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Southend Hospital Radio – making airwaves for 40 years

23 August 2017

Health Care

It all began at 11am on Saturday 5 February 1977 with the very first request, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ by Stevie Wonder. Forty years on, Southend Hospital Radio continues to provide its unique, and free, music and entertainment for patients on the wards.

The idea of a Hospital Radio service came from a former patient, Betti Thompson, who together with family and friends, prepared a discussion paper which they put to the NHS District Management Team.

Four decades later, the station is still going strong. Broadcasting from two studios at the rear of the Tower Block, the radio station provides two 24-hour services: an easy-listening music service and the main service which is a mix of live shows, recorded highlights, features and most requested songs.

A key part of the service is ward liaison. Each weekday evening, a team of volunteers visits the wards, chats to the patients and then plays their favourite songs on the request show. The station has over 20,000 tracks available on its computer system and an extensive CD library, meaning that just about every musical taste can be catered for.

Stuart Kelly, 60, from Southchurch, has been a regular patient on Rochford Ward for the last ten years and is a huge fan of the station. He said: "It's a real lifeline and the presenters become like friends over the airwaves. They are very professional and they really lift your spirits, I'm always making requests and if I can't sleep at night then I'll listen to Southend Hospital Radio, I find it very calming."

As the station's Programme Controller Joe Smith explained, programme content is something that's taken very seriously: "We hope that patients find something within our schedule to help make their stay in the hospital a little brighter and maybe while away an hour or two. Our dedicated team of presenters and ward liaison volunteers come from all walks of life; many of us work full-time or part-time in the radio industry and all of us have a real passion for doing our best to make the listeners smile."

The radio station has seen many changes over the last 40 years, including a move from vinyl and tape to computer playout systems that allow presenters instant access to songs and jingles. Patients can now even text their song requests direct to the studio by texting 07733 255 299 (standard network rate) and listen to the request show on weekday evenings from 8pm -10pm.

One of those presenters is Alice Ryan, who has been part of Southend Hospital Radio for seven years. She said: "At Southend Hospital Radio it is an absolute pleasure to meet new people each week and make their stay here a little easier. I love the range of music that we are able to play for them. It's a delight to be part of such a lovely team."

Pete Sipple, the station's Chairman, says that service is only possible thanks to the hard work of its dedicated team of volunteers who help out on-air or behind the scenes. He said: "Our team of volunteers works hard to be an on-air friend at the patient's bedside as we know that no-one want to stay in hospital and, for some, it can be a lonely and scary experience. We're proud to have been offering our service for the last 40 years and hope we can continue to entertain and inform visitors to the hospital for years to come."

Southend Hospital Radio is a registered charity and the team raises funds by arranging sponsored events and providing entertainment at public events such as the Foulness Cycle Ride and the Rayleigh Fireworks evening.

The station also offers exclusive live commentary from Southend United home games and each weekday lunchtime it broadcasts an NHS Choices 'healthy living' programme.