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Hospital radio station marks 50 years

Royal Free Radio, which broadcasts to patients at Chase Farm, the Royal Free and North Middlesex hospitals, is celebrating 50 years on air.

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, seven days a week.

“We were planning to do a special series of broadcasts to mark the event,” said Andy Higgins, the station manager, who has been with the station for over 40 years. “But as a result of the constraints imposed by Covid-19 we will have to wait until things get back to normal.”

During the pandemic many programmes are being broadcast from presenters’ homes and these are supplemented with pre-recorded programmes.

“We are pleased to be able to still play requests for patients via our website (royalfreeradio.co.uk),” said Andy. “At a time of visiting restrictions, this 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.” Request programmes are on every night from Sunday to Fridays at 8pm.

Three other team 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, “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 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. Gradually more volunteers were taken on and broadcasting hours extended.

The station’s name changed from Radio Enfield to Royal Free Radio in 2017 after Chase Farm became a part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and its charity merged with the Royal Free Charity.

“The trust and the 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.

Photos:

(1) 1970 studio at Chase Farm

(2) Re-branding of Radio Enfield to Royal Free Radio in 2017.

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