Submitted by: Catherine Osbourne
It’s 8pm on a Sunday night and Whipps Cross Hospital Radio (WXHR) volunteer Petula André and WXHR chairman Mike Jones are heading up to the hospital wards to chat to patients and take song requests for the station’s Down Your Ward show.
They spend time with patients and give them the opportunity to chat live on air via a mobile microphone.
“It makes the patients happy,” says Petula, “Some of them might not have seen anyone for the day and I think it just cheers them up. Especially when you ask them for a special request just for them and they have to dig back into their past or think about themselves.”
Winner of the Hospital Radio Station of the Year award in 2013, WXHR has three well-equipped studios and benefits from hands-on support from experienced ex-industry staff. True to its slogan ‘Your friend in bed – 24 hours a day’, the station keeps hospital patients entertained round the clock with a mixture of music, chat, sport, news, information and interactive request shows.
Like most charities, WXHR relies on a team of dedicated volunteers. Changing tastes in media consumption have made it harder to recruit younger volunteers but the station, which first broadcast in 1969, still has a lot to offer says station manager Phil Hughes.
“We’ve tried to maintain a balance of three things. One is to feel that we’re chatting to patients and cheering them up. Two is that the people who come here are learning skills in radio and broadcasting. And three we’re enjoying ourselves. If we’re getting all three of those, then it’s worthwhile,” he said.
With training and support from Phil, Mike Jones and the station’s chief engineer Terry Hooper, many volunteers have gone on to pursue careers in broadcasting. Ex-WXHR volunteers now work in television, BBC radio and commercial radio like Absolute Radio presenter Annabel Port. “That’s quite a badge of honour”, says Phil.
For volunteer Jason Bird the station has offered an opportunity to meet new people and learn new skills: “My confidence has been boosted since coming down here. Originally I was a quiet, shy person who would sit in a corner and wait for someone to make conversation with me and now, because I’ve been on air, because I’ve had the training, I’m not afraid to say hello to a new person in the room.”
So what does it take to be a WXHR volunteer? There’s more to it than playing your favourite music says Phil Hughes. Responding to the audience, who are mostly 55 and older, and the ability to get along with people are just as important.
The social aspect of engaging with older people and hearing their stories has kept volunteer Petula André coming back for sixteen years: “If you like people then this is a great one to do. You might as well find something that you enjoy and I enjoy doing this.”
For more information about WXHR visit: www.wxhr.org.uk or follow the station on Twitter @WXHR.