Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hospital Radio

College radio is often thought of as obscure, under-the-radar, and short on listeners. But, there are other radio outlets with much smaller audiences. Until today, I'd never heard about hospital radio. Have you? In an article in the Echo newspaper, quoted in The Whole Curiosity Blog, Irish DJ Rick O'Shea talks about his humble beginnings in radio. According to the piece:

"...I started off in St James’s Hospital radio, probably the world’s worst radio station. You could only get it if you turned on the speakers beside the beds and most of the time they were switched off! There were about six listeners. That was about 17 years ago, a long time ago. I got involved in student radio in UCD and then I did Broadcasting and Journalism studies at Ballyfermot College..."

I love that for this DJ, hospital radio was a stepping stone to college (and later professional) radio. I was so intrigued by the whole concept, that I did a little digging and learned a bit about the history of hospital radio on Wikipedia:

"Hospital radio is a form of audio broadcasting produced specifically for the in-patients of hospitals. It is primarily found in the United Kingdom. The first hospital radio station in the UK was installed at York County Hospital, England, in 1925. Headphones were provided beside 200 beds, and 70 loudspeakers were installed, with patients being able to listen to sports commentaries and church services. Throughout the 1930s radio stations spread to a handful of other hospitals, with live music supplementing the speech-based programmes...

The spread of hospital radio services picked up slowly in the late 1940s. The 1950s saw a rapid growth in their number in the UK, with similar stations opening in the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States. Many stations now played gramophone music to patients and, with the launch of the cassette tape in 1963, it became easy for presenters to record their programmes for playback at a later date.

Hospital radio stations peaked in number in the 1980s, when up to 300 stations are thought to have been broadcasting on a daily basis. However as small hospitals closed or merged to form large regional medical centres, hospital radio stations also consolidated into a smaller number of larger organisations. New studios were built, often to a very high specification, and in common with commercial radio, hospital stations began to use CDs to play music."

Hospital radio sounds fascinating and it's still happening today, as evidenced by the existence of the Hospital Broadcasting Association in the UK, with its 200+ member stations and annual UK-based Hospital Radio Awards.

Have you ever heard a hospital radio station? What was the programming like?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Was visiting my mother in hospital today.She has been an in patient for 2 weeks,and has listened to the hospital radio constantly,when able.She said it was like a life line,and has kept her going,in an otherwise pretty depressing environment.There are many very talented people who volunteer on hospital radio stations,to very small audiences,but at the end of the day,its a case of,if you just make one persons stay in hospital a little more bearable,by your contribution to hospital radio,then its worth doing.Hospital radio has never been about large number of listeners.Was all i could do today to get my mother to take off her headphones !!