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Half a century of hospital radio in Inverness is celebrated

By Neil MacPhail

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Inverness Hospital Radio - Donnie Aird who was the co-founder of Inverness Hospital Radio 50 years ago...Picture: Callum Mackay..
Inverness Hospital Radio - Donnie Aird who was the co-founder of Inverness Hospital Radio 50 years ago...Picture: Callum Mackay..

WHEN Inverness Hospital Radio first went on air 50 years ago, it was a pre-recorded programme on a cassette machine which was then relayed over the chaplain’s broadcasting system.

Today, the voluntary-run organisation continues to provide a lifeline for patients but has progressed from one broadcast each week to a 24-hour service with new equipment, dedicated schedules, improved communications and has also launched a new-look website.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed celebrations of the significant milestone, members past and present held an online meeting to reminisce and reflect on how far the station has come from its humble beginnings.

They included co-founder Donnie Aird, who made the first broadcast along with the late Alistair Gardner.

Mr Aird (84), of Leachkin, is no longer a presenter but is still actively involved with the organisation as a lifelong member.

Mr Aird, who had a radio and audio business, recalled that when he and Mr Gardner – a part-time broadcaster and contributor for BBC – began formulating plans for a broadcasting service, the hospital board was initially resistant to the idea.

But they managed to secure permission to use the chaplain’s broadcasting system based in the vestry of the chapel at the Royal Northern Infirmary.

“Our programmes in the early days were made in Alistair’s house on a Sunday morning and took ages to make,” Mr Aird said.

“We aimed at being as professional as possible, with the result that every time we made a mistake we had to start again.

“We had no editing equipment in those days, so a programme was recorded straight on to a cassette machine.

“The telephone was taken off the hook. The doorbell was disconnected. Alistair’s daughter and dog were locked out of the room.

“The music was played from the house hi-fi unit and speech from a microphone into the recorder via a home-made mixer which I had constructed using Meccano, amongst other bits and pieces.”

A team of volunteers collected requests from patients and as the station’s therapeutic benefits became apparent, it was allocated a storeroom to set up a small studio with the best professional equipment it could afford, using grants from various sources, while a record library was established using donated records.

Later, it moved to new purpose-built studios at Raigmore Hospital – opened by TV presenter Lorraine Kelly in 1998 – which enabled broadcasting hours to be increased while subsequent advances in technology and access to music online have enabled 24-hour output to patients in Raigmore.

In 2012, it was recognised by being awarded The Queens Award for Voluntary Service and as it looks to the future, is set to move to online broadcasting next year.

Mr Aird reflected how the service initially had a captive audience with patients remaining in hospital for longer periods.

“Patient stay in hospital is now mostly for days, or in some cases hours,” he said.

“They also have bedside television and other radio stations available, mobile phones and personal CD players. This has reduced our listening numbers.

“For the service to survive, it has got to keep pace with other media and entertainment developments.

“Therefore the way forward is obviously to move to online broadcasting.

“This will not only keep us serving Raigmore Hospital, but has the potential to expand our broadcasts to other hospitals and institutions in the Highland health board area."

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