50 Years of Hospital Radio in Enfield

Royal Free Radio, which broadcasts to patients in Chase Farm, North Middlesex and the Royal Free hospitals, celebrated 50 years on air on the 24th May.

Based at Chase Farm Hospital, and operated entirely by volunteers, the service – previously known as Radio Enfield – provides patients with a unique service of record requests, quizzes, interviews, news, patient information and advice and is on air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“We were planning to do a special series of broadcasts to mark the event”, said Station Manager Andy Higgins, “but as a result of the constraints imposed by Covid-19 we will have to wait until things get back to normal.”

Currently, many of the programmes are being broadcast over the network and on-line from presenters’ homes and these are supplemented by a wealth of pre-recorded programmes.

“We are pleased to be able to still play requests for patients via our website (royalfreeradio.co.uk) since there are visiting restrictions in the hospitals we cover so it is a way that relatives and friends can keep in touch by sending in a request to let patients know they are thinking of them” said Andy, who has been with the station for over 40 years.

Request programmes currently air every night Sundays – Fridays at 8pm.

Three other current members – David Scarff, Howard White and Colin Dye - recall the early days in 1970 when Radio Enfield started in a converted storeroom at Chase Farm and was initially on air for just 2 hours a week on Sunday evenings.

“I’m not sure where those 50 years have gone”, said David, “but when we started the country was still using pounds, shillings and pence, The Beatles had just broken up, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel was a new release and it was 4 years before anyone had heard of Abba.”

In the early days, Radio Enfield was run by a team of 7 schoolfriends who were interested in electronics, music and tape-recording and who wanted to run a legal radio station. The idea came from the offshore radio stations of the 1960s such as Radio Caroline and Radio London and, after a letter to the then Matron at Chase Farm, the go-ahead was given to start the service in May 1970 which later expanded to Highlands and South Lodge Hospitals in 1972 and North Middlesex Hospital in 1973.

Gradually more volunteers were taken on and broadcasting hours extended.

The radio station re-branded from Radio Enfield to Royal Free Radio in 2017 after Chase Farm became a part of the Royal Free London NHS Trust, and merged with the Royal Free Charity at the same time.

“The Royal Free and Royal Free Charity have been very supportive of the station and we have never been more proud to support the NHS than in recent times with the impact of Covid-19”, said Howard.

A re-union of past and present members has had to be postponed but is being re-scheduled for later in the year.