Hospital radio stalwart reflects on over 40 years of soothing patients

John Alborough has been on the air waves since 1974

John Alborough has been on the air waves since 1974 - Credit: HRI

A hospital radio stalwart has spoken of his joy of helping patients with music after almost 50 years.  

John Alborough has been volunteering with Hospital Radio Ipswich (HRI) since 1974.  

"In the early 70s I was working for a farming co-operative when I called a farmer and got chatting to his son," he said.  

"He said he was involved with hospital radio and I said 'oh, that sounds interesting'.  

"I went along and I got involved from there." 


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At the time Mr Alborough joined the station the world of radio was very different to what we know today.  

"There was no such thing as local radio, it just didn't exist," he said.  

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"Pirate radio was fresh in people's minds but it had been outlawed.  

"There was a great interest in local radio and so some people, myself included thought it would be fun to do the nearest you could to local radio. 

"But we all do it for the core reason of wanting to entertain the patients and distract patients from the situation they are in." 

The radio is on air 24 hours a day for patients and non-patients to tune into whenever they feel like it with a mixture of pre-recorded and live shows.  

"If you can't sleep at night or you have pain or worries we are always there to keep you company," he said.  

The station is kept going by fundraising and donations and is manned entirely by volunteers.  

Even through the coronavirus the station has continued to run for the hospital's patients.  

"We have continued, unlike most other hospital radio stations, doing live programme," said Mr Alborough.  

"We have never stopped even through the worst of Covid." 

For Mr Alborough the most important aspect of the station's output has been and always will be the requests put in by patients by email or call.  

“The priority is requests,” he said.  

“Everything stops for requests.” 

How HRI gets requests from patients has had to change because of the coronavirus. 

“We have been restricted by not going around the bedsides,” he said.  

“That was a really important part about the functioning of HRI. 

“We are realistic enough to believe that we won’t be able to do that for the rest of the year.  

“Hopefully from next year the world will get back to normal.” 

Going out onto the wards used to be a particularly rewarding part of the job for Mr Alborough.  

“It really is important and extremely rewarding,” he said.  

“Whether that’s at Christmas or when we used to do the children’s ward.  

“When you are in hospital, people have laid there all day and have done nothing, you go in as a visitor and you have done nothing so what do you talk about? 

“If hospital radio have come in, you can say 'they played my favourite record'.” 

The studio used by Hospital Radio Ipswich

The studio used by Hospital Radio Ipswich - Credit: HRI

Outside of the requests, it's a tough balancing act for the hospital to get just the right sound for their patients.  

"We've all got our own taste in music and any of us could be tempted to play what we like," he said.  

"You could do that and have no listeners.  

"You've got to try and reflect a good cross section of listenership. 

"You've got to risk that people may stay the course for a piece of music they don't really like."

Despite the changes to local radio over the years, Mr Alborough still believes there is a role for hospital radio.  

“We never doubted that there was a special place for us because what we are doing is different,” he said.  

“We are doing it for the patients, that’s a really different experience.  

“Music gives you an almost unique sensation. It can unexpectedly catch you. It can bring back a huge amount of memories.” 

After all his time working in hospital radio, it’s the impact on his listeners that keeps Mr Alborough going.  

"Over all these years there have been so many stories of so many heart-warming times when we have helped people, eased people, relieved their minds from what is going on," he said.  

"That is what really kicks in when you get involved with hospital radio is that sense of reward.”

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