This year Ridgeway Radio is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hospital radio in Dorchester.
The station has had various name changes over the years, but it all started on the 29th September 1966 as the Dorchester Hospital Broadcasting Society, formed by a group of prominent local people including the Chief Constable. Other founding members of the society were some youngsters who are still involved in the station today!
Ridgeway Radio initially broadcast for one hour a week on a Thursday night, from a tiny attic room with just about enough room for 2 or 3 people, a huge valve amplifier which glowed like the aurora borealis, a record deck and a microphone. On the sloping console there was a large knob for switching between mic and deck. Half way through the first broadcast the presenter and engineer were merrily playing the listeners' requests and relaying messages, etc, when Matron phoned to say that people were getting impatient and "...when are you going to start?" Unfortunately there had been a technical breakdown between the studio and the wards so nobody could hear a thing!
Thankfully things have changed a bit since then – we now broadcast 24 hours a day and technical glitches are fairly rare. However, a recent glitch involved a liquid spillage over our expensive mixing desk. We were fortunate that Dorchester Town Council stepped in and provided us with a new one.
One great pleasure for the founding members - who were mere teenagers in 1966, is that young people still want to be part of what hospital radio does. The Kingfisher Club is a body of young folk who broadcast to their peers and young children who find themselves in the Kingfisher Ward at Dorset County Hospital. Many have acquired skills that have led them into the broadcast and media industry or have gone on to produce programmes for the stations general output.
The importance of maintaining a local community has created a working theme of 'Bringing the outside in'. Location recordings of local events supplemented by live relays of important events helps listeners to stay in touch during their stay in hospital.
So, as we have moved from telephone wires to internet connection over half a century, the technical side of hospital radio has provided opportunities for those who excel in that way. As treatment regimes change toward recovery and treatment at home, there is an obvious opportunity to extend a targeted service to those people who become out of touch with their community. The challenge now is to embrace new media to spread comfort, entertainment and information to anyone who needs it, wherever they may be. Here's to the next 50 years!
Amongst the 50th celebrations so far, Ridgeway Radio has:
- Held a fund-raising evening called 'Radio Daze' which featured various competitions and radio-related quizzes with prizes donated by local businesses.
- Dorchester has a wonderful park, called the Borough Gardens, maintained by the Town Council gardening team in the centre of the town. Each year a particular flower bed is dedicated to a local organisation and features dozens of colourful plants arranged in the design of the organisation's logo. This year, as the photo shows, the flower bed is dedicated to Dorchester Hospital Radio, 1966 - 2016, with a logo of a 'smiley' wearing headphones and is a truly beautiful display.
- During the afternoon of the 29th September we will be holding a celebratory gathering in the Hospital's restaurant for 50 people including Ridgeway Radio members, past and present, and special guests. Then at 8pm, the exact time and day of the week of the first broadcast 50 years earlier, we will be presenting a programme recreating that historic occasion, hopefully without a technical hitch!