The Beginning of Hospital Radio Reading
1957 – The Birth
Hospital Radio Reading owes its existence to local businessman and Territorial Army officer, Leslie Harold Warth (1918 – 2016). A lifelong supporter of Reading FC, Les found himself suffering withdrawal symptoms during a spell in Oxford’s Nuffield Infirmary in 1954. As he later wrote “I came to thinking wouldn’t it be great if I could listen to something local. True, we could listen to the BBC but that didn’t satisfy me” and thus the idea of launching what was to become Hospital Radio Reading was born. Les used his influence and army connections to borrow a number of wireless sets with built-in loudspeakers and, after touring around local hospitals on a Saturday morning to set up the receivers in selected wards, he would relay commentaries on the Royals’ home games to the patients from the Elm Park stand using a borrowed army transmitter (a B44 set placed beside the touchline). Then on Sunday he would set off again, retracing his steps to collect the sets back in, often helped by his two sons. So it was that the Reading Hospital Broadcasting Service, soon to be known as Hospital Radio Reading, commenced transmissions on September 7th, 1957 with a commentary on Reading FC’s 3-0 victory over Aldershot by Les himself and a fellow Reading resident, BBC radio commentator Maurice Edleston.
The Early Sixties
In 1960, the Hospital Management Committee gave HRR access to the patients’ bedside radio receivers via the ‘master’ radio within each hospital. The hospitals were linked to create a network which thus widened reception to encompass practically every patient in Reading and five additional volunteers were recruited.
In 1961, premises were acquired – the basement of the offices of the Reading Standard (a weekly newspaper that became the Evening Post) in London Street, where Great Expectations now stands. 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, the first Record 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 and request slips were printed at the Reading Standard. And in November 1964 the Reading Hospital Broadcasting Service became a Registered Charity.
1965 – Expansion
In 1964, the Directors of Reading Football Club offered HRR a disused room beneath the Tilehurst Road stand at Elm Park. An enormous amount of work over twenty months transformed the newly acquired accommodation into our new studio, which was opened by orchestral conductor Eric Robinson on Monday September 27th, 1965.
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.