History P1

1.1.1 WASHINGTON, DC – USA (May 1919) – The First Hospital with a Radio Service

Shortly after the USA entered the First World War in 1917 a ‘wireless phonograph’ system, designed by Earl C Hanson, was proposed to be installed at the ‘American Base Hospital’ in France “to counter the effects of pain, distress, anxiety, boredom, and isolation in patients by talking to them and by playing music”

An article in Wireless Age, April 1918 “It is planned that they will hear novels and poetry and news stories, the soldier boy who is too ill even for a little entertainment not being disturbed, for the entertainment will be distributed in individual doses by wireless telephone and phonograph.”

The equipment was purchased for $1,000 by means of a donation from the Ebell Club in Los Angeles, CA. There is, however, no evidence that the equipment was installed at the American Base Hospital in France, almost certainly because the war ended in November 1918.

In 1919 Earl C Hanson’s system was installed in the US Army’s Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, DC, report of which is covered in the August 1919 edition of Popular Science Monthly..

It was formally handed over to the hospital in May of that year.

Technically, the system was crude even by the standards of the time. A microphone in a sound-proofed room, powered by “a few dry cells”, was connected through a switch to a large transformer. 

Earl C Hanson with his equipment
Earl C Hanson with his equipment

The high voltage audio signal thus produced was fed to a simple antenna; no active electronics was involved (the development of thermionic valves was at a very early stage in 1919).

The audio was thus transmitted as an electrostatic signal outwards from the antenna, and was of the same type that is now used (in magnetic fields only) for ‘deaf loop’ systems in areas within buildings and at customer service tills; a hearing-impaired time traveller with their hearing aid switched to the ‘T’ position would be able listen to these 1919 broadcasts.

The control switch enabled the operator to select “speech” or “music”, the latter being provided from an electrically-driven phonograph with three microphones fitted where the horn would otherwise have been.

Each listener was provided with a telephone handset connected by a silk-sheathed cord to a metal or wooden storage case, from whence a wire made the connection to the receiving aerial – the metal bed-frame or nearest suitable metal object.

Patient listening to service
Patient listening to service
Headphone used in Hospital Broadcasting service
Headphone

This system is known to have been superseded within five years, but for exact how long the system, which would have been prone to interference, lasted is not known.

Note: The above information on the first service available at the Walter Reed General Hospital was researched and provided by Geoff Fairbairn.

By 1923 patients at the Walter Reed General Hospital were able to listen to other forms of bedside entertainment.

Patients listening to radio
Patients listening to radio                  

1.1.2 WASHINGTON, DC – USA (July 1924) – The First Hospital with a Wired Radio Service

The popular theatrical impresario and cinema entrepreneur Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel had by 1923 become entranced by radio and its ability to reach millions simultaneously. In 1924 the radio audience for “Roxy and His Gang” was typically five million. In addition to their regular live broadcasts the ensemble toured the eastern states performing live concerts with all proceeds benefitting local military hospitals.

Between their theatre performances in Washington DC, the troupe performed for patients at the Walter Reed General Hospital on March 19th.

Roxy and His Gang at Walter Reed
Roxy and His Gang at Walter Reed

Roxy is reported to have been moved by “the sight of these men, hopelessly maimed in the World war” to say “these men must have a radio set by their beds if I can possibly help them get it”.

To this end, Roxy and His Gang embarked on a further tour with proceeds this time going exclusively to a fund to purchase headphones “for every bed in every government hospital”. Within a month $20,000 had been raised – enough to provide radio facilities for 4,000 veterans, and the tour continued.

The installation at the Walter Reed General Hospital was fully completed in July 1924.

“Electricians at the hospital several days ago completed installation of the last of 1,365 individual radio headphones, enough for all the patients and many to spare. There are a pair of receivers to each bed. At will they can be connected to wall plugs, of which there is also one for each bed, from which wires lead directly to high-powered receiving sets in a basement radio-control room”.

Initially the patients were able to listen to local radio stations, a service that extended throughout the hospital as more and more individual radio headsets – dubbed “Roxies” by the patients – were fitted.

Patients listening to radio.
Patients listening to radio.

The type of service available to the patients was selected in a control room located in the hospital; from one of the local radio services or from a microphone on the bandstand at the hospital.

There is no evidence that a central studio relaying recorded music/requests existed.

