The History of Hospital Radio

Durham Hospitals Radio is part of a story that can trace its beginnings back almost a century to the United States.

The earliest known hospital radio station is thought to have begun its operation in the Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington D.C. in May 1919. With the world just returning to peace following the Great War, volunteers recognised that something had to be done to improve the hospital experience for patients. Hospital Radio was born and it soon went on to develop way beyond its creators’ imagination.

Its is thought that the concept crossed the Atlantic to the UK in 1925 when the first UK hospital radio was created at York County Hospital. Headphones were provided beside 200 beds, and 70 loudspeakers were installed, with patients being able to listen to sports commentaries and church services.

The idea spread, if only slowly, and the 1930s saw radio stations being opened in a handful of other hospitals, their schedules comprising live music and speech based programming.

The Second World War disrupted the spread of hospital radio although a station was established in Jersey to relay church services, musical recitals, variety shows, and programmes for children to nine hospitals after wireless receivers had been banned and confiscated by the occupying Nazi Army.

The idea continued to grow in popularity after the the war and the late 1940s saw a slow growth followed by a rapid one in the 1950s. The idea also caught on in Japan, The Netherlands and continued to develop quickly in the United States. Many stations now played gramophone must to patients and with the launch of the cassette tape in 1963, it became easier for presenters to record their programmes for playback at a later date.

Technology has continued to allow the idea to develop, with the likes of CDs, followed by computers and MP3s allowing broadcasters to continue to hone their skills in a whole new age.