Express & Star

Hospital radio counts down to 40 years on air

Timing was everything in the early days of Stafford's hospital radio.


Timing was everything in the early days of Stafford's hospital radio.

"We had a studio underneath the stage in the assembly room at St George's," recalls Alan Merrick, one of the first presenters when the service was launched in 1972.

"It used to get very noisy, and when they did the pantomime we had to time it so that we spoke during the quiet bits, and we played the records when they were running about on stage."

You could hardly accuse them of excess.

The desk was a huge gun-metal grey ex-BBC bit of kit with massive round faders. The record library was a ladies' wardrobe filled with vinyl.

But this mattered not to Alan and the team of 15 volunteers. With a determination to bring fun and friendship into the lives of hundreds of patients at mid-Staffordshire's seven hospitals, they learned fast about the art of improvisation.

"I had done a bit of DJ-ing before, but this was very different.

"The first thing you want to do when you are given a record request is to get rid of it, to get it out of the way, so you can take a breather while the record is playing.

"You're very nervous when you first start, but as time goes by you become more confident."

In those early days the most popular requests were for songs by Jim Reeves and Engelbert Humperdink's Please Release Me, the latter reflecting the sense of humour of many of the patients.

Next year, Hospital Radio Stafford celebrates its 40th anniversary, and Alan is one of several volunteers who have been involved from the start. While today's requests are more likely to be for Daniel O'Donnell or Frank Sinatra, the basic principle of brightening up the days of people who find themselves in hospital is the same as ever.

A purpose-built studio at the new Stafford General Hospital was officially opened in September, 1978 by Tiswas presenter Chris Tarrant, and that has been the station's base to this day.

Stafford Hospital Radio's roots lay in a series of events when George Mellet started playing recorded dance music for patients in the assembly room of St George's Hospital.

"George was later approached by Malcolm Salmon, who had previously been involved in hospital broadcasting, and they began the spadework from which Hospital Radio Stafford was formed." In the early days the station was on air for just three hours a day, broadcasting to Stafford General Infirmary, St George's Hospital, Kingsmead Hospital, Groundslow, Standon Hall, Yarnfield – on the outskirts of Eccleshall – and the Ivy House at Cannock.

The Mayor of Stafford turned up for the first show, and Radio 1 DJ Jimmy Young broadcast a good luck message. Other early volunteers included Anton Emery, Art Chatfield and Mike Bailey, who are all still involved with the station.

The station expanded its record library hugely during the mid 1970s with the help of Stafford's Sierra Kilo CB Radio Club, which carried out a 24-hour non-stop radio transmission, ending with an appeal for records.

"This appeal resulted in cars and vans coming from all directions to the front of Stafford Hospital where hundreds of records were delivered for our use," says Alan.

"Even today you will see vinyls marked 'Donated by Sierra Kilo' in our library."

Today Hospital Radio Stafford has around 45 active volunteers – some are retired, some have day jobs, some are students – who keep the station on air 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, producing a mixture of live and pre-recorded programmes.

"It's music spans classical, pop, country and western, rock and easy listening and it's pretty rare if we can't find a patient's specific request," says publicity officer Colin Smith.

"Comedy features strongly too with an impressive database of recorded radio classics as well as more serious topics, interviews and local information."

The library now contains 2,603 CDs, 3,522 LPs and 8,030 singles, spanning six decades, all catalogued by an electronic database instead of a card-index system.

"Our small army of presenters visit most hospital wards during the week providing friendly faces for patients to chat to and to collect dedications and requests for family, friends, hospital staff and of course themselves," says Colin.

Big celebrations are planned for the station's 40th birthday in January, and Alan, who was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1981, says he enjoys his work as much now as he did at the start.

"If it was a paid profession, you would call it job satisfaction," he says.

* Hospital Radio Stafford is looking for new volunteers. Anybody interested in getting involved can telephone 01785 223456, email or see the website

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