The Washington Post, July 27 1924 included the following report:”Walter Reed Radio New ‘Medicine’. For Disabled Veterans. Seven-Hour Programs Daily Provided, With Phones at Every Sick Bed”. Reference the following four paragraphs:

“Most of the time the control room tunes in on the Washington stations, WCAP and WRC, but the same clear results have also been achieved with WGY, at Schenectady, and KDKA, at Pittsburgh, and they are frequently on the Walter Reed Program. Sunday nights, Roxie’s Capitol theatre troupe is heard from WEAF, New York, through WCAP.

There is a radio program for the patients every evening, and also every other afternoon. On the alternate afternoons the radio apparatus is hooked up with a microphone on the bandstand at the hospital, and bedridden patients can hear the concert as well as their more fortunate comrades who can go outdoors. Thursday afternoons the microphone is installed in the Red Cross hall, where vaudeville actors from Keith’s theatre give a program for the disabled soldiers. Those who can’t go to see the actors lie back in their beds and enjoy their jokes and songs just the same”.

Technically, the radio apparatus at the hospital is of a high order. Three distinct aerials are used, large, medium and small, and each of this is attached to a separate neutrodyne receiving set in the control room. With the receiving sets, two amplifiers are used. One clears the tones sent from the receiving set to the 1,365 headphones in the various wards. The small amplifier does the same for five loud speakers with which the receiving apparatus is connected at the same time.

Two of these loud speakers are in the Red Cross barracks and the others in the quartermaster and detachment barracks. Sometimes the loud speakers are hooked on to a separate receiving set, so that the loud speaker audience may be listening to Pittsburgh, while the bed audience is enjoying WCAP”.

It has not been established how long this service lasted.

1.1.3 WASHINGTON, DC – USA (December 1924 – November 1928) – The First Hospital Radio Station on AM

Whether it was founded before or inspired by the installation of “Roxies” at Walter Reed is not known, but the Washington Radio Hospital Fund was set up as a charity “… for the purpose of installing and maintaining high-class and complete radio equipment in every orphan asylum, charitable home, and hospital in Washington [DC]”.

Funds were raised and systems installed at no cost to the benefitting institutions. Headphones were provided at each bedside in hospitals, whilst in each orphanage an amplifier and loudspeaker was installed in the auditorium or dining room. 

In addition to installing and maintaining radio equipment in orphanages and hospitals, the Washington Radio Hospital Fund intended to operate an AM radio station to broadcast programmes for patients “… at a time when other local stations are silent, preferably in the morning and late afternoon”, as commercial stations in that era would operate only during a times of day when they could attract audiences large enough to sell sufficient advertising to cover their costs.

The name of the charity had been selected so that it could apply for its acronym as its call sign, and “WRHF” was duly authorised to operate on 580 AM at 50 watts and commenced broadcasting in December 1924.

Station announcers read newspapers and magazines articles in studios set up in the Annapolis Hotel on H Street NW, between 11th and 12th Avenues. Initially the station carried no paid commercials, but by 1927 funding the operation purely from voluntary contributions appears to have become problematic: 

“WRHF wishes to announce that they are now prepared to consider allotments for radio advertising over their station located in the E.F. Droop & Sons Co. Building – a similar to programs already familiar to the radio public covering thoroughly the District of Columbia and surrounding territory.

Complete programs furnished and suitable announcements frequently made between numbers of a well balanced musical program indicating that it is being broadcast through the ‘generosity’ of your firm and at a reasonable cost will not only be a novelty but a business getter”.

And – in red: “The small profit derived from this work is to be used to service and supply parts for over 40 radio installations in the charitable homes and hospitals in this city, placed therein by this fund, thereby performing a double service in advertising your business and aiding a most worthy charity that knows no color or creed – while all Washington will be listening in to YOUR program and enjoying it together with your announcements”. 

By this time WRHF was broadcasting programmes on 1170 AM from 10am to noon and from 5:30 to 7pm, with another from 7:30 to 8:30am added later. WRHF’s rate card in 1928 offered one hour programme sponsorship for $90 and announcements for 7¢ per word (minimum 50 words). Fan mail was received from listeners as far away as Quebec.

On May 12th 1928, WRHF – now on 930 AM – was one of more than fifty stations that linked up for a one-off joint broadcast: an address by the President of the International Bible Students Association. 

