Belfast Telegraph

Sean Coyle: I was hurt and upset by axing of my Radio Ulster show... but I have no animosity towards the BBC

  • Sean Coyle reveals how his 35-year career came to an end and thanks public for support

  • Says he had the full backing of wife Patricia over his decision to walk away immediately

Former BBC Radio Ulster presenter Sean Coyle
Former BBC Radio Ulster presenter Sean Coyle
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

Veteran Radio Ulster presenter Sean Coyle has said he holds no animosity towards BBC NI despite the shock axing of his popular show.

Sean, a fixture on the airwaves for 35 years, announced his immediate departure live on Friday morning’s programme.

In his first interview since leaving, the 72-year-old Londonderry broadcaster told the Belfast Telegraph how he was left ‘hurt and upset’ after being told that his show was not part of the company’s restructuring plans.

He also described how he got angry and refused to accept the alternative package they offered him, prompting him to leave BBC NI after more than three decades on the air — but he doesn’t rule out a return some time in the future.

Recalling the lead-up to his departure, Sean said: “I got a text message from one of the bosses saying that they would like to meet me on Monday to discuss the future.

“I should have heard the warning bells ringing because they wanted to see me not in Radio Foyle, but in a nearby cafe.

“We met that Monday and they just told me that, as part of the rescheduling, they were taking the programme off and they had nothing else to offer me, basically.

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“As it turned out, there is fault on my behalf, because I got angry and I walked away. I said a few choice words and said, ‘I’m leaving gentlemen’.

“In fairness to them, they were calling me back because they actually had more to offer me, but I didn’t listen. I think we both started off on the wrong foot.

“The following day, we got together again and they told me about the package and what they were doing. And I agreed to what they had offered me.

Sean Coyle with his late co-host and friend Gerry Anderson
Sean Coyle with his late co-host and friend Gerry Anderson

“I was to do so many more weeks on Radio Ulster, and then I could go and work in Radio Foyle. And there was work there for me until the end of March. And I agreed to it. I accepted it and everything was hunky-dory.

“Then I got up on Friday morning and got ready for work. I was in the kitchen on my own and I was mulling it all over in my head and I said to my wife Patricia, ‘I’m packing this in today’. Just like that. She was 100 per cent behind me. She said she knew it was coming.

“I went in and told the station boss and he was very calm about it and I assured him that I would do it right on the air. So that was it.”

Sean is best known for his on-air partnership with the late Gerry Anderson. He presented the show solo after his friend’s death in 2014.

The programme aired from 10.30am to noon every weekday and was the third most listened-to show on Radio Ulster.

A petition to reinstate Sean to his usual mid-morning slot has been steadily growing, and last night had passed 4,600 signatures.

Big call: Sean Coyle told wife Patricia that he was leaving the BBC just hours before going on air for the final time on Friday morning
Big call: Sean Coyle told wife Patricia that he was leaving the BBC just hours before going on air for the final time on Friday morning

Sean said he has been completely overwhelmed by the public response to his departure.

He added: “When I see and hear the messages, the social media conversations from the public, emails, the phone calls to the house from former employees and former bosses saying that they cannot understand it and the reaction from people on the street, it is just so overwhelming.

“I want to thank all those who took the time to reach out to me. I really, really appreciate it all. There have been times I have had to stop reading the comments because it has made me so emotional.

“I knew the programme was popular. I knew the figures, but that is just a number, your listening figures.

“There were people crying down the phone saying that they were so upset about the show stopping. When you read on social media with faces and names attached, and the stories that are attached to them, about how much the show meant to people, it is very humbling.

“And that has made me sit back and think, there is fault on both sides. Did I go out too early? Did they go too early? We can point fingers at one another, but maybe we both got it wrong and I feel we did.”

With his team on Friday after his last show
With his team on Friday after his last show
Beside a poignant portrait of friend Gerry Anderson
Sean Coyle with a wellwisher in Londonderry after his shock departure from radio

Sean said he has no bad feelings towards BBC NI and loved his time working there.

