Radio Allerton: The Changing Face of Hospital Radio

Radio Allerton in Leeds is this week’s hospital radio station to be profiled in The Changing Face of Hospital Radio section on Community RA+Edio.

The station began broadcasting at 10am on Saturday 11th March 1978 and has been serving the patients of Chapel Allerton Hospital ever since.However, it has not always been smooth over the past thirty-four years.

Radio Allerton’s Chairman, Francis Klonowski told Community RA+Edio about the station’s broadcasting journey. 

Francis Klonowski, Radio Allerton Chairman.
All images in this article used with the permission of Francis Klonowski

In The Beginning…

Shortly before 10.00 a.m. on Saturday 11th March 1978, BBC Radio Leeds began a countdown live ‘on air’ and Radio Allerton began broadcasting. It was the culmination of 18 months’ planning and an exhaustive, and at times exhausting, fund-raising campaign. The original studio was officially opened by the then Lord Mayor of Leeds.

Programmes And People

Like most such radio stations, it is staffed entirely by volunteers, most of them working full time. Radio Allerton has often proved to be a valuable training ground for a number of today’s successful broadcasters and media staff, with several of its previous presenters using their experience to forge careers for themselves in both radio and TV. The current team includes 5 members – including myself – with more than 25 years’ service; 3 of them have been with the station from the outset.

Setbacks

It hasn’t always been easy, though. In 1993 the original hospital site was closed, and patients were transferred to the new Chapel Allerton Hospital, built by extending what had been the hospital’s Newton Green Wing. At first there was no room available for our studio, but eventually in 1997 space was found. A new studio with improved equipment was painstakingly built from scratch by our long-serving station engineer Mike Turner, and broadcasting recommenced on 3rd April 1999. Then in 2003 we faced possible closure through lack of volunteers, when we were struggling to put out more than 2 regular programmes a week.

Present

Now I’m pleased to say Radio Allerton is stronger than ever, providing live broadcasts every weekday evening. In 2006, the station merged with Radio Skeba from Seacroft Hospital, following which a play-out system was installed – enabling us to broadcast 24 hours a day.

Radio Allerton’s volunteers

New Studio

Thanks to a generous legacy from former patients of Chapel Allerton and a kind gesture from the Friends of Chapel Allerton Hospital, programmes are now being broadcast from a new purpose-built studio just next door to the old one. The old studio will continue to be used as a record library, as well as providing a working area for programme preparation and a guest waiting area.

However, the initial euphoria of getting the funding was followed by several months of uncertainty. The local hospital Trust was re-developing the 2 wards on our corridor as a new Genetics department, and couldn’t guarantee that we would be able to stay in our present room because it may be needed as part of the project. There was one encouraging aspect though : they said if they needed the room they would have to find us another room and would pay any moving costs. So at least we were recognised as having a definite future within the hospital.

We then experienced further delays  because we had decided to “personalise” the studio rather than just accept the off-the-shelf version. Hindsight is wonderful, but what we couldn’t have foreseen was that Mike would not be available for long periods – and without his input we couldn’t proceed. Still, at least during that time he managed to complete his PhD : yes, we do now have a doctor in the house!

It was well into 2011 before we really got stuck back into it, and by mid-summer 2011 we were all but ready. We decided it would be best to stop broadcasting for a few weeks and use the time instead to ensure everyone was familiar with the new equipment before starting to use it “live”. I had the privilege of broadcasting the last programme from the old studio on the Friday of the August Bank Holiday weekend. Some 5 weeks later at our AGM I was able to announce that we were all set to go, and I presented the first programme from the new studio later that week. Mercifully, teething problems were few and minor.

The studio was officially opened on Saturday November 26th by Andrew Edwards of BBC Radio Leeds.

New studio at Radio Allerton

There is still a lot of work to do to improve Radio Allerton’s service to the patients. But hopefully the new equipment will allow us to continue providing a high standard of programmes for many years to come. We are greatly indebted to the Friends of Chapel Allerton for making the funds available, and will work closely with them for the benefit of patients during their stay in Chapel Allerton.

Community RA+Edio would like to thank Francis for sharing Radio Allerton’s interesting history with us. Francis presents a two hour album music show every Friday evening called “hidden musical gems on CD and vinyl”. Good luck for the future.

Remember to

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