It would appear that advertising was not a sufficiently effective ‘business getter’ for WRHF as by November 1928 the station had come under the control of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

The connection with the Washington Radio Hospital Fund was severed and the station’s call sign changed to “WOL”, and thereafter it was operated purely as a commercial radio station. After several changes of frequency, call sign, transmitter power, ownership, and format, the station is now WWRC on 1260 AM, a conservative news/talk station owned by Salem Communications. 

1.2 YORK – UK (1926) – The First Hospital with a Broadcasting Studio

In 1921 a professional photographer in York, Mr Thomas Joseph Wilmott Hanstock, began corresponding with the General Post Office in London in an effort to obtain a licence to ‘conduct experiments with portable wireless telegraph apparatus’. A letter he sent to the Post Master General in 1922 read: “Mr Alfred Cooper of York has consented to go with me and give elementary lectures to boy scouts etc at the various villages near York and we intend to give lantern lectures on the same. I shall take every precaution with my wireless against foreign enemies”.

Thomas received a reply dated 23 March 1922: “I am directed by the Postmaster General to say that he hereby authorises you to use for receiving wireless signals at 11 Clarence Street, York, a single wire external aerial containing not more than a total length of 100 feet of wire in place of, or as an alternative to, the frame aerial previously authorised. With reference to your application for authority to use portable receiving apparatus for demonstration purposes. I am to say that, in view of your representation, the Postmaster General is prepared to authorise you to use a portable receiving set for temporary demonstrations in any part of Yorkshire”.

On 19 May 1922 Thomas wrote again to the Postmaster General: “On the 24th instant I have arranged with the Matron of the York County Hospital to give a demonstration with my wireless receiving outfit, used for the benefit of the hospital. The aerial that I propose to use will be an indoor or an external aerial according to your specification”.

The Secretary of the General Post Office replied on 8 June 1922: “I am directed by the Postmaster General to say that he hereby authorises you to give public demonstrations of wireless reception from time to time at addresses in Yorkshire. This permit is subject to the following conditions: The apparatus shall be used in such a manner as to cause no interference with any other stations. Adequate measures shall be taken to preserve secrecy in regard to messages (other than time signals, music and messages sent out from stations in Great Britain for general information) receiving by means of the apparatus. The enclosed card of authority should be carried whenever a demonstration is being given”.

During 1925, and possibly the early part of 1926, an extensive wireless system was installed at the York County Hospital. Mr Schumacher, a York electrical engineer installed the wiring throughout the wards, an installation that eventually consisted of 200 pairs of headphones and 70 loud speakers. Whilst the wiring was being installed Thomas Hanstock constructed and installed a wireless receiving set, which was housed in an alcove of a small room in the Watt wing of York County Hospital.

Patient listening to a hospital broadcast York County Hospital in 1928
Patient listening to a hospital broadcast York County Hospital in 1928

His son, Peter Hanstock, wrote in 1990: “My father was born in 1871 at Doncaster but moved to York around 1898 with the building contractor he worked fof. His work at that time was mainly joinery but he branched out into professional photography in 1908. In that capacity he frequently helped the Chief Physician at the County Hospital, Dr Micklethwaite, to take X ray photographs”.

It is almost certainly this association with the hospital and his great interest in constructing wireless receiving apparatus that brought him to the point of demonstrating to the Matron, Miss M K Steele, the potential of broadcasting to patients, music, church services and later gramophone recordings via an electrical pick-up. Peter added: “I well remember the S G Brown pick-up arriving at my father’s establishment and saw him remove the acoustic horn from the HMV gramophone, attach the pick-up and heard the first sounds of music from the record emanate from the wireless loudspeaker. It was a magical moment!”.

The following letter, addressed to the Editor, appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Press on 2 February 1926: “Sir – May I make a few observations with regard to the splendid wireless installation in the wards of the York County Hospital and also offer a suggestion? During the week-end I visited the hospital and was very much impressed on seeing such fine equipment. The ward I was in was fitted up with a large loud speaker and each bed side with plug holes to receive headphones. The loudspeaker was in use and the ward being large, a great volume of sound is necessary for all to hear. I asked “What happens if there are any dangerous cases in the wards and quietness is essential” and was informed that the loud speaker could not be used. I realised then that if such cases were to last as they do at times weeks and weeks, all the ward is cut off for that time as there were no headphones to give to the patients.