He added: “I have no animosity whatsoever towards the BBC.

“I left Radio Foyle with a smile and a joke and a carry on, as I normally do with the guys. I told them I’d be back.

“I had a big cabinet in Radio Foyle where I kept all my CDs and I put a post-it on there saying ‘do not touch, I might be back’! So who knows what will happen.”

Sean said he thinks BBC  NI might be seeking a younger audience and said they are correct to do so.

He added: “You can’t fault them for that. I want to make it absolutely clear that I have no animosity against the BBC.

“If I look at the overall picture, I spent over 35 years with the BBC. I would like to think that I was a good employee. The BBC were a good employer.

“Both of us got the ending wrong. We both messed up. It’s as simple as that. The outcome is that I have no job.

“But I know that there were younger people listening to the programme. Because it wasn’t so much about the music. I think I was developing more as a personality — and I don’t mean that in any big-headed way, the same way Gerry was.

“Gerry’s music was awful, I hated his music. But it was Gerry.

“Maybe it is wrong of me to say this but I think I was heading somewhere along that line in his shadow. I was becoming a person that they could listen to and wonder what he was going to say next.

“I always spoke honestly from my heart and nothing was rehearsed, obviously the same way he was. But I think I was getting through to a younger audience, I really do.

“But, again, I’m not pointing fingers at the BBC. They had to do what they thought was right. And I will always defend the BBC because, for over 35 years, they were always good to me.”

Sean told how, several times last week, he found himself very emotional over his departure, in particular, cleaning out over three decades of memories from his desk.

“I went in on Sunday morning and I was sitting in the office on my own,” he continued.

“I was tidying up and putting things away and I started to get a lump in my throat. I was going through photos of Gerry and putting them in a box to take with me.

“I felt emotional then and I probably still will do, but it’s so gratifying to know the reaction to the programme and what it really meant to people.

“I have sat back this weekend several times and thought ‘is it me’?

“I walk down the street and people are beeping their horns and shouting out telling me to ‘enjoy my retirement’ and that they will miss me and I have to think ‘is this happening to me’? Unfortunately it is and who knows what tomorrow will bring.”

When Anderson took time off to undergo treatment for bowel cancer, Sean carried on without his friend and, although devastated, kept the programme going solo after his death in August 2014.

He said the axing of the show, coming on the week that he was dreading his radio partner’s anniversary, was particularly difficult.

“Last Wednesday was his anniversary and I have a song that I would play, ‘I still can’t believe you’re gone’ and every time I play that, away I go, I get teared up,” he said.

“It is still very raw with me with Gerry. I still can’t listen to his podcasts. I see the enjoyment our shows brought people and they say how funny it was and I wish I could listen to it.

“But I think of things now and he’s not there. And at this particular moment in time, I have no one to turn to and no one to ask for advice.”

Sean said it is not the last the public will have heard of him.

“It’s not over,” he said. “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I’ll just have to wait and see.

“I have seven grandsons, the youngest being two and the eldest being 13. I have plenty to do there. My wife will, I’m sure, have plenty for me to do until I get on her nerves.

“There is a golf course out there that I have yet to conquer. There is a snooker table that I have yet to make a 50-break on. I have all that ahead of me.

“And I can also sit and watch and wait for the telephone to ring. And I will pick it up and a voice at the other end will say ‘Sean, this is the BBC’. And I will answer it in a positive fashion.

“Could I see myself back at the BBC? I wouldn’t rule it out. There is no reason why I shouldn’t.

“I haven’t left in a bad way. I hope they don’t think anything bad of me either.

“We are still good friends. The BBC always maintained that they are a family. Families fall out from time to time, they squabble and bicker at times. But families always make it up, so who knows.”

Joe Lindsay has stepped in to Sean’s show slot on BBC Radio Ulster.

A BBC NI spokesperson said: “Joe Lindsay will present in the 10.30am Monday-Friday slot on BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle this week. Short and longer term plans for the slot will be confirmed in due course.”

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