On air in Suffolk with Stephen Foster: How I got into the radio business

Stephen Foster Hospital Radio Debenhams Ipswich

Foz in the shop window. A Hospital Radio Ipswich outside broadcast from the Debenhams department store. - Credit: Mark Ward

Fire! Fire! It was a bit like that famous scene out of Fawlty Towers, only this particular fire was for real. The one I'm referring to broke out only yards from the studio and record library at Hospital Radio Ipswich and frightened the living daylights out of all us on duty that evening.

Panic soon set in as we realised the only way to safety was out through the studio window. We quickly locked the record library door, the presenter on air at the time, Ginger Ray Pittock, put on an LP and one by one we clambered out of the studio into the cold night air.

In a very short space of time two or three fire engines arrived and quickly put out the flames in the nearby laundry. That story made the next day's Evening Star newspaper.

HRI's HQ was, and still is, situated in the oldest part of Heath Road Hospital. In fact, it’s only a few corridors away from the Simpson ward where I was born on Halloween in 1959. HRI is where I cut my teeth as a broadcaster.

In the summer of 1977 I applied to be a presenter there and under the expert guidance of Paul Brown passed my audition after a series of Saturday morning training sessions.

Up until then I'd been running a mobile disco for a couple of years with my good friend Scott Lucas. We took over the already well established Magic Mushroom Disco although if I'm perfectly honest we had no idea what a magic mushroom was.

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I found out some time later it was type of fungi that you can get high on. I was so naïve in those days I'd barely heard of a stuffed mushroom let alone the hallucinogenic variety.

Stephen Foster at Ipswich Hospital Radio

Foz cue-ing up the next record in the Hospital Radio Ipswich studio. - Credit: Mark Ward

It was during my time with Magic Mushroom, as well as DJ'ing on Saturday nights at the youth club at St. John's Church in Cowper Street, that I not only learnt how to switch a microphone on, I also found out which end to speak in to!

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The youth club was a big part of life at the 3rd Ipswich Boys‘ Brigade and fundraiser Brian Taylor built a set of record decks which I was soon getting to grips with.

After a few weeks behind the mic Brian very kindly dubbed me 'the master of the microphone.' He was exaggerating somewhat but his remark gave me a real confidence boost and from then on I was determined to become a radio presenter.

Once I'd found my feet at Hospital Radio Ipswich, I was given my own show built around record requests from patients. In those days the most popular songs among our audience were Lena Martell's One Day At A Time, Distant Drums by Jim Reeves and rather bizarrely, given its opening line, My Way by Frank Sinatra.

My volunteer shifts at HRI soon became a big part of my social life. I made many good friends there and I'm delighted to report that some of my fellow broadcasters at the time also went on to work in local radio. Names like Melvyn Pryor, Jonathan Murphy and Dave Whiting immediately spring to mind.

Our respective styles were so different but I don't think that was a bad thing - far from it. Sadly, a lot of what we hear these days on what's left of commercial radio is so heavily formatted that it's not always easy to tell one presenter from another, particularly as they are mostly reading from cue cards and introducing the same old songs day in day out.

In more recent times I've renewed my links with Hospital Radio Ipswich. I'm a Vice President there and remain a big supporter of all the wonderful work that continues this and every day. I'll never forget my grounding there. Without it, I might still be processing insurance claims in a big glass building in Ipswich town centre.

Next week Foz recalls his surprise meeting with rock’s Prince of Darkness Ozzy Osbourne and looks back on his afternoon in the company of Motörhead legend Lemmy.

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