I went away and explained to my friends and within two hours three pairs of headphones were secured; these are now at the hospital. I am informed there are 250 beds to equip. Here is the suggestion: Clubs (including football clubs in the dressing room on Saturdays), schools (week-day and Sunday) through the teachers, women’s guilds, tradesmen, especially in the wireless business and all organisations who can find a collector should collect for one pair or more and when secured take them to the wards and what pleasure t`hey have given to one or more who have been waiting. If posting them send them with the compliments of the subscribers”.

The exact date in 1926 when the first dedicated broadcast to patients in the York County Hospital is not known. In addition to Thomas Hanstock, two other people were involved. Mr Schumacker, the electrical engineer who installed the wiring and Dr Micklewaite.

Peter Hanstock recalled:”I was a young boy at the time and accompanied my father on many Sunday visits to operate the gramophone and electrical pick-up, in order to broadcast to the wards patients’ requests for their favourite music. I also accompanied my father on a number of occasions around the wards where he would obtain the permission of the Ward Sister to approach the patients in their beds to ask for their choice of music/records, which we would then arrange to broadcast at an appropriate time later that day”.

Sometime in the mid-1930s the system was taken over by Cussins and Light and the Radio Relay Co. It is thought that they dispensed with the original radio receiver and relayed programmes direct from their Parliament Street, York, premises.

In 1958 a hospital sports commentary service started broadcasting in York. It was followed by a new music based service in 1964.

1.3 OLDHAM – UK (About 1933)

By 1933 entertainment for the patients in hospital was still very limited. The Westwood Park Public Assistance and Geriatric Unit, Oldham was, however, one of those hospitals where the patients could hear, either at the bedside or through loud speakers, the BBC. This gave Matron Wilkinson an idea. In a small room in the hospital a studio, 6ft by 6ft, was set up. It consisted of a control panel, a microphone, a record player, a few old records and a piano and was linked to the wires that were relaying the BBC programmes. It served about ten wards, possibly a few hundred people.

Nurses and Porters, who were to be the mainstay of the service, were instructed to take turns entertaining the patients. “In those days when the matron told you to do something you did it without asking questions” a nurse who presented those first hospital programmes recounts. “We sang songs, read stories, played the piano and records whenever we had the time”.

Another former nurse recalls: “The programmes were broadcast over loudspeakers – there were no headphones in those days – from a small room in what was then the Westwood Park Institution which housed chronic and mental patients. The nurses and porters were the mainstays of the station. It was a case of ‘Matron says’ -so you did what you are told!. I stepped in to cover for someone, and ended up doing a dialect recitation of ‘Boggart Stump’, an old story about the Bardsley area”.

Sadly the records and memories of nurses who were present do not reveal when this hospital broadcasting service ceased. Some research carried out in the early 1970s indicates that the Westwood Park Broadcasting Service was still in existence before 1944 and that when the Boundary Park General Hospital amalgamated with Westwood and became the Oldham General Hospital they extended the existing station throughout. On 9th June 1944 Mrs Wilkinson and her husband, then having just over 30 year’s service as Matron and Master, retired. In the Birthday Honours list of that year Mrs Wilkinson received the M.B.E.

1.4 TOTTENHAM – UK (About 1935) – The First Football Commentary Service

The next known service to start was very different. The date circa 1935. It was started at White Hart Lane, the home of the Tottenham Football Club, by a very remarkable gentleman called Charles Coward (his wartime adventures in the German prison-of-war camps were to be immortalised in the book and film “The Password Is Courage). Charles began in the mid 1930s to relay a commentary of the football match using a telephone which “friends” of his had rigged to feed the North Middlesex, Prince of Wales and Bethnal Green Hospitals. He talked into the mouth piece with the ear piece tucked under his chin so that he did not hear his own voice.

Just before the outbreak of war in 1939 Charles, who was a Territorial Instructor with the Royal Artillery, was drafted to active service. For a while he was posted somewhere in Essex but managed to arrange some leave back to his home in Edmonton and to attend some matches at White Hart Lane. However, this historic football commentary service had to cease.

