"We've always called ourselves a friend at the bedside" - Celebrating 40 years of Radio Calderdale

Plans are in place for Radio Calderdale to reach more people than ever as the station approaches its 40th anniversary.

By Tom Scargill
Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 9:14 am
Presenter David Hanlon
Presenter David Hanlon

It's an unfortunate quirk of fate that the hospital radio station is off air as it approaches such a landmark, with the Covid pandemic meaning Calderdale Royal temporarily stood down all their volunteers.

The station is volunteer-run, relying on charitable donations and fundraising event, and has around 25 volunteers.

The original idea for a hospital radio in Halifax came from Trevor Simpson in 1980 after he had done some work for Huddersfield Hospital Radio in conjunction with Halifax DJ Robert Harrison.

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Rachel Fisher-Ives with Jason Manford

"My first job was to approach the Area Health Authority Committee with the idea and hopefully for the funding of the new station," Trevor said.

"The idea was welcomed but the committee was not prepared to give any monetary help towards the estimated cost of £3,000 to put the radio onto the air.

"I'd had been involved in round table in Sowerby Bridge and my initial approach for money was to the Halifax Round Table. After presenting the idea at one of their meetings, a pledge of £1,000 was made, subject to the rest of the money being found.

"The Halifax Rotary Club was approached next, but they could not see their way to giving money, but did collect records to form the basis of the initial record library.

"Another £1,000 was acquired after I approached the League of Hospital Friends and my presentation on the new idea was approved by the committee. Robert, through his contacts in the electronics industry, managed to get discounts from suppliers and his approach to other friends in the electronics business, enable installation costs to be donated."

The local health authority allocated a basement library room in the General Hospital to be converted into the studios, and after advertising for presenters and any other volunteers, a meeting was arranged at the General Hospital to form committees and train potential presenters.

The health authority had agreed funding for landlines to connect the studio to the Royal Halifax Infirmary and to the Northowram Hall Hospital to enable the radio to be broadcast to every bedside in the Calderdale area.

Trevor then had the idea of linking the two sporting venues, The Shay and Thrum Hall, to the system and following an approach to Halifax Town and Halifax Rugby League, both venues had land lines installed, paid for by the clubs.

Broadcasting behind the scenes at the Victoria Theatre

A third land line was installed in the Victoria Theatre and the manager, Robbie Robinson, persuaded Calderdale Council to fund the provision of this link so that all concerts from the venue could join the sports ground broadcasts to each bedside.

"Bringing local outside events into hospital was a revolutionary idea at the time," Trevor said.

"I conducted interviews at the theatre with visiting celebrities including Cilla Black, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and even footballer Sir Stanley Matthews."

The station opened on Sunday, December 12, 1981 with a live concert from the Victoria Theatre featuring Calderdale Schools Choirs and singer John Hanson of Desert Song fame.

David Millington and Trevor Simpson

"The weather was awful with the biggest snowfall in several years falling in Calderdale," said Trevor.

"Several members of the choirs never reached the theatre as transport was disrupted and buses stopped running.

"Robert was on air at the studio and played the current number one record, Julio Iglesias, Begin the Beguine as the first song ever broadcast, whilst I was at the Victoria Theatre as compere on the stage of the ‘live’ show which was linked to the studio.

"John Hanson had attended the official opening of the radio, along with the Mayor, in the afternoon before the snowfall disrupted travel."

The links to the theatre and the Shay are both ongoing. Trevor will complete his own 40 years this month and continues to present weekly shows besides being a member of the sports commentary team broadcasting all FC Halifax Town home games.

His co-commentator David Millington said: "In 1992 we were able to start broadcasting live commentary of home games, originally from the box at the rear of the Skircoat Stand. The live feed goes down a phone line directly to the hospital.

"Between 1991 and 1998 we also did the club's PA service simultaneously.

"In the past we have also done commentary for visually-impaired supporters who were seated with headphones at the rear of the Skircoat Stand."

Rachel Fisher-Ives, chair of the station, said: "At the moment we're not on air because of the Covid situation, the hospital Trust stood down all volunteers so we're not able to go back in at the moment.

"We're hoping to be back in just after Christmas.

"We are a 24-hour service, we've got a computerised 24-hour output, and the live shows tend to be evenings.

"All our presenters are volunteers, most of them work, some are retired.

"We have people who go round the wards, under normal circumstances, collecting requests, making sure head sets are working.

"We are looking at going online too, which will mean people will be able to put in more requests and listen at home.

"We're hoping to have more live shows in future too, and provide an information service so the hospital can use us as a voice.

"It's going to be a really interesting and exciting time for us, I think we're really going to become part of the framework of the hospital."

Rachel says the station provides vital support and companionship to patients.

"We've had people say how much it's lifted their spirits, either hearing their name mentioned or a song they love," she said.

"Independent research has shown that hospital radio can save the NHS up to £400 per patient as it promotes well being and engenders faster recovery.

"Hospital radio really does help mental health because it's company for people, it's just been so annoying not being able to be on air because there have been people without any visitors.

"I completely understand why we're not allowed in but I think we could have really come into our own over the last 18 months.

"We've always called ourselves a friend at the bedside.

"We are so looking forward to getting back when we can do safely, but bigger and better than before.

"The feedback we've had on the wards has been really positive and people do enjoy listening. Hopefully we'll get back soon."

The station receives around 20 requests for each show, and around 200 listeners per evening.

"Our ethos has always been if there's one person listening, then that's all that we need and we're there for that person," said Rachel.

"We provide a complete range of music, there's something for everybody's taste, from classical to rock.

"We cover Halifax Town and Halifax Rugby League games, cover a lot of shows from the Victoria Theatre and we've done shows from various other venues around the area.

"We do a chart show, comedy show, rock 'n' roll, country and western, I do an 80s show, a retro chart show a bit like Pick of the Pops, a couple of chilled out shows, a soul and Motown show, a couple of movie shows, there's so many."

If anyone would like to get involved with the station, you can email them at [email protected] or call 01422 224694.