Hospital Radio Reading – A Short History
Since 1957, Hospital Radio Reading has undergone many changes:
in transmission methods, equipment, personnel and locations
1957 – The Birth
Hospital Radio Reading commenced transmissions on September 7th, 1957 with a commentary on Reading Football Club’s fixture against Aldershot at Elm Park. The borrowed army transmitter (a B44 set placed beside the touchline) and receivers in selective wards of Blagrave, Park and Peppard Hospitals, enabled the birth of Hospital Radio Reading.
The presenters were Maurice Edleston (talking into microphone) and Les Warth (behind radio) who watched a 3-0 home win for Reading FC.
The Early Sixties
In 1960, the Hospital Management Committee gave HRR access to the patients’ receivers via the ‘master’ radio within each hospital. These hospitals would be linked by GPO lines to create a network. This would widen the scope of reception to encompass practically every patient in Reading. Five additional volunteers were recruited.
In 1961, premises were acquired – the basement of the Reading Standard (a weekly newspaper that became the Evening Post) in London Street. On October 20th, Reading played Crystal Palace and HRR broadcast over a network of telephone lines that linked into the hospital transmission system for the first time.
In 1962, from the completed request slips that were printed at the Reading Standard, the first Request Show (similar to the Light programme’s Family Favourites) was broadcast. The programme lasted for thirty minutes every Sunday morning. In those days we did not have a record library, so the vinyl was borrowed from Hickie & Hickie, a town centre music store.
1965 – The Expansion
In 1964, the Directors of Reading Football Club offered a disused room
beneath the Tilehurst Road stand at Elm Park. After twenty months, an enormous amount of work transformed the newly acquired accommodation and on Monday September 27th, 1965, Eric Robinson opened the Studio.
Additional members swelled the numbers to fifteen and this resulted in the expansion of our service to our hospitalised audience – programming on five evenings a week. In 1974 we decided to sectionalise our accommodation into three separate rooms, two purpose built studios (labelled red and green with the left-over paint) and a record library. Mike Gray of Southern Television opened this redesigned complex on March 28th 1974.
1978 – The Relocation
After a period of just 13 years, our membership had grown to around 50, the record library had grown and we were thus becoming rather cramped. In 1976 we began to look for alternative accommodation. With the help of the Hospital Authorities we relocated our purpose built studios to Battle Hospital. The building (constructed in 1944 as nurses’ accommodation) required extensive interior modifications. Thus we were able to equip our complex with new studios (now labelled ‘one’ and ‘two’), transfer the record library and achieve our transmission deadline. The new studio complex was operational on January 20th 1978.
1980 – Public Address
A donated Public Address system, from the Reading Standard and the acquisition of a second-hand caravan, created our own service that provides commentary and announcements to a variety of local functions. Previous events that we have covered with this facility include the Reading half marathon (start/finish), various local fêtes and shows and smaller dinner functions.
The commissioning of a music line between the HRR studio and the Hexagon Theatre enabled a live relay of shows direct to the patients’ bedside. The Barron Knights performed the very first concert on 13 November. This unique service has enabled our listeners to enjoy the atmosphere and the entertainment of a theatre production.
1990 – Induction Loop
To complement the bedside units within the Battle Hospital, an induction loop was installed. This facilitated reception of our programmes on any portable radio – tuned to 945 kHz. The transmitters covered both Thames Block and Abbey Building from the 27th February 1990.
Additional radios were purchased and loaned to patients until HRR purchased a bulk supply of “target tuners”. These radios were tuned to a single station and were therefore incapable of receiving any other English broadcast.
The Committee regularly spent some of its reserves on acquiring new replacement supplies of batteries and headphones and solving the incompatibility problem of mono tuner and stereo headphones with wiring modifications and adapters.
The induction loop aerials were de-energised in July 2005, when in-patients had transferred from Battle Hospital to the new Battle block at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.
1993 – Visually Impaired
Since we had a team of football commentators providing what was at the time, the only full commentary of Reading FC’s home games, we thought we could extend our services to the blind and partially sighted community. With the co-operation of Reading Football Club, six pairs of headphones were permanently wired to our transmission signal and from November 1993 onwards partially sighted and blind football supporters (both home and away) were able to the full 90-minute commentary, a service which continued after the club’s move to the new Madejski Stadium in South Reading.
2000 – A New Century
With a modern thinking committee, the station is never far behind current technology. Computers are playing an increasing role in the production facilities of HRR. The humble library computer (an ageing 286 model) has been accompanied by a digital record/playback jingle machine (486 based). The newer PC is capable of playing wav files from the network computer straight to the bedside at the touch of a button!
In 2005 we invested in a brand new studio comprising the usual mixers and players together with pentium computer that enabled a presenter to orchestrate a programme at the drag of a mouse.
2006 – A New Hospital
2006 saw the equipment up and running in our new studio at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Our grateful thanks go to the RBH NHS Trust for providing us with our new premises, from where we began a new chapter in the history of Hospital Radio Reading.
Our Golden anniversary in September 2007 saw HRR inaugurate more new computer-based technology which meant the station is now on air 24 hours per day. In addition to our live programmes from 7pm-10pm on weekday evenings, 10am-10pm on Saturdays and 8am-10pm on Sundays (subject to the availability of our volunteer presenters), at other times patients can hear an automated service playing a unique mixture of pre-recorded specialist programmes, music and useful information as well as regular news bulletins.
In the summer of 2013 Hospital Radio Reading took two further steps forward.
Firstly, we are indebted to the League of Friends of the Royal Berkshire Hospital who generously purchased on our behalf a Comrexoutside broadcast unit which enables us to send a professional standard signal down any telephone line and has greatly enhanced the technical quality of our football commentaries, as well as enabling us to report from events such as the annual League of Friends Hospital fete, bringing all the fun of the fair across town to the patients’ bedsides.
Secondly, the introduction of internet streaming means that HRR’s programmes are no longer confined to the hospital but can be also be heard in the outside world via our website www.hrreading.org.uk This innovation means that now patients can not only enjoy listening to their record requests but can also share that special moment with their relatives and friends back home – and, indeed, continue to enjoy listening to hospital radio at home once discharged, should they wish.
With many more radio and TV channels available than ever before, we at HRR are proud of the fact that we provide the only entertainment service designed exclusively for the patients …
Les Warth, Robin Twiney & Gerard Rocks