2000s – Into a New Century – and a New Hospital !
With a forward-thinking committee, the station is never far behind current technology so, as you can imagine, computers now play an increasing role in the production facilities of HRR. The humble library computer (used to catalogue and track down the thousands of music tracks on vinyl singles, LPs and cds) was augmented by a digital record/playback/jingle machine, capable of playing wav files from the network computer straight to the bedside at the touch of a button!
The technical quality of the signal reaching our listeners’ ears also improved enormously at the start of the new millennium as HRR became one of the free radio stations on the bedside entertainment consoles rolled out across the hospital by Patientline (later relaunched as Hospedia). And in 2005 we invested in a brand new studio desk comprising not just the usual mixers and players but also a computer and an extensive music database that enabled a presenter to orchestrate a programme or play a patient’s phoned-in record request instantly at the click / drag of a mouse.
After a short hiatus when we moved across the town, following the closure of Battle Hospital, 2006 saw that equipment up and running in our spacious new studio at the expanded Royal Berkshire Hospital. We are immensely grateful to the RBH NHS Foundation Trust for providing us with our new premises, from where we began a new chapter in the history of Hospital Radio Reading and it was the Chairman of the Trust at that time, Colin Maclean, who officially opened the studio as we celebrated our Golden Jubilee on September 7th2007. WEW celebrated that anniversary by naugurating more new computer-based technology which means that the station is now on air 24 hours per day. In addition to our live programmes, generally from 7pm-10pm on weekday evenings, 1 pm – 10pm on Wednesdays, 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 Comrex outside 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 Fête in Tilehurst, 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 and other digital radio platforms such as the Tune-In Radio App. 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.
As our Diamond Jubilee was approaching, sadly we had to say goodbye to our founder, Les Warth, who passed away in 2016 at the grand old age of 97, having moved in retirement to Suffolk. We decided to acknowledge our debt to him by not only launching a fund-raising appeal in his memory to finance the refurbishment of Studio 1, but also by renaming it in his honour. The Les Warth Studio was officially reopened on Saturday September 9th 2017, just two days after our 60th birthday, in the presence of some very distinguished company. Representatives from the Royal Berkshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Hospital Broadcasting association were in attendance, as were our Honorary President Alan “Voice of the Balls” Dedicoat and Reading East MP Matt Rodda – but it was Les’s sons Mike and Terry who cut the ribbon, unveiled the plaque and declared our beautiful new studio officially open, live on-air!
2020s – Lockdown!
The Coronavirus epidemic of 2020 with its unprecedented effect on everyday life in Britain has, of course, changed the way in which we operate at Hospital Radio Reading. We were gratified that the RBH Trust soon considered HRR to be one of the essential voluntary services for the patients which they allowed to continue – albeit with the comparatively small number of volunteers who were able and willing to come in to the hospital. Thanks to the refurbishment of Studio 2 in 2019, matching the work already done on the Les Warth Studio, social distancing could be easily enforced with two co-presenters on air, one in each room. But government restrictions on movement and the Trust’s desire to limit footfall on the hospital site encouraged us to be resourceful : three days after the lockdown started on March 23rd, two of our younger members were broadcasting HRR Requests from their own home studios and others, including some “oldies”, soon joined them on-air from all over the Reading area as our engineer helped them to take advantage of social media and up-to-date conferencing software.
As a result, within two months of Lockdown most weeks saw us broadcasting eleven hours of live HRR Requests programmes – more than half the pre-Covid total. One downside to the arrangement, however, was that infection control measures prevented us from ward visiting to meet the patients, explain how to listen and collect their requests. We continued to play the limited number of requests received by email and the direct *800 number from bedside phones – or occasionally forwarded to us by some helpful ward staff – but oh, how we missed the interaction with our listeners, the patients!
Looking to the Future
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. Our founder, Les, often claimed that he never imagined back in 1957 that his “baby” would grow to such proportions over the years. However, it cannot be denied that the station’s continuing growth and success were largely down to its solid foundation, to his vision, his persistence and his tireless energy over so many years and to the example he set to generations of new volunteers. His gentle, kindly, avuncular style made him a father-figure to many. Hospital Radio has evolved so much these past few years in the technical sense but our core values which Les instilled in those of us he recruited – service to the patients and the importance of ward visiting – have not changed : hence our patients’ “Record Requests” programmes which have not only continued but expanded to over twenty hours per week. Les would always tell us to “think patient”, the HRR we know today is his legacy and we shall continue to strive to do him proud.