Off Centre 

15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3190

Centre Radio logo

Centre Radio was Leicestershire’s first commercial radio station. It launched on 7 September 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!

 

Listen to part of a Centre Radio Test Transmission

 

Listen to a Centre Radio Jingle

 

The early 1980s 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 its life.

Granville House, Leicester

Granville House, Leicester

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 October 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.

Centre Radio's opening schedule

Centre Radio’s opening schedule

Following this news, a board meeting was held on the morning of 6 October 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.

 

Listen to Tony Cook reading the last news bulletin on Centre Radio – Thanks to Martyn Metzner for this clip

 

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.

 

Listen to the the announcement made by Tony Cook at 1730 on 6 October 1983

 

Listen to Tony Cook’s statement broadcast at 1903 on 7 October 1983

 

Following Centre’s closure, Radio Trent in Nottingham put forward a proposal for them to provide a temporary service for Leicester from 1 November 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 re-advertised the franchise. This proposal was accepted by the IBA but blocked by the unions.

As a result, the IBA re-advertised the franchise on 31 October 1983, when an advertisement appeared in the Leicester Mercury.

The IBA re-advertises the Leicester contract

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 Independent 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 Edge and Dispatches documentaries.

 

You Say

8 responses to this article

Daniel Perry 20 August 2015 at 7:11 pm

I now reside in Granville House and was amazed to learn that it was the home of the first commercial radio station in Leicester. I am a musician and have a very large record and CD collection but I assume it is nowhere near the size of what Centre Radio had!

Tim Disney 24 September 2016 at 9:28 pm

Centre Radio had a lovely record library. It was a whole room of vinyl delights. I had the pleasure of raiding it every morning before going on air on Leicester Sound. Granville House was a lovely building to work in and the studios were very well equipped with some very expensive kit, above and beyond the quality found in most ILR setups of the time. Centre Radio’s loss was certainly Leicester Sound’s gain. I remembered listening to Centre Radio before I started working in radio, and so it was a bit of a thrill to get to work there. I used to arrive at about 5am and unlock the building. One of the first tasks of the day was to go upstairs and photocopy the weather from the teleprinter. One copy went to news, the other to the studio. I hated going upstairs alone as a young woman servant had hung herself in one of the stairwells when the building was a house in a previous existence. Despite this, I still have many fond memories of working at Granville House.

Chris 31 December 2019 at 1:26 am

I remember listening to Centre Radio weakly on AM in the West Midlands as a teenager, I enjoyed the station and thought it was a great pity when it closed down.

Terry Wallis 24 March 2021 at 7:05 pm

I was the Area Marketing Officer for NatWest in Leicester when Centre Radio first went on air and to my surprise my job description suddenly included being responsible for the Daily Financial Reports on Centre Radio which went out in the 6pm News with Tony Cook etc. I also did a Financial Review on a Monday morning at around 7.30am and for several weeks had an hour Financial Programme with a Mark Williams (who told me his mum kept telling him to get a proper job!) on a Wednesday afternoon that included a phone-in. It was with Centre Radio that I “cut my teeth” in local radio and gained experience. BBC Radio Leicester had me for Budget Specials etc. Fond memories of The Team at Centre Radio and delighted to see how many of them have progressed. I well remember all the Presenters – Tony Cook, Jay Cooper, Mark Hurrell, Alan West, John Evington, Mark Williams and Kenny Hague etc. I am now retired but am a Presenter on Beverley FM (Silver Surfers Club on Tuesday nights) and IN TOUCH a religious magazine programme on Sundays at 8.30am. Terry Wallis

Kevin Chamberlain 1 July 2021 at 2:34 pm

I actually presented a couple of programmes on Centre Radio, but no-one will have noticed or remembered.

I knew Jay Cooper who worked at Centre Radio from its opening. He presented the programme Rock-ola – which was rock music (rather than pop). Previously, he had worked at BBC Radio Nottingham under the name Jaye C, which is where I met him.

He presented a rock music programme on BBC Radio Nottm, and when he left Nottingham to go to Centre Radio, I took over the Radio Nottm programmes. I did them for a couple of years until they were discontinued in 1982 due to budget cuts.

Jay Cooper’s programme Rock-ola on Centre only existed for around 6-9 months, but during that time I presented a couple of shows when he wasn’t available.

Eddie Hutchinson 8 September 2021 at 12:21 am

A beautiful finish under the circumstances there by DJ Mark Williams, who must have been given the news of his contract terminating by someone telling him ‘off mic’ during his show, impishly finishing his truncated show with “Come Back And Stay” and the announcement “Thank you, Leicestershire, it’s been fun”.

I only hope someone filled a box with Tony Cook’s belongings and scarpered with it for him while he had to stay ona few hours as captain of the sunk ship.

Steven Oliver 12 September 2021 at 9:46 pm

It was actually Dave Bowen and not Mark Williams who said “Thank you Leicestershire, it’s been fun.” I agree that his choice of song and the closing link was a good way to sign off.

Eddie Hutchinson 13 September 2021 at 8:41 pm

Sorry, I didn’t realise Dave Bowen had made the final link.

How ironic that, if you look up Granville House on Google Maps, next door is an accountant who gives tax advice.

I’ve been wondering how Tony Cook made the announcements at 5.30 on the day of closure and 7.03 the next evening. I’m guessing he pre-recorded the 5.30 closure before the doors were locked at 2.00, and he was allowed in to broadcast the next night seeing as there was going to be a press conference outside the studios an hour later?

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