- Mt Vernon – New York State
1.1 Veterans Bedside Network
The Veterans Bedside Network was founded in 1948 by a singer named Jean Tighe. After entertaining patients at a military hospital on Staten Island, she returned later to find the men had lapsed again into a cheerless mood. The idea of having patients participate in their own entertainment – “a bedside network”- came to Tighe. Along with Carl Rigrod and a small group of dedicated professional performers she started to visit veterans hospitals in the New York area bringing with them radio scripts from the networks, sound effects, music and a tape recorder.
The hospitalised veterans were the actors, and the tapes were played back at the hospitals. The first hospital visited in 1948 by the “Veterans Hospital Radio Guild” (VHRG) was the Halloran Veterans Hospital in Staten Island. Television was not, in 1948, a significant medium but that changed quickly and the title became “VHRTG”.
Shortly afterwards the service became known as the “Veterans Bedside Network”.
So successful was the Veterans Bedside Network in the New York area that over the years “Chapters” (made up of volunteers who could organise into a cohesive unit) were to start in Chicago, Los Angles, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, St Louis, Indianapolis, Washington, Dallas, Loma Linda (California) and Boston.
Where Chapters could not be formed a “Skript Kit Service” was created with scripts, sound effects, theme and background music and a complete set of instructions provided explaining how to direct a drama activity so that a hospital’s recreation staff could lead a VBN activity.
The VBN service is not based on playing records or presenting sports commentary that is so common in Europe. It is unique in that it encourages patients to entertain each other by assuming roles from well know programmes (“M*A*S*H” and “Taxi” for example). The productions are aired over the hospital’s public address system.
By 1954 there were 111 stations operating in all the American States and Puerto Rico.
Arnold Drake, national executive director of the Veterans Bedside Network, said in the mid 1980s: “We call what we do ‘participation therapy’. A large percentage of the Vietnam war veterans that we see at VA hospitals suffer from emotional wounds. When they participate in these radio shows, or see other guys they know at the hospital become a star for a week, their feelings of self-worth are reinforced.they feel better about themselves”.
On 26 April 1985, in the Grand Ballroom of the famous Waldorf-Astoria, the Veterans Bedside Network (VBN) held their 37th Anniversary Ball.
The following statement was issued from The White House by Ronald Regan: “It is a privilege for me to send my warmest greetings to the members of the Veterans Bedside Network on the occasion of your anniversary ball. For thirty-seven years your distinguished organisation has embodied the highest spirit of selfless service and care to America’s hospitalised veterans. By using the tools of modern communications in weekly visits to veterans hospitals all across the land, you have provided a rare and special kind of therapy. I am sure I speak for all Americans when I extend my warmest congratulations for a job well done”.
In 1989 twenty hospitals and nursing homes were being directly served by VBN volunteers. In addition some 100 hospitals were receiving either VBN produced tapes or the Skript Kit Service. Celebrities have taken a keen interest in the service including the mayor of New York, Celeste Holm and Margaret Hamilton (the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz) and many sporting figures.
The statistics for 1989 sum up why VBN has been so successful with 820 volunteers spending 8,000 hours giving 90,000 patient performances. In addition there was an estimated 10,000 hours spent giving 26,000 patient performances with the Skript Kit Service. Between 1948 and 1989 it is estimated that over one million patient performances had taken place.
The headquarters of the organisation is in Mt Vernon, New York State.
In 2016 there were less than 10 VA hospitals visited by VBN volunteers, all in NYC and surrounding areas.
Use the following link for a detailed history of the Bedside Radio Network dated March 1954:
Note: The figure of 165 stations quoted in the above link is incorrect. The Veterans Bedside Network organisation reports a peak figure of 111 stations.
See Part 1. Fort Lewis (1946) and New York (1948)