four.

Tom Clapton 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 certificate. 


By 1981 the schedules had been fine-tuned and were changed slightly.  On Saturday mornings there was a new programme for the 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 in the middle of summer! Quite mad!

And the jingle went:
 "Good Afternoon From Mercia Sound, Time To Relax So Sit Yourself Down"


Some of the first records played on Mercia Sound in May 1980 ( They were vinyl records - CD's had not been invented in 1980!)

What's another year - Johnny Logan
Geno - Dexy's Midnight Runners
Mirror in the bathroom - The Beat
She's out of my life - Michael Jackson
Hold on to my love - Jimmy Ruffin
No doubt about it - Hot Chocolate
Coming up - Paul McCartney
Theme from MASH (Suicide is painless) - The MASH
Over you - Roxy Music
The groove - Rodney Franklin
I shoulda loved ya - Nirada Michael Walden
Toccata - Sky
Don't make waves - The Nolans
Let's go round again - Average White Band
Teenage - U.K. Subs
Duchess - Genesis
Police and theives - Junior Murvin
Just can't give you up - Mystic Merlin
You'll always find me in the kitchen at parties - Jona Lewie
We are glass - Gary Numan
Twilight zone/twilight tone - Manhattan Transfer
You gave me love - Crown Heights Affair
Pulling muscles (from the shell) - Squeeze
No self control - Peter Gabriel
Body language - Detroit Spinners
Red frame/white light - Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark
Let's get serious - Jermaine Jackson
Midnight dynamos - Matchbox
The seduction (love theme) - James Last Band
Back together again - Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway
Think about me - Fleetwood Mac
Platinum blonde - Prelude
Funkytown - Lipps Inc.
Passion for Paris/an American in Paris - Frankie Valli
Hot love - David Essex
Chinatown - Thin Lizzy
Rat race - The Specials
Crying - Don McLean
I'm alive - Electric Light Orchestra
The eyes have it - Karel Fialka


The original news team was a very strong line up of journalists, they were: Mike Henfield (News Editor), Peter Lowe (who took over as News Editor when Mike Henfield left), Gary Hudson, (the late) Alan Turner, Kay Oliver, Mike Henfield and Andy Armitage.

Mercia News
Centre Front: Peter Lowe (News Editor);
Left To Right, Kay Oliver, Gary Hudson, Andy Armitage, Jan Lynch, Alan Turner, Julie Carter.
Photo 1982 - IBA

Mercia Sound Sticker


"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 took a holiday to Cornwall and I, being the unrelenting radio enthusiast, obviously took a portable radio!  I had fashioned an external VHF aerial that could be clipped to the rear window of the car - held in place when the window was fully wound up.  Medium wave reception was almost impossible inside the 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 VHF!

Then, when Mercia Sound's 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 Bristol!  When we approached in Devon it was a nice surprise to find yet another new radio station - DEVON AIR.  This was advertised on hoardings alongside 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. 

When we arrived in Cornwall I tuned into Plymouth Sound on 261 meters.  At 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.

However, the great news 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 SOUND sticker in the back window.  It caused quite a stir when other MERCIA 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 Coventry    Mercia Sound is Kenilworth    Mercia Sound is Nuneaton
Mercia Sound 
is Rugby     Mercia Sound is Leicestershire

Mercia Sound Sticker


was obviously a big hit with the local population, even from casual observations very many people were listening and lots of radios were tuned in to 220.  Time and again Mercia Sound was cited as the 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 later.

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 important.  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 Liecestershire.  There were specialist music programmes of 'new wave' and rock along with  programmes for lovers of Jazz, Big Band, Classical and Country. R
egular Asian programmes and a Sunday religious programme were also included in Mercia's comprehensive schedules.  Almost everyone in the area could find something to listen 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.  This 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 slickly and professionally, - but also at appropriate times not taking itself too seriously!  Mercia Sound was a massive hit and deserved the good results that everyone there had worked so hard to achieve.

Mercia Sound on GOLDRUSH DAY
The offices at Mercia Sound buzz with action on the annual
charity GOLDRUSH day in the 1980's.
(BBC News)

Mercia Sound Studio

The Mercia Sound Studios
Mercia Sound Studio


Mercia Sound 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.

