Moving into the hospital
1978 – Battle Hospital
After a period of just 13 years, our membership had grown to around 50 volunteers, the record collection was growing and we were thus becoming rather cramped. So 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 (an annexe 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’), a dedicated record library and such home comforts for our members as a kitchen and a lounge area to relax in. In addition, the lounge provided a venue for Committee meetings, a location for recording quizzes between teams from local companies & organisations and a home for Chairman Les’s collection of vintage wireless sets (quite a talking point among our visitors). The new studio complex became operational on January 20th 1978 and, although a plaque in the lounge proclaimed that it was opened by comedian, writer and former Goon Spike Milligan, in fact illness prevented him from doing so at the last minute and the honour went instead to loyal listener Sylvia Collins, a long-term patient from the Battle Hospital.
1980s – Public Address and Outside Broadcasts
The acquisition of a loudspeaker system, originally donated by the Reading Standard, and a second-hand caravan, meant that Hospital Radio Reading was able to take to the road with our very own Public Address service, providing commentary and announcements to a variety of local functions. Previous events that we have covered with this facility include (outdoors) the Reading Half Marathon (start/finish), various local fêtes, shows & family fun days and Remembrance Day ceremonies as well as indoor functions such as parties, dinners and concerts. After numerous technical updates that public address service continues to this day and HRR’s presenters are ready to provide amplification for – and even host – your special functions indoors or outdoors, large or small in return for a donation towards our running costs.
The commissioning and sponsorship of a British Telecom music line between the HRR studio and the Hexagon Theatre in the early 80s enabled live relays of a number of shows and concerts shows direct to the patients’ bedside. The Barron Knights performed the very first concert on 13th November 1980 and Daniel O’Donnell became a regular and special favourite who always went out of his way to say a few words from the stage especially to his fans listening in hospital. This special service continued for many years, enabling our listeners to enjoy the atmosphere and the entertainment of a live theatre production.
1990s – Improving Reception
Anyone who was a hospital patient in those early days of HRR will know that, especially in some of the older wards, the wired transmission system with its flimsy “stethophone” earpieces was hardly high fidelity and often prone to technical breakdowns. So, to complement the ailing bedside units within the Battle Hospital, an induction loop system was installed. Using a number of small strategically placed aerials and the same technology that enables those who are hearing-impaired to “tune in” to the sound systems in churches, theatres and the like, this system enabled us to be heard on any on any portable AM radio on 945 kHz and the signal from the low-power transmitters covered both Thames Block and Abbey Building (and just about made it to the hospital car park!). Those patients who did not have a radio of their own could borrow from a supply of transistor radios which HRR purchased, including dedicated “target tuners” bearing the HRR logo – tiny radios pre-adjusted to receive no other station apart from HRR in the Battle Hospital (though that still didn’t stop many of them from going astray … !) The system was launched on 27th February 1990 and remained in operation until July 2005, when in-patients were transferred from Battle Hospital to the new Battle block at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.
The 1990s saw a string of celebrity visitors to the HRR studios, kickstarted by Radio 2 DJ Ken Bruce in April 1989 who was followed by Andrew Mackintosh from “The Bill”, Keith Chegwin, former “Magpie” presenter Jenny Hanley, rugby commentator Nigel Starmer-Smith, Felix Bowness from “Hi-de-Hi” and Andy Craig of Meridian News.
1993 – Football Commentary for the Visually Impaired
We at Hospital Radio Reading are proud of the fact that we were the town’s first local radio station, long before the likes of Radio 210, BBC Berkshire, Reading 107 etc took to the airwaves. And 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 at designated seats in the stand 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 for several years after the club’s move to the new Madejski Stadium in South Reading.