35 years on and the patient is still doing rather well

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Increasing its membership by more than double in the next year may prove to be a pipe dream.

But as the broadcast volunteers, who bring light relief to those in Calderdale Royal Hospital with music, sport and news, celebrate a new milestone - history suggests it may not be beyond them.

New Radio Calderdale chairperson and membership secretary, Rachel Fisher-Ives.
Radio Calderdale studio, Calderdale Royal Hospital, Halifax.

New Radio Calderdale chairperson and membership secretary, Rachel Fisher-Ives. Radio Calderdale studio, Calderdale Royal Hospital, Halifax.

“We want to get 35 new members in our 35th year,” says founder member and president of Calderdale Hospital Radio Trevor Simpson. “A big ask perhaps, but we always reach for the sky”.

“It really is rewarding and we’re interested in talking to anyone who would be interested and could bring something new to our group. People get the best training and support,” says Trevor who has interviewed stars like Cilla Black, Sir Cliff Richard, Glen Campbell, Andy Williams and Marty Wilde to name a few and who has never missed a Christmas Day show in 34 years.

Trevor brought the idea of a hospital station to Halifax after helping out a mate running a similar operation in Huddersfield back in 1981.

The hierarchy at Halifax General Hospital endorsed his “good idea” and soon after Trevor was introducing the gentle strains of Julio Iglesias’s Begin the Beguine to a new, appreciative audience. At one time the station transmitted to Halifax’s three major hospitals The Royal Infirmary, General and Northowram Hospital - none of which exist any more.

Over time the operation has flourished and despite being a charity, finds itself in rude health financially. After the new Calderdale Royal was built the radio station moved into state-of-the-art studios which cost £30,000 and began a new era.

Volunteers have come and gone, some using their training as a springboard into careers on both commercial and BBC radio. All have benefited from the experience.

The current crop of 25 presenters - who transmit every kind of music (except heavy metal, well it is a hospital) now operate from two studios using an up-to-the-minute computer system that allows them to play any top 40 hit since charts began back in 1954 plus every genre of music from classical and opera to brass bands, country and folk.

And it is now on air 24/7 with live broadcasts up to midnight and repeats for those who find it hard to sleep.

“Many years ago I remember being invited up to a ward by Matron, an elegant woman called Miss Gabbitass. She told me there had been a complaint which was unnerving,” says Trevor.

“I was led to Porter Ward and to the bedside of an elderly gentleman who was asleep and snoring. When he came to, Matron introduced me and the man complained that he was a bad sleeper and when he awoke in the middle the night the airwaves were silent, which I thought was a wonderful compliment.

“Matron reminded the man that we were all volunteers and needed to sleep at night - but it planted the seed. It took some time to happen but we got there,” said Trevor.

The station’s figurehead is now Rachel Fisher-Ives, who found herself seduced by the magic of radio as an inquisitive 15-year-old after going to the Piece Hall in Halifax to see DJ Bruno Brookes and Black Lace in a Radio One Roadshow.

Calderdale Hospital Radio was providing the PA system and Rachel, who is now a mother of three, asked how she could become a volunteer.

“You were supposed to be over 16, but I think things just weren’t as strict then! I started off sitting in on shows and then finally they let me read the news and play the odd record,” she recalls.

By the time she was 17, Rachel, who has now been involved for 31 years, was presenting her own show - and still is to this day. In fact she presents three - one featuring brass music, another Saturday Night at the Shows and a third an 80s show – pretty much playing the same music as when she started!

Now Rachel’s 19-year-old daughter Jenna, who is studying music journalism at Huddersfield University has become involved and is liaising with local theatres about transmitting live shows - something the station is keen to progress.

For many years it has broadcast commentary of football and rugby matches from the Shay Stadium, it already has access to some musical and theatrical events from the Victoria Theatre like Halifax Choral Society’s Carols & Brass and Messiah concerts and five years ago it began transmitting live services from the hospital chapel.

Trevor has met with Canon Hilary Barber to explore covering live entertainment events from Halifax Minster and believes there is scope to work with Square Chapel, the Playhouse ....

“Pretty much anywhere, really,” he says.

“Our abiding aim is to bring the outside world into the hospital. We want to raise spirits. We put what we do down to best medicine,” says Trevor.

Adds Rachel: “We have had as many as 40 members,” says Rachel. “Lives are different to how they were in the 1980s. People are busier these days. But having got this far we are positive we can raise those numbers and send the station into its next 35 years on a real high.”

If you want to get in touch with the organisation email them on radiocalderdale@btinternet.com or call the studio on 01422 224694. Alternatively go to their website at www.radiocalderdale.org