It 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 MSC funded Community Programme, employing five people - a full-time project leader, a full-time secretary and three part-time project assistants.

The scheme continued on that basis until the middle of 1986, when its administration was taken on by Community  Service Volunteers (CSV) 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.

Mercia Action mounted a 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 team.



An 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 subsequent employment.


Each week, 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 handing out a Mercia Action Fact Pack.


The day's 'Helpline' feature on DIY is carried on into the evening, as Night Express presenter Annie Othen (above) interviews one of the experts. ... all part of Independent Radio working, often round the clock, to serve the local community.

["Mercia Action" was adapted from from an IBA feature]


Happy Christmas From Mercia Sound in 1986

"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"

The MERCIA SOUND Information Panel from the IBA's publication 'TV & Radio 1987'


04:07 am
Daybreak with Steve Williams
7:03 pm (Medium Wave only) Suresh and Nimi
07:07 am Jeff Harris
9:03 pm (Medium Wave only) Rob Jordan
10:05 am Dave Simms
7:05 pm (FM only) Musicomputer with Clive Skelhon
1:00 pm News 9:03 pm (FM only) Jazz Club with Steve Williams
1:15 pm Annie Othen 10:05 pm Night Express with Francis Currie
4:05 pm Overdrive with Gary Hynes
01:03 am Night Beat with Steve Hustler
6:15 pm (Medium Wave only) Ian McLaren

A newspaper advert placed by Mercia Sound in The Coventry Evening Telegraph in 1989

04:03 am Daybreak with Chris Pegg
6:00 pm Mercia Reports
06:00 am Mercia Breakfast Show with Dave Simms
6:30 pm The Mix with Clive Skelhon
09:00 am Morning Show with Francis Currie
9:00 pm (special programme) The Ivor Novello Awards with Richard Allison 
12:00 Listen To The Music with Jeff Harris 10:00 pm The Late Show with Donald Steele
3:00 pm Overdrive with Rob Jordan
1:00 am Night Beat with Mark Keen

The Mercia Sound Roadshow at the 1989 Town and Country Show in Kenilworth

Mercia Sound Roadshow
Mercia FM Roadshow (Mercia)

06:00 am Bernie Keith
6:10 pm Gary Hynes
09:30 am Jeff Harris 8:00 pm Bob Brolly (the Irish show)
11:00 am Rob Jordan (102.9 FM until 3pm) 9:00 pm Mercia Folk
1:00 pm Music Jam 10:00 pm Mark Keen (The Naughty Late Show)
2:00 pm Clive Skelhon 1:00 am Night Beat
5:40 pm News

Rob Jordan - presented several programmes on Mercia, including the
South Warwickshire programme on the 102.9 transmitter

Clive Skelhon
Bernie Keith

Jeff Harris
Gary Hynes

Mark Keen
"On The Air Everywhere" - MARK KEEN on Mercia FM
Mark worked on Mercia from 1989 to 1995
Read more about
Mark Keen HERE
Clive Skelhon on
                                Mercia Sound
Clive Skelhon on Mercia Sound


Around 1992 Mercia Sound won a bronze medal in the Urban Contemporary section of the International Radio Awards - the station had also won an award for the best eclectic radio station.

Cutting From the Coventry Evening Telegraph


In 1988 Mercia Sound joined 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 the 220 meters (1359 kHz) transmitter of Mercia Sound and the 261 meters (1152 kHz) transmitter of BRMB called
XTRA AM which launched on 4th April 1989. 

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 102.9 MHz.

In 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 Sound seemed to contract and re-focus, with more music and shorter news bulletins, in the face of competition from new national and regional radio stations.

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.

My very own "Mercia Sound 220 Makes Your Day" Mug !



MERCIA MESSAGES  ( E-Mail that we have received)  

CLICK HERE to go to the MERCIA MESSAGES Page > > >

TECHNICALLY - The Transmitters

                          TX 608 Tuner

Mercia Sound broadcast to 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 just north 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 transmitters.

The Medium Wave (AM) transmitter used 1359 kilohertz (that is 220 meters) with an effective radiated power of 175 Watts.  This was slightly 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 Warwickshire.