On returning from the war Charles re-started the service, this time managing to obtain some ex RAF equipment and again with the help of “friends” re-established the lines to the three hospitals ready for the start of the 1946 season. Charles was now using an ex RAF R/T mike, with the send button permanently fixed down to transmit. He adamantly refused to wear earphones and relied entirely on an old hand made voltmeter to give him a sign that the signal was going out.

Charles Coward died on 26 December 1976 after being associated for some 40 years with the commentary service at White Hart Lane. As a tribute to him and to the help that he had given other hospital broadcasters, a special commentary service was arranged for the January 1st game against West Ham. It is worth noting that from its inception in the mid 1930s to 1989 there had only been five commentators (the other four being Charles’s son Reginald, some 20 years, Charles Stancer, in his 34th year, Jack Edwards, 10 years and Ian Williams, in his third year).

Charles “Chuck” Stancer wrote in 1989: “Right from the start the club has paid for all the equipment we have used and has paid for the Post Office and latterly the Telecom rental of the lines out of the ground. No costs at all have ever fallen on the Hospital Radio set ups at either North Middlesex or Bethnal Green and Prince of Wales (now closed), and the Chase Farm group of hospitals. Some years ago, after Charles died, we were asked to link up with Chas and Dave, the cockney singing duo. It was a European Cup match and they asked, through their manager Bob English, to be allowed to hook up to our broadcast of the game via a satellite to their hotel bedroom in Melbourne, Australia”.

1.5.1 JERSEY – CHANNEL ISLANDS (1936)

A hospital broadcasting service is believed to have started at the General Hospital in Jersey in the Channel Islands in 1936.

Peter Tabb of Radio Lions in Jersey reported: “As far as I am aware the Hospital Radio Service commenced in 1936 and operated from cramped accommodation behind the General Hospital’s clock just under the roof.  I can’t find any references that it actually continued through the war years since much of the hospital was taken over by the Germans and Postal Services were also taken over by the Germans in 1940. Those early broadcasts were via headsets to the patients”.

Peter added: “Until inspired by Lion John Stilwell, there was no initiative from the Hospital authorities (or the GPO) to reinstate a hospital radio service although the equipment originally used to broadcast to patients still existed behind the clock”.

1.5.2 JERSEY – CHANNEL ISLANDS (1944)

A hospital broadcasting service was started in Jersey in the late June/early July 1944.

The Channel Islands were occupied by German forces from 1 July 1940 until 9 May 1945. All listening to wireless was banned in Jersey in 1942 and receiving sets confiscated – apart from the many that were concealed. The ban remained until Liberation Day in Jersey on 9 May 1945.  

During this period, Mr P.K. Luxon proposed a relay of music to hospitals and other institutions over the telephone network to relieve boredom among and uplift the spirits of hospital patients. Mr Luxon was in a unique position to establish such a service: he was the Acting Chief Engineer in the States (ie government) of Jersey Telephones Department which operated the telephone system on the Island. Before the war the telephone network had carried live broadcasts of church services, the Jersey Eisteddfod, and the Murratti football matches but it has not yet been established if these were heard in hospitals.

There is no record of what prompted the idea, but Mr Luxon’s father being a member of the States’ Hospitals Committee seems a likely factor. 

Authorisation was sought from the German occupying authorities – with no reference to ‘radio’ or ‘broadcasting’ – to establish such a system. 

Consequently, permission was granted by the Feldkommandant of Jersey in February 1944 for the installation of equipment to be used for “relays to the hospitals”. The letter of authorisation also stated that permission was to be obtained from the Feldkommandant in advance of each occasion that the network was used. 

The institutions that were served, with the number of loudspeakers shown brackets were: the General Hospital (8), Overdale Isolation Hospital (6), Jersey General Dispensary (1), Les Veux Sanatorium (3), the Home for Infirm and Aged Women (1), The Limes Nursing Home (1) and the Mental Hospital (2).

It would appear that arrangements were ready or almost ready by 24 April, as permission was then sought to “relay weekly gramophone record concerts to the Island institutions”. This was approved on condition that the Bailiff of Jersey, Alexander Coutanche, would be held responsible for the programmes. 

The Executive Committee of the States’ Department of Essential Services considered that the Bailiff should not be put at risk of incarceration because of a service over which he had no control, and therefore decided that the relays would not take place. 

Mr Luxon was not so easily discouraged and on 1 June he sought permission to install a loudspeaker at another institution, the Westaway Creche. Oversight of the service had by then been delegated to the Platzkommandantur for St Helier, and this request was denied on the grounds of Stromersparnisgruenden – “the necessity to conserve electric current”.  

