CASTLE MEAD RADIO
The Story Behind Castle Mead Radio:
Britain’s Smallest Hospital Radio Station
‘This is Castle Mead Radio’ or ‘The Station You Wish You Could Take Home with You’ are words that we hope you’ve never heard or will have to hear.
These words have been heard for 30 years in the jingles for Britain’s smallest hospital radio station, Castle Mead Radio, based in Hinckley, Leicestershire.
The station started broadcasting to the Hinckley and District Hospital on Saturday, 10th November 1990. We are proud that in 2020, our 30th anniversary year, we are still meeting our objective of trying to make all patient stays in hospital as pleasant as possible by providing a high quality and varied range of talk and music-based entertainment for the benefit of everyone who hears our service.
A registered charity, funded by the local community, staffed and run entirely by volunteers, Castle Mead Radio now provides entertainment to the patients and staff of both the Hinckley and District and Hinckley & Bosworth Community Hospitals, the Castle Mead Surgery and other medical practices in the town. The station can also be heard on the internet at our website: www.castlemeadradio.co.uk or www.cmr.org.uk
And this is how it all began…
In 1981, four friends, Paul Gardner, Dave Bedford, Peter Russell and Mick Pickering, built an operational radio studio in the loft of a house in Thornycroft Road, Hinckley.
In this home studio they created their own programmes which, once recorded, were distributed to local factories and businesses.
The friends christened the station ‘Fosseway Radio’ and, such was the interest in this unique project, that Central TV even sent a camera crew to Hinckley to report about the station on their Central News programmes.
However, the four presenters had always wanted the opportunity to broadcast to the Hinckley and District Hospital and, as the result of four unexpected lucky breaks during 1990, that ambition was to be realised much sooner than they had thought.
The first was a chance encounter with a member of the hospital staff and, this resulted in an approach being made to the new management team at the hospital.
Following several meetings with the hospital during 1990, and assurances being given that the idea was not just a passing fad, agreement was reached with the newly named Castle Mead Radio, and permission given for the start-up of a brand-new radio service.
Putting the plan into action
An ambitious two-year plan was put in place to raise the estimated £6000 required to enable a proper radio station to start in 1992, when the second lucky break happened.
Norman Grundy was recruited as station engineer, specifically to oversee the purchase and installation of studio equipment. Early on, he identified that he could set up the station for half the estimated cost.
However, it was to be the Edwards family of Hinckley who were about to deliver the third stroke of luck. They ran a successful local company and they were about to celebrate a centenary of service to the town and were looking to make a significant donation of funds to a local good cause.
As a result, the Edwards chose Castle Mead Radio to receive funding which meant that the station could potentially be up and running before the end of 1990.
All that Castle Mead Radio needed were premises to broadcast from.
The late Valerie Burns, a stalwart at the hospital, provided the last piece of luck, managing to locate an empty medical storeroom that the station could use on the first floor of the Mount Road hospital.
Now the race was on to ensure that Castle Mead Radio was ‘on-air’ during the Edwards’ 100th anniversary year.
Trips to suppliers of equipment up and down the country were followed by long hours running cables in roof spaces, nooks and crannies, and building the studio.
The equipment used then was totally different to that we use now: two record turntables, a cassette deck and a triple stack of 8-track cartridge players.
Even though they were state-of-the-art at the time, we decided at the last minute that a single CD player might be useful in the future!
Test transmissions started in late October and a date for the launch was set for Saturday 10th November 1990.
Launch day at last
The big day finally arrived and, following an early start for the team just hours from launch, many last-minute checks were made, and gremlins ironed out.
Guests were welcomed to the opening but, on the day, the guests of honour were of course, the Edwards family.
The opening ceremony of the Edwards Family Studio was performed by Kenny Hague who, at the time, was a presenter from Sound FM, in Leicester.
Although they did not know it at the time, the paths of Castle Mead Radio and that of Kenny Hague’s were to cross again in the future.
Between 1990 and 1994, Castle Mead Radio went from strength to strength and such was the enthusiasm for the station during this period that ambitious plans were implemented. With the aid of a Leicestershire County Council grant, these enabled the station to expand into a two-studio setup, making the programme presentation far more professional and enabling the station to reap a very unexpected reward, though this would have to wait until 1996.
In 1995, the newly expanded Edwards Family Studio was opened by Alan Grimadell, Chairman of the Hospital Broadcasting Association, watched by Andy Carter and Paul Gardner of Castle Mead Radio and Wendy Hicklin, Hinckley Hospital Administrator.
