|Image: Sheffield Hospital Radio|
It was an American idea that became a British institution that is almost completely unheard of in America. And one of the most overlooked ways radio has been used.
Most Americans don't know this. But in the UK, hospitals have their own radio stations. They are managed and staffed by volunteers, are operated around the clock and provide music and reading services to hospital patients and staff.
The idea for hospital radio was conceived at an American military hospital in Paris near the end of World War I. They found that radio would be an efficient way to deliver news and music directly to bedsides to help recovering soldiers. But the war ended before this could be set up. However, the equipment and idea was taken to Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington D.C. in 1919 where a station did operate. But it is unknown for how long, what the call sign was, all the necessary details.
Hospital radio in the UK underwent an expansion after World War II with more hospitals starting more radio stations. They're almost like mascots for their respective hospitals. And some of the best international promotion these hospitals could ever have.
UK hospital radio stations play a very wide variety of pop music, depending on each particular station, of course heavy on British content. Often spinning those awesome lost British pop oldies of the 1950s to the '80s we missed over here in the States because American record labels didn't distribute and/or radio stations overlooked or ignored them.
UK hospital radio stations even have their own organization HBA which is like the NAB for American radio stations.
But why hasn't hospital radio become a thing in America?
That's a tricky question. It's probably been suggested before, but aside from the Walter Reed General Hospital station, there are no hospital radio stations in America. I may be wrong, but I have looked everywhere. There were a few US hospital CATV system channels, mostly with health videos in the 1980s and '90s. But no radio stations.
The other thing is that American hospital stays are generally shorter than in the UK. You could have surgery one day and be at home the next whereas in the UK, you might stay a little longer, just to be safe.
But I think ultimately, there was no real need. Unlike the UK, the US had more higher powered radio stations outside the most populated areas than the UK. Second, by the 1950s, as US hospitals campuses were becoming sprawling developments, I'm sure some doctors and medical staff who have visited the UK were inspired by the idea. Music is a healer, But the funding, staffing, technical and programming parts were probably more than could be sorted out and/or what their hospital budgets allowed.
A brief listing of some UK hospital radio stations online:
Hospital Radio Plymouth
Hospital Radio Reading
York Hospital Radio
Hospital Radio Crawley
Canterbury Hospital Radio
Hospital Radio Basingstoke
Hospital Radio Colchester