Soothing sounds

Royal Free Radio has been keeping hospital patients company for nearly 50 years, writes David Scarff

Royal Free Radio

Clare Scarff doing her Sunday night request programme

No-one likes to spend any time in hospital, and whether you are admitted for planned treatment or arrive unexpectedly, it can be quite daunting – especially without friends or relatives who can visit.

Royal Free Radio has been based at Chase Farm Hospital since May 1970 and now provides a dedicated service for patients at Chase Farm, North Middlesex, and Royal Free hospitals. It is one of the country’s longest-running hospital radio stations and will be marking its 50th anniversary in two years’ time.

Previously known as Radio Enfield, it’s on air for 24 hours every day, seven-days-a-week, and its aim is to provide entertainment and company for patients during their stay in hospital. The service is operated entirely by volunteers and offers a unique blend of advice and information for patients. It includes a wide choice of music, including patients’ requests; hourly news bulletins provided by Sky News; quizzes and interviews with guests from the local area; latest news from the hospitals; plus special evening musical reminiscences designed for dementia patients.

A team of volunteers visit the wards throughout the week to chat to patients and find out if there is a particular piece of music they would like to hear in the nightly request programmes. The station covers all types of music – pop, jazz, classical, soul, country, ballet – and the presenters read out every request received, and, most of the time, find the piece from their vast record library. Requests can be telephoned in by patients and visitors on 020 8363 6000, or via the website, where it’s also possible to listen to the station.

Colin Dye, who presented a programme on the first evening’s broadcast in May 1970, still presents a request show every Monday evening. Two other members, myself and Howard White, have also been with the station since it started. Station manager Andy Higgins is about to complete 40 years of service.

The station has just relocated to new studios at Chase Farm after broadcasting from temporary premises for the last three years, while the hospital was being rebuilt. It has also merged with the Royal Free Charity, which provides many other benefits and facilities for patients in the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust group.

The volunteers are involved in all sorts of different tasks, from mundane behind-the-scenes jobs to the more glamorous task of presenting programmes. Anyone interested in helping out at the station must be aged over 18 and be able to spare a couple of hours each week at either Chase Farm or North Middlesex hospitals.

Find out more, listen, or sign up as a volunteer:
Visit royalfreeradio.co.uk