Centre Radio was Leicestershire's first commercial radio station. It launched on 7-Sep-1981, in a blaze of publicity. Adverts were placed in the Leicester Mercury for several days preceding the launch, and station staff and presenters appeared at many local events during August and September 1981. To build people's interest still further, in the weeks before launch Timmy Mallett started to go up and down London Road on his rollerskates!
The early 1980's saw Britain in the grip of recession and it was against this background that the station launched. Centre had spent £600,000 out of their £750,000 launch budget on Granville House, a 19th century house near Victoria Park in Leicester, which they renovated, adding studios to at the rear of the house. The new broadcasting equipment alone came to £300,000.
Local architects were commissioned for the building work, and a plaque bearing their name is still there to this day. This building, on Granville Road in Leicester, was Centre's headquarters throughout the whole of it's life.
The recession, and the expense that Centre had gone to renovating their premises, hit the station hard, but they also had a problem attracting listeners, as the local BBC station, BBC Radio Leicester, had been on air since 1967, and many listeners stayed loyal to the BBC.
The station had already recorded a pre-operating loss of £121,000 after it's first few weeks on air (the first accounts were released on 30-Sep-1981) but this was put down to the setting up expenses. A loss of £85,000 was expected in the first year, but the station actually sustained a loss of £255,000 in the accounts for the year ending 30th September 1982. By this time, the first Managing Director, Mr Ken Warburton (later to be Programme Controller at East Midlands regional station Radio 106 FM) and News Editor David Robey had left.
During 1983, the financial situation continued to worsen, but Centre was expected to make a profit in the end of year accounts. When these were released, in September 1983, this was not the case. The station was still losing money fast, and on 5-Oct-1983, an offer was made by Cresnote, a company formed by Mr Geoffrey Pointon, who had resigned from the board of Centre Radio, who made a bid to take over the station. This was accepted by the board, but blocked by the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) who said that a major restructuring like this would mean that the licence would have to be re-advertised, as the structure of the company would change.
Following this news, a board meeting was held on the morning of 6-Oct-1983, at which the decision was taken to cease trading. The company's accountants were informed and receivers arrived at Granville House at 1230. At 1300, Tony Cook read the news bulletin which contained only one story, the board of Leicester and Leicestershire Local Radio plc (the company that owned Centre) was taking it off the air.
The staff had been told before that bulletin was read that their contracts had been terminated. Most spent the next few minutes packing their belongings and leaving Granville House as fast as they could, as the receivers were making notes of everything that was in the building in order to pay creditors. At 1400 the doors of Granville House were locked.
Following the bulletin, the station broadcast continuous music for a few hours, whilst further news was awaited, but there was none - the station could not be saved, and at 1730 the music stopped, News Editor Tony Cook issued a statement and the station went off the air.
Following Centre's closure, Radio Trent in Nottingham put forward a proposal for them to provide a temporary service for Leicester from November 1st 1983. To be called Leicester Sound, this service would have output from Leicester for 12 hours a day on weekdays and 6 hours at weekends, for a period of 1 year, whilst the IBA readvertised the franchise. This proposal was accepted by the IBA but blocked by the unions.
As a result, the IBA readvertised the franchise on 31-Oct-1983, when the following advertisement appeared in the Leicester Mercury:
Following Centre Radio's closure, Tony Cook continued to work in Leicester at Leicester Sound, but then left to work on News On Sunday, a new Sunday paper. When this closed, he went to Independant Radio News where he was a reporter, then Network Editor and sometime Intake Editor. He then set up IRN International and when that task was completed, crossed the floor to produce and present his own daily three hour show on LBC, 'Tony Cook's Talking Sport' which was the UK's first daily sports phone in.
He then left commercial radio and joined up with John Goddard of Praxis Films and have made many a TV documentary with him including Channel 4's Secret History: Bloody Sunday, Secret Lives: Marie Stopes, Secret Lives: Billy Butlin and a number of Cutting Edges and Dispatches.