York Hospital Radio is 50 years old this weekend. STEPHEN LEWIS reports on the station for patients
UP on ward 29 at York Hospital, Alan Ward is sitting in bed listening to the radio. The 75-year-old from Alne is recovering from a hip replacement. Listening to music on his headphones gives him a bit of time out.
A country music song is playing – just the kind of music Alan likes.
The song’s final chords die away, and two bantering voices take its place.
“Somebody has requested … ooh, what do you call him, Mau?” says the voice of 74-year-old Ivy Eden. “The ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ man.”
“I remember him,” says Mau – aka 72-year-old Maureen Stannard.
“George Formby. That’s him,” says Ivy. “We’ll have to play that for a lady in the hospital who’s asked for him…”
It is 4.30pm on a Thursday and we’re well into the Ivy and Maureen show on York Hospital Radio.
With their cheerful banter (Ivy has soon launched into a humorous account of a shopping trip to Monks Cross) and music from the 1950s and 1960s, it is a show aimed mainly at older listeners.
But there is something for everyone from this radio station. York Hospital Radio broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a mix of music shows, requests, football commentaries from Bootham Crescent, live broadcasts from York Theatre Royal, and information for patients.
A couple of times a year, the station will interview hospital chief executive Patrick Crowley live on air, putting questions from patients.
The station is run entirely by volunteers such as Ivy and Maureen. There are about 25 at present, doing everything from presenting shows, to making ward visits to ask patients for requests – and fundraising.
That’s an important one, jokes chairman Ian Clennan. The station has some regular sponsors – but even so volunteers have to raise between £7,000 and £8,000 a year just to keep the station on air.
Ian is the 36-year-old head teacher of Selby Community Primary School. But he loves coming one evening a week to the hospital radio’s broadcasting studio, deep in a building on the hospital grounds, to record his 1980s music show.
Yes, as a head teacher, he has a busy life, he says. “So it’s about being able to juggle your time. But I really enjoy doing this. I’m quite passionate about it. I love coming here one night a week just to switch off.”
Ian’s show goes out through patients’ headphones two hours a day every evening from Monday to Friday. He sounds utterly professional – his voice confident and resonant as he records a show for the following week. “It’s your Monday helping of 1980s music here on York Hospital Radio…”
The music and the presenter’s voices may have changed, but in spirit the hospital radio station today is the same as it was for its first broadcast 50 years ago this weekend.
That first show was broadcast at Naburn and Fulford Maternity Hospitals on January 26, 1964, by members of the Acomb Community Tape Recording Club and also played through a tape machine at Acomb Hospital. It took 12 hours to record and the show lasted only 45 minutes. The first request was the Maurice Chevalier song, Thank Heaven For Little Girls.
The equipment and music has changed since then, and the whole operation is a lot more slick, but much else remains the same.
“It’s an amazing achievement for a voluntary organisation to be still doing today fundamentally what they were doing 50 years ago – entertaining hospital patients in York, and providing a therapeutic service for them,” says Ian, who has been with the station since 2002.
Today, as 50 years ago, requests play a big part. The radio station has a group of volunteers who go around the wards asking patients what they would like to hear.
“We do that every day, if we can,” Ian says. In fact, making ward visits is an important part of the training that all volunteers must undergo before they are allowed on air.
“Radio is about communication,” Ian says. “So it is a requirement of the training programme that everybody goes on the wards.”
Many people volunteer because they hope it may lead to a career in broadcasting. Several former volunteers have gone on to have successful radio or TV careers, not least BBC Look North presenter Harry Gration and BBC Radio York’s Ricky Marshall.
Ian had a weekly presenting slot on Yorkshire Coast Radio for a while – and fellow volunteer and presenter Steve Eccles did three years with Harrogate’s Stray FM before moving into PR.
Steve, who joined the hospital radio in 1978, now presents a Saturday morning music show – everything from the 1960s to current music – with Keith Lea, the station’s longest-serving member. Astonishingly, Keith, a 64-year-old semi-retired engineer, first joined the station as a 16-year-old in 1965, just a year after it launched.
“That’s 49 years of hospital radio,” he says wonderingly.
Up on ward 29, Alan Ward admits he is really more of a BBC radio man.
But he likes the fact that York Hospital has its own free radio station, which broadcasts at all hours.
“Sometimes if you wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep, half an hour of listening to the radio really helps,” he says.
• To find out more about York Hospital Radio, or to volunteer, call 01904 628800 or visit yorkhospitalradio.com
Events this weekend
York Hospital Radio will be marking its 50th birthday this weekend with a series of special events.
From 10am-1pm tomorrow morning, the station will broadcast live from the foyer of the Yorkshire Museum as part of York Residents’ Festival.
The idea is to raise the station’s profile – and give visitors to the museum the chance to see its presenters in action.
At 11am on Sunday, the station’s longest-serving member, Keith Lea, will present a vinyl-only show covering the music of the past 50 years. Then from noon onwards, a range of presenters past and present will talk about their experiences of York Hospital Radio.
There will also be a stall in the foyer of York Hospital throughout the weekend which will be selling items to raise money for the station, and promoting its 50th anniversary.
History of the station
THE first broadcast of what was to become York Hospital Radio was made on January 26, 1964. The pre-recorded request show was played through the hospital radio system at Fulford and Naburn hospitals, and at Acomb Hospital. It subsequently became a fortnightly taped programme.
By December 1964, a request show called Sunday Spin was networked to ten York hospitals.
It was pre-recorded in Acomb, and fed to all but Acomb Hospital via a tape recorder at the Radio Relay centre in Bedern. At Acomb, the show was played back with a tape machine in the hospital sitting room.
In the early days, the Acomb Community Tape Recording Club relied on private record collections to make their recordings. The station’s longest-serving member Keith Lea remembers acting as a ‘runner’ to collect records on Thursday and Friday so the programme could be recorded on a Saturday.
Hospital radio volunteers were not allowed on to wards in those days, Keith says – so had to approach patients’ relatives while they were waiting to make ward visits, to ask them for requests.
The station moved its studio to a pathology lab at Fulford Military Hospital, and then to the Grange in Huntington Road, where it stayed until 1983.