BBC ditching of Sean Coyle from radio criticised by the widow of Gerry Anderson
The widow of the late Radio Ulster presenter Gerry Anderson has told how she was reduced to tears after his long-time sidekick Sean Coyle was axed by the BBC.
Coyle (72) stunned listeners by announcing his departure live on air yesterday - ending a 35-year association with the broadcaster.
The star said yesterday's show was his last and that he "didn't want to go", but the "decision wasn't his".
Speaking to listeners, Coyle said he was brought in by BBC bosses on Monday and told that they would be stopping his show, which ran from 10.30am to noon, between the Nolan Show and Talkback, and is the third most listened-to radio programme on Radio Ulster.
He had an average audience of 82,000 listeners, internal BBC figures show.
The devastated presenter said he was asked to carry the show on for another six weeks but found it too difficult and emotional to do so, and was opting to go straight away.
"This is my last programme," he said on air. "On Monday of this week I met with bosses in the BBC and they told me their plans for the future.
"There's a whole new plan for the future on Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle and they're making changes and I didn't figure in the changes. I wasn't there.
"They told me that this show would end in six weeks' time and, in fairness, they offered me other work.
"They are bringing on another programme, what it is I don't know. Whoever it is I wish that person every success."
Listeners, who at first thought it was a joke, jammed the show's phone lines with messages of support, many speaking of their heartache, and bombarded social media with comments slamming the BBC's decision.
Last night an online petition to reinstate the show had been signed by 770 people.
Coyle worked for many years alongside his friend Gerry Anderson prior to his death in August 2014.
As Mr Anderson took time off to undergo treatment for bowel cancer, Coyle carried on without his friend and, although devastated, kept the show going solo after his death.
Mr Anderson's wife Christine said yesterday that the decision to axe the show was "a disgrace" and she cried when listening to his last programme, which came just two days after the fifth anniversary of his death.
"I think it's a disgrace that he has been let go," she said. "This week of all weeks. His show is so popular and I think he handled the entire situation so admirably. He didn't say a word about the BBC. He rose above it all.
"It was so emotional listening to his final show. I cried listening to him. It was heartbreaking and I know he is gutted.
"It must have been so difficult to do that last show. And yet every song was appropriate to what was happening, them letting him go. There is cruelty in this world, but they seemed to pick their moment.
"Gerry and Sean were very valuable to the BBC. They helped a lot of people for a lot of years through dark, dark days. I hold Sean in such high esteem.
"He and Gerry were like a married couple. He loved him, they really loved each other and Sean carried that show on with such dignity and respect for the two years that Gerry was sick and after he passed away."
Christine said she was not criticising the BBC, adding: "They were very, very good to Gerry and I when he was sick. They went out of their way to be more than kind, I could never fault them for that.
"But I don't think Sean deserved this. His show was very popular. As people say, you vote with your feet and the fact that his show was up there among the top three says a lot to me.
"I don't know what has gone on, maybe they want to change the format, but Sean will be sadly missed.
"I think it was very insensitive that it happened this week. It's like a double blow. For this to happen now, I think there could have definitely been a better time."
"This is like the end of an era," she added.
"It was Gerry's anniversary this week. Every year is bad, but this year has been particularly bad. And to hear this news this morning, I just sat and cried."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the BBC had made a mistake by cancelling the show.
"I understand the need to shake up programming and try new ideas but Sean is a popular presenter and has given 35 years of service to the organisation." Talkback presenter William Crawley wrote on social media: "I've chatted on-air with Sean Coyle every week day for the past five years. We've still never met in person, but I feel like we're old friends at this point, and I already miss him."
Coyle told listeners: "I have enjoyed it, I don't want to go, but the decision has been made and I must abide by it. Was it Arnold Schwarzenegger who said 'I'll be back'? You don't know. I abide by the decision, I don't understand it, but that's that."
BBC Northern Ireland director Peter Johnston said: "Decisions around changing our radio schedules are always difficult and never taken lightly.
"Sean is a brilliant broadcaster and his easy-going repartee and deep musical repertoire have made him a popular voice.
"Whether as a presenter of his own programmes or as Gerry Anderson's right-hand man, he has played an unforgettable part in BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle's story... I'd like to thank Sean for everything he has brought to the station."