Free Coventry & Warwickshire
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|Broadcast area||Coventry, Solihull, and Warwickshire, England|
|Slogan||The Biggest Hits, The Biggest Throwbacks|
|First air date||23 May 1980|
|Sister stations||Free Birmingham|
Free Herefordshire & Worcestershire
Free Shropshire & Black Country
Greatest Hits West Midlands
Free Coventry & Warwickshire (formerly Mercia Sound, then Mercia FM) is an Independent Local Radio station serving Coventry and Warwickshire, England. The station, which is owned and operated by Bauer, forms part of the Hits Radio network.
The station began broadcasting as Mercia Sound at 0700 BST on 23 May 1980, with an opening announcement by Programme Director Ian Rufus, followed by breakfast presenter Gordon Astley and a news bulletin read by Mike Henfield.
In 1987, the station moved FM frequencies, along with most ILR stations at the time to 97.0 FM. Shortly after this a new transmitter on 102.9 FM was created to serve South Warwickshire.
In 1993, the station's owners, Midlands Radio, sold the station to Capital Radio who, shortly afterwards sold it to GWR Group, who re-branded it in-line with their "Today's Best Mix" slogan from 1994 onwards. During this period numerous presenters from other GWR stations joined Mercia, including Craig Strong (Trent FM, Ram FM, Leicester Sound), Tim Gough (Trent FM), Rachael Hopper (Ram FM) and Sean Goldsmith (Trent FM). From 2002 onwards, the slogan was "Playing the best mix of the 80's, 90's and today". In 2007, it reverted to the old slogan of "Today's Best Mix".
On 8 August 2008, it was confirmed that due to competition 'conflict of interests' in the West Midlands (and in other areas), Mercia would be sold by Global Radio, along with other West Midlands owned GCap/Global stations BRMB, Wyvern FM, Heart 106 and Beacon Radio. In July 2009, the station was sold officially to a company, backed by Lloyds Development Capital and Phil Riley, called Orion Media.
At this time, seven hours of local programming were broadcast each weekday with four hours on weekend afternoons and a regional daytime programme on weekdays. Outside of these hours, programming was networked with the rest of the Hits Radio network.
On 8 July 2011, Orion Media announced plans to close Mercia's Coventry studios and co-locate the station to the company's headquarters in Birmingham – the move took place two months later, leaving Coventry with only one locally based station (BBC Coventry & Warwickshire) broadcasting from the city.
On 9 January 2012, Orion Media announced that Mercia would be rebranded as a Free Coventry & Warwickshire from April 2012, along with its sister West Midlands stations Beacon, BRMB and Wyvern. The Mercia brand was phased out on Wednesday 21 March 2012 in preparation for the rebrand, which took place at 7pm on Monday 26 March 2012.
In May 2019, following OFCOM's decision to relax local content obligations from commercial radio, Bauer announced Free's Coventry & Warwickshire breakfast show would be shared with the sister station in Herefordshire and Worcestershire from 8 July 2019, presented by John Dalziel and Roisin McCourt. The localised weekday drivetime shows were initially replaced by a single regional show, presented by Andy Goulding.
Local programming consists of Hits at Breakfast on weekdays from 6-10am which is produced and broadcast from Free's Birmingham studios. The programme, presented by John Dalziel and Roisin McCourt, also airs on Free's station in Herefordshire & Worcestershire.
Free in Coventry & Warwickshire broadcasts local news bulletins hourly from 6am-7pm on weekdays, from 7am-1pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Headlines are broadcast on the half hour during weekday breakfast and drivetime shows, alongside traffic bulletins.
Local bulletins are produced from Free's Birmingham newsroom. National bulletins from Sky News Radio are carried overnight with bespoke networked bulletins on weekend afternoons, usually originating from Radio Aire's Leeds newsroom.
- Radio Today Archived 13 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- Orion Media moves Mercia to Birmingham, Radio Today, 8 July 2011
- to-be-free/ BRMB, Mercia, Beacon, Wyvern to be Free, Radio Today, 9 January 2012
- Feature: Orion's Phil Riley on Free Radio, RadioToday, 11 January 2012
- Bauer buys radio group Orion Media, The Guardian, 6 May 2016
- Orion Media sold to Bauer for £50m, The Telegraph, 6 May 2016
- Free to reduce local breakfast and drive shows, Radio Today, 30 May 2019
- Hits Radio Network stations to drop local weekend programmes, Radio Today, 30 May 2019
- Bauer to network drivetime across 11 licences in North and Midlands, Radio Today, 5 August 2019
- Free - Public File