THIS month Banbury’s hospital radio station Radio Horton celebrated its 50th birthday with a long weekend of touring radio. To mark the occasion, ALEX WYNICK looks at the health of community radio stations in Oxfordshire
ON July 7, 1964, patients at the Horton General Hospital turned on their radios to listen to strains of the Westminster Waltz, followed by the words “Radio Horton Calling”.
Now, 50 years later, Radio Horton is still going strong, providing music, news and interviews for the Banbury hospital’s patients.
It was all started by journalists Ted Hanson, now 76, and the late Graham Wilton.
The current station manager Stewart Green said: “It was something for the patients to do, because there was nothing for them to do in hospital.
“To start with it was just one show a week for an hour, then it grew and grew as patients asked for more.”
He added: “Our aim is still to entertain the patients.
“We go round the wards three times a week to talk to patients, get requests and messages.
“We go to the children’s ward every week and the kids have their own little show at the weekend.
“It’s a way of bringing people together.”
To celebrate its 50th birthday, the station went on a tour across Banbury, catching up with local celebrities and supporters.
The special guests included Countryfile’s John Craven, X-Factor voice-over star Peter Dickson and Banbury’s MP Sir Tony Baldry.
Mr Green, 56, said: “We went out and about in the community and we had a lot of guests popping in, with celebrity messages.
“It was a massive success.”
Radio Horton took a technical leap when it went online in 2010, broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Mr Green, from Banbury, said: “We always felt there was a need for Radio Horton to be broadcast to the wider community.”
In just 10 months more than 20,800 listeners tuned in online.
He added: “This just proves that we are delivering a service people can’t get anywhere else.’’ Earlier this year the station was named as the best organisation at the Banbury Community Awards.
Fifty years after it was founded, this was the first award the station had won.
Mr Green, who has worked at the radio station since 1982, said: “We were very pleased.
“It’s a great recognition for all of the hard work and team effort that we put in.’’
Listeners can tune in online
HOSPITAL RADIO AUDIENCE CHANGES ALL THE TIME
NEIL Stockton is the chairman of Oxfordshire’s other hospital radio station, Radio Cherwell, which broadcasts to the John Radcliffe Hospital and Churchill Hospital.
He has worked at the station for almost 40 years, after getting involved as a teenager when the station was in its infancy.
He said: “People come to this hospital from miles away, all across the South East, and are often away from their loved ones.
“There are some long-term patients who almost feel part of the family because they’re talking to us every day.”
Radio Cherwell presenters and engineers, from left, Angie Young, Neil Stockton, front, Alison Sweatman, John Lant and Colin Ryde at the Churchill Hospital
The Bletchington resident said that hospital radio faces more problems than any other type of radio, adding: “Hospital radio is even more difficult than community radio, because there are 190,000 patients who go through the hospital beds in a year.
“The audience changes all the time. Other stations tend to build up and maintain their following over a period of time, but we’re effectively launching our station every week.”
But Radio Cherwell has more pressing issues to deal with than listener figures — homelessness.
Alice Foreman, Alison Sweatman and John Lant check the old vinyl records
Hospital bosses have told the station it needs to move from the old blood transfusion office to the hospital’s gatehouse by September at the latest.
Mr Stockton, 62, said: “They want to get rid of the old buildings. The gatehouse is very, very much smaller than what we have got, and it needs quite a lot of work to do the soundproofing and restoration.”
The group need to raise about £75,000 for the work. He said: “The pressure is on for us.”
XTRA REASON TO CELEBRATE FIRST BIRTHDAY
WHILE Radio Horton is celebrating its half-century, Abingdon’s community station is about to mark its first.
AbingdonXtra operates out of a log cabin in the back garden of its station manager Mark Holland, from Andersey Way in Abingdon.
He said: “We have been running for almost a year.
“We launched in September 2013.
“It’s predominately an online radio station — available at abingdonxtra.co.uk — and we have shows being broadcast from all over Abingdon.
“We go live from various locations and we have four studios in people’s homes.”
Mark Holland, of Abingdon Xtra
The 40-year-old said the station aims to promote local news and events, adding: “I don’t think local events and issues get enough coverage — it’s more local than other outlets can be.
“There was nothing that was just Abingdon and nobody else.
“We run stories that probably wouldn’t make the press.
“It’s really to promote the town and give people a voice.”
But the first year has not been without a hitch, and Mr Holland admitted: “It has been hard getting sponsorship.”
The station costs about £1,200 a year to run. He said: “We just pay for what we need so we can run and then rely on volunteers.”
LISTENING IN ON RAF AIRWAVES
IT’S not just hospital patients who enjoy tuning into their very own radio – earlier this year RAF Brize Norton became the first Royal Air Force radio station in the UK.
Part of the British Forces Broadcasting Service, BFBS Brize Norton launched in April on bfbs.com/radio/online/brize-norton.html Its senior presenter Jo Thoenes said: “We’re serving everybody in the area who has any connection with the forces.
“We were trying to produce a niche, bespoke service for this part of the world.”
Presenter Jo Thoenes
The Didcot resident added: “It’s quite a challenging demographic, we’re broadcasting to 17-year-old recruits right up to generals in their retirement.
“We do a lot on what’s going on across the base, their work and life inside and outside the wire.’’ Miss Thoenes, 40, said: “We’re more about the community events, we get people into the studio to talk about what’s going on.
“It’s going really, really well.
“Bigger stations have lost that personal touch, and it’s just amazing to give these people who don’t have a platform to talk about what’s going on for them.
“We’ve had great feedback from all sorts of different groups across the base. Every day we have people coming and knocking on our door asking for our help.”
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