The History of Hospital Radio

Hospital radio has a history which is almost as long as broadcasting itself. In order to chart where the hospital radio service will go in future, we must first understand where they have come from.

Imaged used with permission from Whipps Cross Hospital Radio

The first hospital radio station to open in the UK was at York County Hospital in 1925. The station started because chief physician Thomas Hanstock fought to be granted permission to use portable wireless telegraph apparatus. York County Hospital Radio installed 70 loudspeakers and provided 200 beds with headphones so patients could listen to sports commentaries and church services.

During the 1930s and 1940s hospital radio spread slowly across the country with a handful of hospitals starting to broadcast, such as Oldham hospital radio in 1933 and Tottenham in 1935.

After World War II hospital radio began to expand again until by the 1970s most hospitals had a radio service with as many as 700 broadcasting services. Many stations were playing gramophone music to patients and when the cassette tape launched in 1963, presenters were able to record their programmes.

In 1970 the Hospital Radio Broadcasting Organisations was established to monitor the work of these stations. This became the Hospital Broadcasting Association in 1992, and today they are a national charity who support hospital broadcasting.

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. There are now about 230 stations currently broadcasting in the UK manned by around 2,500 volunteers. The technology has developed further and music can now be played off CDs, mini-disc and digital computer systems.

Over the last decade there has been a growing debate about whether hospital radio still has a relevant place. Hospitals and their radio stations have been closing, some stations are struggling to find volunteers or having difficulties in funding their services, and there has been a growth of other media which can be brought into hospitals, such as MP3 devices and 3G/ wifi devices. In many rooms patients also have access to televisions and bedside patient entertainment centres. However, across the UK hospital radio volunteers are continuing to develop and expand their services so they can carrying on serving their patients.

Community RA+Edio will bring you examples from stations across the UK to examine how hospital radio volunteers are continuing their fight to broadcast in 2012.

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