Meanwhile, the problem of the Bailiff being held liable for all programmes was resolved with the drafting of a playlist which Mr Coutanche approved by signature on 16 June

The list included 126 classical songs, popular songs, humourous songs, band music, dance music, other musical items, and comedy sketches and monologues. None of the items was patriotic or made reference to the war, and none was composed, written, or performed by a Jew. 

The gramophone records listed had presumably been donated and/or lent to the service. 

Programmes, ‘Concerts of gramophone records’, were broadcast from Mr Luxon’s office in the Telephone Department headquarters and included a Children’s Hour organized and hosted by Miss Enid Le Feuvre (later to become a States Deputy and an MBE).

Telephone Department Headquarters, Minden Place, St Helier. Photo taken 2012.
Telephone Department Headquarters, Minden Place, St Helier.
Photo taken 2012.

Mr Luxon also looked to bring the outside world to patients, and permission was granted by the Platzkommandant to relay extracts from the comic opera “Les Paladins” live from their performance at Plaza Ballroom in St Helier. 

On 22 July, application was again made to extend the network to the Westaway Creche, also to the Gardner Home for Aged Men, and to the homes of two invalids. The letter stressed that these additions would entail no increase in the consumption of electricity, and they were duly authorised on condition that no wire or other material from the Department’s reserves would be used. 

The sourcing of required equipment was problematic. Mr Luxon often worked late into the night in order to smuggle parts he wanted for the service from the department’s stock, and sometimes he would damage equipment that he needed and the next day show the ‘irreparable‘ item to German military officials to elicit permission for its scrappage. He then worked late into the night again repairing the equipment for use within the relay network. Percy Luxon is probably the only person to have risked internment in a concentration camp for his efforts in hospital broadcasting. 

Other live amateur musical and dramatic performances were relayed from stages and cinemas. Sunday services were relayed weekly from various churches, and recitals of piano and vocal music performed by pupils of a music teacher, Leonard Herival, from his teaching studio. 

No record of permission for these being sought or granted is to be found – either Mr Luxon judged that he could risk not bothering the occupying forces with the requisite tedious administration or it had been conveyed to him informally that the Platzkommandant was too busy for such trivial matters. 

No record appears to be extant of when regular programmes on the relay service ceased. 

The allies’ advance through France cut off the supply of fuel for the island’s power station, and despite rationing and the foraging of all available timber, electricity was cut altogether in January 1945

The few historians who mention the telephone service assume that it too was curtailed through lack of mains electricity but they are mistaken: in St Helier it limped on for some time owing to the deployment of the parish steam roller (now preserved at the Pallot Steam, Motor & General Museum) outside the telephone exchange where it could be fired occasionally, with its power-take-off pulley running a dynamo to recharge the exchange’s forty-volt central battery. However it is not known for certain that the equipment used for the relay service to hospitals was powered from that battery. 

The date of the final broadcast over the network is known. It was made from Mr Luxon’s office on the morning of Friday 10 August 1945 when, in the presence of representatives of many of the institutions that had benefitted from the service, Mr Luxon was presented with a solid gold pocket watch by the Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche. The watch had been purchased with the proceeds of a collection for the purpose amongst the institutions, and was inscribed:

“An appreciation. Percy K. Luxon, For services rendered. The Island Institutions 1943-45”.

In the years immediately following the occupation islanders erased much of the physical evidence of the enemy’s presence during that unhappy period; many fortifications were demolished, and German anti-invasion guns heaved off cliffs into the sea. The Telephone Relay Service had been forgotten thirty years later when the Jersey Lions Club established what they believed to be the first hospital broadcasting service in the Channel Islands. The occupation has been the subject of probably hundreds of books, none of which is known to mention the relay service to the hospitals. 

Mr Luxon was confirmed as the department’s Engineer-Manager. He died whilst still in post.

This is only known surviving photo of P.K. Luxon, attached to his occupation registration index card. © Jersey Heritage, reproduced with permission.

Percy Knight Luxon. 1898 -1952
Percy Knight Luxon.
1898 -1952

Note: The above information on the service that started in Jersey in 1944 was researched and provided by Geoff Fairbairn.