Another important element of the service that Castle Mead Radio provides is ward visiting and collecting requests from the patients and staff. This aspect of our work is vital for maintaining contact between our listeners and the station. A little time spent talking to a patient is really important. It helps to personalise the experience for them, especially if the presenter playing their request is the same person who collected it.
In 2004, Castle Mead Radio was connected to the newly built Hinckley and Bosworth Community Hospital (Sunnyside) on Ashby Road, Hinckley by means of a tie-line.
We could now be heard by an additional 48 patients, as each bedhead in the hospital was equipped with its own radio receiver and a headphone socket.
However, headphones presented us with a dilemma because in a hospital setting, there was an obvious hygiene issue, as each new patient would need to be provided with a new set of headphones if they wanted to listen to our or another radio station’s programmes.
As it was both difficult and expensive for us to be able to constantly supply new headphones, we decided to supply each bed-head with its own ‘pillow speaker’ emblazoned with the Castle Mead Radio logo, which only then needed to be sanitised each time a new patient was admitted to the hospital.
By this time, Castle Mead Radio was now broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, using a mixture of ‘live’ and ‘pre-recorded’ output. The beauty of the pillow speaker was that each patient could listen to our programming in complete privacy, without disturbing their fellow patients, at any time of the day or night.
Being equipped with dedicated loudspeakers fitted in the patient’s day rooms, visitor’s lounges, day clinics, reception areas and even the kitchen, meant that Castle Mead Radio could be heard anywhere in the hospital.
With a further technological advancement, our service was linked to the local Health Authority internet servers and Castle Mead Radio could now be heard further afield.
As well as being heard locally in Hinckley and the surrounding areas, we also welcomed new-found listeners in Australia, Germany and the United States.
Supporting the local community
Our output has been linked to the Castle Mead Surgery adjacent to the hospital in Mount Road, so we now include regular public service and health announcements in our broadcasting, reminding patients about the importance of attending various clinics, donating blood, as well as many lifestyle improvement messages.
Castle Mead Radio is constantly evolving its service and we are proud that we are now a ‘well-being’ broadcaster, able to make contact with the wider local community.
However, times change and, in 1996, Castle Mead Radio was responsible for bringing Hinckley its very own commercial radio station.
A small group of the Castle Mead Radio team, Andy Carter, Lee Carey, Jon Maynard and Maria Bush, formed a company called Fosseway Radio and an agreement was reached with them, allowing them to hire Castle Mead Radio’s newly refurbished and extended studio facilities.
Between March and September 1996, Fosseway Radio was broadcasting their signal all over South-West Leicestershire on 107.9 FM became the star of their breakfast programme.
Unlike Castle Mead Radio though, Fosseway Radio only stayed in Hinckley until 2008, when it relocated to Coalville, became Oak FM and, although it still broadcast to Hinckley, it was never really our ‘local’ radio station again, and closed down in 2018.
However, several ex-members and two trustees of Castle Mead Radio now broadcast on Fosse 107 which replaced Oak FM, which further cements our relationship with commercial broadcasting.
We are equally proud that other ex-Castle Mead Radio presenters have moved into the wider world of broadcasting. Amongst them are Stacey Foster, who started as Central TV news reader and is now a reporter for ITN’s main news programmes, Matt Price who works for both ITV North and contributes to Central News and, Sally Hurst who can be heard on BBC Radio Leicester and other BBC stations reporting on the traffic.
Looking to the future
In 2020, our 30th anniversary year, we planned to expand our service and become more community-based, so that we could be heard in more healthcare practices in the Hinckley area and surrounding districts via internet streaming. We upgraded our broadband and refreshed our website, in anticipation of this expansion.
In conjunction with Hinckley Bid we were to have implemented a major membership and sponsorship campaign, starting in August, designed to attract more presenters,
Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 crisis has caused these plans to be delayed so now, as a responsible charity, we are having to explore innovative and sustainable new ways to support our service.
In the meantime, we will continue to concentrate on our priority, which is to provide the staff and patients of the Hinckley Hospitals’ and Health Centres with the best possible service.
Until normality returns, all we can do for now is ask all our friends and supporters to…
WATCH THIS SPACE
To hear Castle Mead Radio, log on to www.castlemeadradio.co.uk and hit ‘Listen’.