The VHF (FM) transmitter was on 95.9 MHz with 250 Watts of effective radiated power using mixed polarised aerials (that is 125 Watts in the vertical plane and 125 Watts in the horizontal plane). The aerials were mounted on one face of the mast facing west, so there would have been a slight 'mast null' to the east which probably helped prevent too much overspill into Leicestershire.

Mixed polarisation involves transmitting equal powers in the horizontal plane and the vertical plane which helps reception on portable radios.  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 1973, 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 usually used vertically positioned aerials.

A Reception Report QSL Card Issued By The Mercia Sound Engineer Laurence Frayne

The IBA's mast at Shilton
Above:  The Shilton 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 Wave aerial
while the sloping wire (the dangling 'ladder section) is a reflector that adds directivity to the signal
to the south and across Coventry.


By 1985 the VHF / FM transmitter at Shilton had had a nominal increase in power from 250 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 WARC (World Administrative 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 advantage 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 IBA 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 Wrekin on 96.0 MHz for BBC Radio Shropshire which opened in 1985 operating with 5000 watts.  Once Leicester Sound had moved from its original 97.1 allocation to 103.2 on 28th May 1986 Mercia Sound could 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 Shilton VHF 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.   From then on the station became known as MERCIA FM.

XTRA AM was a new venture between MERCIA & BRMB (the Midlands Radio plc group) to provide different prgramming on AM (medium wave) and FM (v.h.f) - as stipulated by the government and overseen by the IBA.  XTRA AM would provide 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 used 102.9 MHz VHF / FM stereo and was switched on on the day that XTRA AM launched - on 4th April 1989. 

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 South 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  effective 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. 

Shilton Map
Official IBA map showing the 97.0 VHF (at 500 Watts), 102.9 VHF (50 Watts)
 and MF coverage contours

Mercia Sound coverage map
Ofcom Map showing coverage as of December 2003

More coverage maps for Mercia Sound and other stations HERE

Mercia's 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.
Mercia's GWR group logo
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 Wolverhampton 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 licenses in Birmingham (1152), Coventry (1359), Shrewsbury (1017) and Wolverhampton (990).

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 Dragon FM.
Mercia's GCap group
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 local news.

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.

From The 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:Mercia's Orion
                              Media group logo

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 “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 OFCOM guidelines.”

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.

Hertford Place studios of Mercia FM
                                as they appeard under GCap's ownership
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

"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."
Thank 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

Sadly 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.

Mercia's Orion Media group logoOrion 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 network.

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 the network?

                            Coventry and WarwickshireSince 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

More videos on You Tube

ATV News features about the launch of Mercia Sound in May 1980 :
 including a feature one year later in 1981. By Kevin Sykes of

BBC Documentary on local radio in Coventry part 1 :

BBC Documentary on local radio in Coventry part 2 :

Freeradio Coventry and Warwickshire

Freeradio 80's

Mercia FM's old official website address -


Read Stuart Clarkson's excellent radio articles on Radio Today here:

BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshire 94.8 & 103.7 fm

BBC Radio WM 95.6 fm

BBC Radio Shropshire 96.0 fm

BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester 94.7 & 104.0 fm


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© Mike Smith  -   2005 - 2015

Memories Of 220 Mercia Sound
On Air Date: 23rd May 1980
Broadcasting to
 Coventry, Warwickshire and South West Leicestershire
on 220 meters, 1359kHz Medium Wave and 95.9 MHz VHF Stereo
Midland Community Radio plc  -  Mercia FM History
 Mercia FM 97.0 and 102.9
Off Air Date: 26th March 2012

Mercia Sound, Mercia FM, Mercia Memories, 23rd May 1980, Coventry,
Warwickshire, South West Leicestershire, Midlands
220 meters, 1359, kilohertz medium wave / AM, 95.9, 97.0, 102.9 MHz VHF/FM Stereo. Midland Community Radio. Midlands Radio,
Capital Radio, GCap Media, Global Radio, Orion Media, History, profile, broadcast, broadcasting, Mercia Radio, Night Express,
Ian Rufus, Stuart Linnell, Mark Keen, Gordon Astley, Annie Othen, DJ, Presenter, Dave Simms, Rob Jordan, John Warwick, Tom Clapton,
Dave Jamieson, Andy Lloyd, Jim Lee, Jim Hawkins

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