To me, the words ‘hospital radio’ conjure an image of two creaky turntables, a box of dusty records and a hyper-caffeinated DJ entombed in a gloomy studio until the early hours.
In fact, Rugby St Cross’ hospital radio couldn’t be more different from this outdated image, which was apparent from the moment I entered the modern, bright and well-equipped studio.
The warm welcome I received from the friendly, jovial and gregarious staff - the same courtesy they seem to extend to all their listeners - helped me to cast off my preconceptions in an instant.
The station has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a pet project of Fareham High School’s (now Ashlawn) youth club in 1972, when it only operated on Friday nights with nothing but two turntables and a microphone. It’s thanks to the hard work of fundraisers, donors and volunteers that the station can now brighten the days of patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s grown fantastically,” said presenter Cynthia Allen, who first volunteered for the station as a teenager in 1976, and returned 18 months ago to a much-changed studio. “It’s been 40 years now!”
The volunteers work hard to add a little cheer to the wards of St Cross, and take care to talk face-to-face with their audience. “We’re here to amuse and entertain the patients, and sort of let them forget their stresses and strains for a while,” said chairman Richard Green.
“We feel that the ward visiting is just as important as what we do in broadcasting the programmes,” said secretary and presenter Phil Smith. “You’ll often get patients who don’t get any visitors, and they really enjoy having someone coming round to chat to them.”
Patient Peter Taylour of Eastlands Place concurs. “I think it’s an excellent idea. It helps the day go by. Days are quite long as you can probably well imagine. And the nights. It does help the time go by!”
The staff seem to take great pleasure in their work, which isn’t as routine or predictable as I would have imagined.
“You can never assume what the patient is going to ask for,” said presenter and fundraising officer Chris Wade, flanked by his faithful guide dog Munro. “You may think that an 80-year-old lady is going to want something soothing and calm like Frank Sinatra, but then she might ask for something like Amy Winehouse or Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell or something!
“Then you have the patients who have a sense of humour,” he added.
“They’ll want requests like, for instance, The First Cut Is The Deepest by Rod Stewart, or Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd!”
The station’s transformation over the last 40 years could not have happened without the selfless volunteers and benefactors - including the Friends of the Hospital of St Cross - that make it tick. And they are keen to find a new generation to continue their valuable work.
Phil said: “There’s three reasons why we’re here: the support we get from the NHS Trust, the commitment of the members who turn up every week, and the support from the local community.”
Chris added: “We’re always on the lookout for more volunteers, either that want to present, may be very technically minded and can help in the background with production or suchlike, or help us fundraise. And we’re always on the lookout for businesses that want to sponsor a programme, and that’s basically £150 for 12 months.”
To get involved in volunteering or sponsorship, you can contact the station on (01788) 663493.