1.6 SWINDON – UK (1938)

The history of hospital broadcasting in Swindon “can be traced back to 1938 when the Toc H in Stratton St Margaret visited the vagrants wards at the Stratton Work house”.

“In those days there wasn’t the technical equipment we have today, just a simple gramophone taken around the wards. The musical offering was expanded to include the sick wards soon after, with requests taken and then played each Sunday”.

1.7 FORT LEWIS – USA (January 1946)

In January 1946 KMGH, the “Voice of Madigan” radio station, started broadcasting at the Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, located near Tacoma, Washington, USA.

Later it became one of the first of 111 hospital radio services in the USA (including one in Puerto Rico) that in 1948 became known as the “Veterans Hospital Radio Guild” – later renamed as the “Veterans Bedside Network”. See Part 9. Veterans Bedside Network.

The radio broadcasts were transmitted over wire to a private listening device, a three-inch plastic waffle called a mique (mike), on the pillow of each bed. The patient could select from a menu that included the hospital station broadcast or one of three local commercial radio stations.

“The radio station was still in operation in 1968, with five area radio stations piped into the hospital on a closed circuit. In the early 1970s, the hospital station closed”.

On 5 February 2011 a contractor renovating the gymnasium at the former World War II Madigan General Hospital discovered 30 large boxes behind a wall. Upon examination, the boxes were found to contain 8,000 transcription discs. The 16-inch vinyl records were larger than standard 12-inch record albums and playable only on specially designed radio station turntables. Found in record sleeves were scripts, announcer notes, and commentary.

Acknowledgement to for source of information: Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D., and Dale L. Sadler, July 16, 2013.

1.8 GREENOCK – UK (August 1946) – The First Sports Service in Scotland

In the 1920s a football commentary service for blind fans was started at Cappielow Park, the home of the Morton Football Club. Prior to 1929 these commentaries were given by George Allan, a teacher at Hillend Primary School. In 1929 Joe Hendry (senior) joined the blind fans commentary team.

The first hospital broadcast was given by the “Morton Blind Football Fans Association” in August 1946. William Westwood, a Post Office engineer, built in permanent links to five Greenock hospitals; Greenock Royal, Ravenscraig, Rankin, Larkfield and Gateside, with suitable tags on junction boxes to advise fellow telephone engineers that the Cappielow hospital link was not to be altered. The original combined hospital/blind fans commentators were Joe Hendry (senior), Joe Hendry (junior), Peter Dunn and Jim Foot.

In 1948 Jim Gray joined the commentary team. Joe Hendry of the Morton Blind Fans Association stated in 1987: “My father started giving football commentaries to the Morton blind fans in 1929. One of the commentators to the blind, Peter Dunn, had the idea to broadcast to the hospitals. In about 1954 the commentaries took place from a commentary box”. Prior to this the commentaries were made from the front of the stand in a covered enclosure on a raised platform.

In 1992 James Stewart, who joined the Blind Fans Association in the late 1970s wrote: “The move to a commentary box was for safety reasons and additional comfort for the blind fans. Jim Gray, who started commentating in 1948, was struck by the ball and he realised that the blind fans were even more vulnerable to serious injury. He approached the Morton Manager/Director, Hal Stewart, and suggested that a commentary box would solve the problem. The present box accommodates approx. 12 people and was built with the assistance of Lamont Shipbuilders around 1980 and is probably on par with the best in Britain”.

Damon Quigley of Hospital Radio Paisley wrote in 1986: “The matches from Cappielow were, as now, provided by the Morton Blind Fans Association – they are actually commentating simultaneously to blind supporters in the box and to patients in hospitals. With the opening of the new Inverclyde Royal Hospital in 1980 Hospital Radio Paisley commenced relaying the commentaries”. James Stewart added: “The closure of Paisley Hospital Broadcasting means that (in 1992) the only hospital broadcast going out now in this area is from Cappielow Park to the new Inverclyde Royal Hospital. The old Greenock Royal, Larkfield and Gateside are gone and we have lost the link to Ravenscraig and Rankin.  However, the Inverclyde Royal is a major hospital and serves an area of 15 miles radius. Although we have lost our link to the Glasgow area we still broadcast our commentaries locally”.

In 1992 the commentators were Jim Gray (44 years service), Jim Stewart (15 years) and Jim’s son, Alan Stewart (12 years).

