When Palmerston North Hospital Radio went on air in 1980, it proved a big hit and its therapeutic value was undisputed.
Not only was it appreciated by patients, staff, too, were full of praise for the benefits they could see in their patients that they attributed to the radio. While it broadcast only on Wednesday nights, from 7pm until 10pm, it was looked forward to keenly. The broadcast format was a children’s programme at 7pm followed by the adult programme of requests, dedications, hospital news and interviews, and a Chaplain’s Spot. These were all piped through headphones to the patient’s bed.
The first programme went to air in August 1980 after registered nurse Julie Marshall, Anglican Hospital Chaplain Ian Jacobsen, and Catholic Chaplain Father Peter Fahy approached Radio New Zealand for help in getting Hospital Radio under way.
Nurse Sue Kennard, an operating theatre nurse and mezzo soprano, who helped raise funds for a high-tech CD player by taking part in Opera in the Afternoon in 1996; and Bobbi Angelini.
Julie said: “I had actually first thought about the idea in 1979, as a way of making life better for patients and staff. Gaining the support of the Hospital Chaplain was crucial as the sound system originated in the beautiful Hospital Chapel and the adjoining Chaplain’s office. The Reverend Eric Kearse took a leap of faith and agreed we could operate in the Chapel under the auspices of the Chaplaincy Department.
“In those days the wards were home to a mix of chronically ill patients, who were permanent or regular returnees, and those who were there for just a few days or to be cared for in their last days. Three of those patients, in particular, put in a huge effort in the early days of hospital radio. Bob Perks, on his discharge from hospital, became the front man for the children’s programme; John Boland was our eyes and ears within the hospital; and Marie became our mainstay on the technical side. They knew first-hand what buoyed people up when their spirits were low.
“During my time at the helm through 1980 to 1982, I was a very small part of an amazing response to a great need. We ended up with over 80 people on our various rosters. Often, we would sneak through the wards and hear people roaring with laughter at a comedy we were playing or at some of the comments from our wonderful broadcasters who occasionally needed to be reined in! I remember coming into the office and dissolving into hysterics at the sight of two of our professional announcers. They were trying to eat Liquorice All Sorts, which were spinning around on a record.”
Other media were very supportive of the fledgling station. When they heard another station was closing down they made it possible for hospital radio volunteers to go and collect the records. Later a new console became available in this way.
More equipment was able to be purchased through a generous donation from some of the Massey University Women.
Children loved to participate in their programme, “The Rainbow Connection”. At the time there was a school within the hospital and encouraged by their teacher, children were able to broadcast their favourite items from their lessons. Those children who were able, came down to the station and shared their contributions in the Rainbow Scrap Book and listened to the story of the night. The chapel’s area was large enough to accommodate wheelchairs and beds with drips attached so children and their parents could come down. Parents of sick children also appreciated the break.
Bobbi Angelini, former Chairman of Hospital Radio who came on board in 1983, said: “I had been a speech and drama teacher, as well as a school dental nurse, and was approached to help out with the radio. It was truly marvellous and you felt you were making a real difference to people’s lives.
“We used to go around the patients with a clipboard with the menu of songs on it on a Monday. It used to take volunteers 10 hours to visit all the wards and compile requests. The records were borrowed from Radio 2ZA down in George St, and many of their staff and technicians were on the roster of around 30 volunteer announcer-technicians.”
It will come as no surprise to many that the most requested song on Hospital Radio was Howard Morrison’s, How Great Thou Art. But the second most popular choice became the radio’s theme song - Dolly Parton’s, One Day at a Time.
Christmas was a highlight with visiting performers on the air waves and there were many generous sponsors at that time of year. For example, Maureen Ax from the School of Dance gave her Christmas Concert proceeds to the radio. Not only that, her husband was a dedicated announcer.
Other people involved included Doug Warr, a retired hospital pharmacist; registered nurse Heather Scott; Mike Fancourt and his wife Dr Sue Fancourt; Ian Johnstone (announcer and technician) and many, many others.
Bobbi said: “Eventually the pattern of hospital care swung towards more acute cases and there were fewer patients in rehab. This meant that patients weren’t in hospital for as long as they had needed to be in the past. So, it was clear there wasn’t as much need for the radio station. By the time the old chapel was demolished in the late 90s it was clear that the radio station would go along with it.”
When Hospital Radio wound up the assets were sold off and the proceeds given to the hospital’s chaplaincy service.
Bobbi said: “I was still getting stopped in the street and thanked many years later. It had such a huge impact on people’s lives.”