Radio station marks 50 years on the airwaves

Royal Free Radio began life as 'Radio Enfield' in May 1970
Royal Free Radio began life as ‘Radio Enfield’ in May 1970

Royal Free Radio, which broadcasts to patients from Chase Farm Hospital and was originally known as ‘Radio Enfield’, has celebrated its 50th anniversary.

The station is broadcast 24 hours a day and is operated entirely by volunteers. It offers patients across the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust a free service of record requests, quizzes, interviews, news, patient information and advice.

It had begun life as Radio Enfield on 24th May 1970. Station manager Andy Higgins, who has been with the station for 40 years, said: “We were planning to do a special series of broadcasts to mark the event 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 online from presenters’ homes and these are supplemented by a series of pre-recorded programmes.

Andy added: “We are pleased to be able to still play requests for patients via our website, 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.”

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 two hours a week on Sunday evenings.

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

In the early days, Radio Enfield was run by a team of seven 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. It later expanded to Highlands and South Lodge hospitals in 1972 and North Middlesex Hospital in 1973.

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

Howard said: “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.”

A re-union of past and present members is being re-scheduled for later in the year.

Listen to Royal Free Radio online: