Gerry Anderson's widow says BBC decision to axe Sean Coyle radio show 'cruel' and 'heartbreaking'
FANS of Radio Ulster presenter Sean Coyle launched an online petition last night to have him re-instated after he announced live on air that his popular morning show is to be axed.
The veteran presenter, who told fans "he did not want to go", dropped the bombshell as he signed off from the Radio Foyle studio in Derry yesterday morning.
Fans immediately took to social media to hit out at the decision while hundreds of supporters also signed an online petition seeking his return.
Coyle, who worked as a double act with Gerry Anderson at Radio Ulster until his death in 2014, continued the show himself and proved a huge hit with listeners.
As he signed off yesterday he said :“It is with a heavy heart now that I bring you this statement...this is my last programme.
"On Monday of this week I met with the bosses in the BBC and they told me of their plans for the future; there’s a whole new schedule coming off in Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle and they’re making changes and I didn’t figure in the changes, I wasn’t there.”
In an emotionally charged statement he added that "he did not want to go".
His departure from the morning schedule is thought to part of a bigger shake-up across the station.
Recently recruited Q-Radio breakfast host Stephen Clements is thought to be part of an effort to introduce new faces at the broadcaster, which is funded via the licence fee.
BBC NI has so far declined to say what role Clements will take up with broadcaster.
Coyle was told on Monday by Radio Ulster managers of plans to axe his programme in six weeks time.
However after seeing the week out he decided to finish up yesterday.
Telling listeners of his decision he explained: “They told me this programme would end in roughly six weeks’ time and, in fairness, they offered me other work but they said the programme’s gone; they’re bringing on another programme.
"What that is I don’t know but I wish whoever it is, I wish that person every success.
“I abide by the decision; I don’t understand it but that’s that. This is my last show. I’ll not be here on Monday, I’ll not be here on Tuesday and I’ll not be here ever again, as far as I know,” he said.
Gerry Anderson's widow Christine described the BBC's decision as "heartbreaking".
She said the move marked the end of an era for her, and her family, and for fans of the two men.
She said the news was made worse as it came as family and friends marked the fifth anniversary of her husband's death.
“I was shocked when I heard it this morning. It’s a very, very cruel thing and heartbreaking as it was Gerry’s fifth anniversary this week,” she said.
“He stood on his own two feet when Gerry passed away. It was hard for him to come back from Gerry being gone but he did. He cannot even talk about Gerry or listen to the podcasts without becoming emotional; it is very cruel.”
Recalling the collaboration between the two men, she referred to as the "twosome", she said Coyle had handled a most difficult situation “completely professionally”.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood was among those to take to Twitter to offer support and urge the BBC to reverse its decision.
"Disgraceful decision by BBC NI to axe the Sean Coyle show. Sean provided much needed joy and brightness amidst all the doom and gloom. Solidarity with Sean and all at RadioFoyle."
DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said he was also a fan.
"Sean Coyle had massive shoes to fill when Gerry Anderson passed away. He did so with distinction. It was genuine easy listening with a nice atmosphere. I'm sad to hear he is leaving. U105 should snap him up," he wrote.
Derry Girls writer Lisa McGee - who urged fans to sign the petition online on change.org - tweeted simply: "Cancelling Sean Coyle is madness lads..."
BBC NI director Peter Johnston said changes to the schedule were "always difficult and never taken lightly".
A BBC Northern Ireland spokesperson said details of "immediate and future plans for the 10.30am Monday-Friday slot on BBC Radio Ulster will be confirmed in due course".