BBC director general Greg Dyke continued in his quest to overturn much of predecessor John Birt’s legacy this week, by announcing the return of a local radio station for Coventry and Warwickshire.
Speaking at the Radio Festival in Birmingham, Dyke announced the reintroduction of a BBC local radio station to the area, sending a message of vindication to those that campaigned hard to keep the region’s original station open before it was folded into BBC WM in 1995.
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He also branded Birt’s decision to close BBC CWR after five years “a mistake”. Dyke said: “The decision was made under different circumstances – and now we’re in a position to change it.”
John Fray, deputy general secretary of the NUJ – who was instrumental in the “long, hard campaign” to try to save BBC CWR – agreed, saying it should never have been closed in the first place.
“It’s good news. And it proves what we said at the time: that there is a need for a local station in Coventry and Warwickshire. All the staff and listeners will no doubt make it a successful and distinct station in the future,” he added.
Giving the reason for launching a new station in the region now, David Holdsworth, head of regional and local programmes, responded: “It’s because it deserves it and we have found a property for it.”
“Coventry and Warwickshire is one of the remaining areas without a proper BBC radio service, so we took up the opportunity to start a property search. The new station will be contemporary in its feel and won’t necessarily follow the format our other stations have,” he said.
Holdsworth added that he was about to advertise for an editor for the as yet unnamed station and would likely recruit “at least 10” other journalists.
The new station will also incorporate an “open centre” that will give the local community access to BBC Learning facilities, similar to those available at Blackburn, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent.
The demise of BBC CWR in 1995 was part of a strategy to merge a number of local radio stations. This included the fusion of Radio Oxford and Radio Berkshire into BBC Thames Valley, and the addition of Surrey, Sussex and north-east Hampshire services to Guildford-based BBC Southern Counties Radio.
Resistance to the closure of BBC CWR gained the support of MPs, journalists and listeners, including the Archbishop of Coventry, but failed to stop its merger with BBC WM at the cost of 25 jobs.
by Wale Azeez