It was back in early 1950 that six Newcastle United fans were sitting in a pub and came up with the idea of broadcasting match commentary to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, conveniently located just around the corner from St James’ Park. ‘The first match was broadcast from Newcastle on 6th October 1951, when Newcastle beat the Wolverhampton Wanderers 3–1,’ explains Dave Nicholson MBE – Chairman of Radio Tyneside. Today, commentaries are still broadcast to the RVI and Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead. They also produce programmes aimed at the over 50s age group, presented by volunteers, keeping those in hospital company with a friendly voice and playing easy listening music which covers country, classical, jazz and blues, as well as some of today’s popular artists.
Dave has been a part of the station for 45 years. He joined in 1973 to present a Saturday morning music programme. ‘I was introduced to hospital radio by Mike Neville who was a BBC Look North presenter for many years, and at that time was Vice President of Radio Tyneside,’ he says. Over the decades, the station has expanded, and in the 60s, a small room was obtained above the old Rediffusion shop in the city centre, where a weekly request show was presented by the football commentators, Frank Lowery and Tom Taylor, using records borrowed from Jeavons record store.
In 1970, Radio Tyneside was offered the old workhouse in Newcastle General Hospital as their new home. ‘It was a palace compared to the previous space,’ Dave says, ‘but it needed a lot of work before it could be used.’ Fundraising raised enough money to convert the building, and within six months the station moved in. Under new management in 1973, Radio Tyneside started recruiting new volunteers which allowed the station to increase its broadcasting hours, and by 1975, it was on air every evening, and all day at weekends.
It was in 1990 that the decision was made to raise £35,000 to completely rebuild and refurbish the station’s building, and design two studios. ‘The new and improved centre opened in February 1992,’ says Dave.
The next big event in the history of Radio Tyneside came in early 1997, when the station was invited by the Radio Authority (now OFCOM) to run an experiment broadcasting hospital radio to patients and staff via an AM transmitter. ‘That same year, we purchased a piece of software called Myriad, which allowed us to pre-record programmes, meaning that we could broadcast during the day,’ Dave explains. ‘It allowed us to become a 24-hour station.’ The investment paid off, the experiment was a success, and Radio Tyneside was offered a five year licence to continue AM broadcasting – you can still tune in at 1575 AM today.
In 2009, the station was informed that its base would have to close because of the redevelopment of the General Hospital site. A few months on, the local NHS Foundation Trust offered Radio Tyneside a building on Claremont Road near to the rear of the RVI, and the move was given the green light. Following more fundraising, the station was able to expand their service via the internet. ‘At that time, we were only played in wards through Hospedia, and via our AM transmitter,’ Dave explains. ‘We started broadcasting online and found that a number of patients would continue listening to us after they went home. It also gave us an opportunity to promote health-related information to a wider audience.’
This aspect of the station will be enhanced when Radio Tyneside starts broadcasting on FM following the grant of a Community Radio licence from OFCOM. ‘We applied for it last year, and were told we had been successful in March,’ says Dave. Instead of only broadcasting to patients in the wards at the three hospitals Radio Tyneside covers, they’ll broadcast right across Newcastle and Gateshead on 93.6 FM. ‘That doesn’t take us away from concentrating on the hospital audience – we’ll rebrand as a hospital community radio station promoting health and wellbeing,’ says Dave. The FM broadcasting will begin at midday on 5th July, which happens to be the 70th anniversary of the NHS, and many guests will be in the studios on the day of celebration, including the ‘Voice of the Balls’ Alan Dedicoat who will launch the new frequency.
Radio Tyneside is currently in discussions with various local organisations and charities about expanding their health and wellbeing content, including Healthwatch Newcastle and Samaritans. ‘Of course, we’ll continue to promote the great work of the NHS,’ says Dave, ‘and we are recruiting some journalism students from Newcastle University to help report on local news.’
The main difference between Radio Tyneside now and when Dave started, is that in the early days, patients would be in hospital typically for three to five days, or even up to a fortnight in more serious circumstances, but nowadays, they can be in and out within a day. ‘That’s why we wanted to expand to FM,’ says Dave. ‘It’ll be even easier for listeners to tune in from home, or on the move.’
Over the course of the years, countless individuals have volunteered their time to present shows on Radio Tyneside, and many of the current presenters including Richard Finch, Geoff Lisle, Tony Sloan and Ian Hornsby have been involved for over 30 years. ‘A lot of people who join us gain the experience they need and then go on to work in the radio and television industries professionally,’ says Dave. For example, Kate Silverton joined when she was a student at Durham University and now reads the news for the BBC, former Newcastle University student Chris Cook is now Lead Director of the BBC’s 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock news programmes following his involvement, Ian White (who joined at the age of 16 fresh from Ponteland High School) is now Senior Broadcast Journalist for the BBC in Leeds, and ex-Royal Grammar School pupil Paul Bajoria moved on from Radio Tyneside to work as a writer and producer for BBC Radio 4. ‘Our current President John Myers has also been in radio most of his life and was the Managing Director of Century Radio until it was bought out by another radio company,’ says Dave.
The many faces of Radio Tyneside have earned the station a whole host of awards at the National Hospital Broadcasting Association’s annual Hospital Radio Awards. ‘Recently, we’ve won Station of the Year, we’ve received gold awards for our coverage of the Great North Run, and the Geordie Hour show, presented by Gary Hogg, has won gold five years in a row,’ explains Dave. Newcastle University student Max Fosh also walked away with Best Newcomer this year. All of these achievements have culminated in the station being given the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service this year for benefitting the local community – the highest award given to voluntary groups across the UK.
The success of Radio Tyneside would not be possible without donations and the fundraising efforts of their volunteers. A National Lottery grant enabled them to purchase an £8,000 unit for use at outside broadcasts which sends signals back to the studios via Wi-Fi and 3G technology, and means that Radio Tyneside can present live from many community events including the Great North Run. The station was also provided with a grant from the Community Foundation for Tyne & Wear which helped them purchase a new mixing desk for Studio 1 last year.
Radio Tyneside aims to raise at least £10,000 a year to keep things up and running, and they will need to increase this figure in order to fund the new FM transmitter. It is the generous donations from the public which enable Radio Tyneside to provide music, news, football commentaries and health information for patients, hospital staff and the wider community, 24 hours a day.
To listen, donate or find out more about Radio Tyneside, please visit www.radiotyneside.co.uk