Lisa Botwright visits Radio Mount Vernon to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes…
Hospital radio has always been a rather cool way to break into a media career.
Phillip Schofield, aged just 15, used to make a weekly train trip from his home in Newquay all the way to Plymouth, to present a regular Hospital Radio show every Sunday morning, before going on to land his first job at the BBC. At the age of 17, he was the youngest person to be working at BBC Broadcasting House.
Absolute Radio’s longstanding breakfast DJ, Christian O’Connell, also launched his career in hospital radio, although he was infamously sacked for making an inappropriate joke about no longer needing to play a record after the elderly woman who had made the request passed away. His conscience must be pricking somewhat though, as he’s just written a book about a boy who’s devastated when he gets the sack from hospital radio, and is spurred on to launch his own radio station from his garden shed. The book – Radio Boy – is currently garnering five star reviews on Amazon.
So it’s with more than a little curiosity that I accept an invitation to go along to a Radio Mount Vernon open afternoon to meet the volunteers there. Am I set to meet the broadcasting stars of the future?
Radio Mount Vernon was launched in 1969, the same year that man first stepped onto the moon and The Beatles (incidentally Mount Vernon’s radio’s ninth most requested artists) played their last concert.
I’m amused to learn that the very first broadcasts were relayed from the hospital’s operating theatre. Operations would take place during the day during the day, and then in the evenings the radio volunteers would set up their makeshift studio, only to take it all away a few hours later, (including – I shudder to think – all those dust and germ gathering LPs).
Mount Vernon Radio is now based in a specially converted former staff flat, tucked away in a quiet corner of the sprawling hospital site, and it’s here that I’m greeted by Jean Gillen, one of the radio team, and organiser of today’s open event.
Since the radio is run purely by volunteers (there are currently around 14 on the team at Radio Mount Vernon) and funded solely by charitable donations, they’re very keen to recruit new members. Current volunteers are a mixed bunch, from students, to those working full-time and retired individuals keen to find a new challenge.
Jean has a background in music and education, and loves going out and about to chat with the patients on the wards, but admits she would be far too nervous to broadcast on-air. Deryk Nicholson, who shows me around the studio, and explains the more technical side of things to me, has a background in computer science. “I just love playing with the new equipment,” he laughs.
Martin Hill is the extrovert of the team and is in full flow, mid-broadcast, but manages to chat with me when the music is playing, explaining that he’s been with the radio for 24 years. His hobbies are sport and music, which he combined happily for twelve years presenting the Sunday afternoon sports show. He now curates a ‘Guess the Year’ show on Thursday evenings, featuring news, sport, music and other ‘odd and ends’.
There are also several students on the team – the Phillip and Phillippa Schofields of the future, perhaps? – although one is actually a medical student, aiming to become a doctor, and another is a musician. They are busy at school and university when I visit.
It’s clear that whatever your skills or quirks of personality, there’s a way for you to contribute here, and the benefits are enormous, for both the volunteer and for the patient.
Last year, The Hospital Broadcasting Association, a national charity that supports and promotes hospital broadcasting in the UK, commissioned a piece of independent research into the impact of hospital radio on health outcomes for patients. It was found that listening to music in general has an impact upon physical health including blood pressure, heart rate and increased tolerance of pain. But it was specifically hospital radio that was found to bring many psychosocial benefits including reduced anxiety, boredom and loneliness.
For the volunteer, there are the obvious CV-building strengths of gaining a myriad of experience in whatever aspect of radio-life you’re particularly interested in – broadcasting, technical production, events management, charity administration: the list is endless. Other are drawn to the caring aspect, or even just to the general bonhomie of it all.
“I know I’m never going to have an audience of hundreds,” says Martin, “but if I’ve made one patient’s stay in hospital better, then it’s all worth it.”
Radio Mount Vernon have another Open Afternoon, for anyone who's interested in volunteering, on Sunday 23rd April 3 - 7pm.
Otherwise, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call and leave a message on 01923 844755. The team would love to hear from you.