Along with the re-commencement of the football commentary service at White Hart Lane in England and the start of a service at the Morton Football Club in Scotland, three other services started immediately after the end of World War Two – in Japan, Holland and the USA.

1.9 IWAKUNI – JAPAN (1946)

In 1946 a service was started in a hospital at RAF Iwakuni, Japan. The hospital went to Japan as “56 Military Field Hospital”, but later expanded into the main British Commonwealth Air Hospital for Japan.

Cedric Bloor was there in 1946/47 as a 20 year old ward master and recalls: “There was a radio in the ward matron’s office and we relayed some of the Australian programmes from Station WLKU to the wards where someone had fitted speakers and also played suitable records to the patients.

I also used a microphone for introducing the records. At the end of our broadcasts I wished the patients ‘night-night, pleasant dreams’, stating it was time for lights out. In the morning I called ‘Wakey, Wakey’, played some suitable music and reminded the patients that breakfast time was near. This was done in between carrying on my ward work. I just can’t remember how the project started. I seem to think someone instrumental in the scheme also designed a Christmas card for the station”

1.10 ROTTERDAM – HOLLAND (May 1947) – The First Dutch Service

Initially, to amuse himself and his neighbours in Rotterdam, a gentleman called Wim Verschoor started making programmes with a record player, amplifier and microphone. Very soon cables were being laid to other houses in the neighbourhood, via backyards and gutters. The name RAdio NOord was born (RANO). RANO is also explained as an abbreviation for (R)adio (A)mateurs (N)etwork (O)rganisation.

The first hospital broadcast was made in May 1947 to the Boezembarakken, which was a temporary hospital. Very soon the service was being received by two more hospitals, the Coolsingel and the Havenziekenhuis (harbour hospital). Over the following years there were to be many changes in the staff of RANO. Some that left took the name RANO with them and by 1989 RANO could be found in The Hague, Amsterdam, Gorinchem, Hilversum, Sliedrecht and Dordrecht.

Man working on sound mixer
Rano 1947-1972

By 1989 RANO (Rotterdam) was broadcasting to six hospitals with a capacity of nearly 3000 patients.

1.11 NEW YORK – USA (1948)

A service called 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”.

See Part 9 for further information on the Veterans Bedside Network

1.12 ULVERSTON – UK (February 1949)

On Saturday 3 December 1949 the North Western Evening Mail carried a report of a hospital radio service that had started at the High Carley Sanatorium, near Ulverston, in February of that year. The station was called Radio High Carley.

The service was the brain child of an ex-patient called Henry Coope. Using equipment that cost less than £5 and which consisted of an old hat stand, some electronic gear from a scrapped battleship, part of an old wireless receiver, plus various odds and ends including a ball of string, Henry connected into the established wireless network which brought all the BBC programmes to the patients on headphones. Initially the service started by putting over doctors lectures but Henry saw the possibilities and suggested that general interest items be broadcast.

A programme called “Monday’s Rest Hour” went on air every week at 5pm. Patients, nurses and doctors all played their part in keeping the radio lively and interesting. There were radio sing songs. a gossip comer, music and sketches. One of the most popular features of the programme was the gossip corner. Neither patients nor staff were spared and achievements or even misdemeanors were faithfully reported to the eager public. In fact questions were asked if anything important did not find its way to the microphone. The weekly programme went out to an average potential adult audience of 130 patients from a control room located in the sanatorium’s excellent concert hall and was manned by Henry himself.

In the mid 1970s a new service was provided to the High Carley Sanatorium by Radio Lonsdale. See Part 3 – Barrow in Furness.

1.13 STIRLING – UK (August 1949)

The second hospital broadcasting service to start in Scotland was at Kings Park, the home of Stirling Albion Football Club.

In August 1949 David Batchelor, a local business man, relayed a commentary of a match between Stirling Albion and Hearts to patients in the Stirling Royal Infirmary. The service was called ‘Stirling Albion Hospital Broadcasting’ and operated from alongside the main press box in the main stand. By the mid 1950s the commentaries were being given by Jock McLeod and John Duncan. A newspaper article in 1952 commented that the idea for the recently started commentary service in Edinburgh “came from Stirling”.

No other information on this early service has been uncovered whilst researching this subject although it is known to have ceased in the early 1970s due to the declining quality of equipment.