Hospital Radio Ipswich at 50 - a magnificent achievement

Ipswich hospital radio 50

Foz reunited with HRI legends John Alborough, Peter Robinson, Bernie Ulph, Jonathan Murphy and Paul Brown. - Credit: Tim Ward

I’ve been back to my broadcasting roots to take part in Hospital Radio Ipswich’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

HRI took to the air in 1971 and in the process became the first Suffolk-based radio station. Since then many stations have come and gone but Hospital Radio Ipswich has been my home county’s one constant broadcaster. 

I am incredibly proud of my association with HRI and in more recent years renewed my links by becoming Vice President. I was taken on as a novice presenter in 1977 and for the next few years I spent much of my spare time at the Heath Road studios, combining my on-air role with running the all-important record library and helping spread the word at various fundraising events across Ipswich.

During my five years there I presented virtually every show on the schedule and made lots of friends, many of whom I’m still in touch with to this day.

My guiding light in the early days was Paul Brown. He taught me everything about how to operate the equipment and helped hone my broadcasting style.

Paul and I did lots of socialising too, attending many concerts together in London where we saw legendary soul acts like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind and Fire, The Commodores, Randy Crawford and The Crusaders. 

When I look back at my formative years it’s crystal clear that HRI was responsible for opening my eyes and ears to a wide variety of music genres.

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That was certainly reflected in the interviews I did at the time with visiting stars. My first interview was with jazz doyen Humphrey Lyttelton backstage at the Ipswich Corn Exchange. Humph was an absolute gentleman and kindly signed my A4 page of meticulously researched questions. I still have that piece of paper.

My next assignment was a chat with Ian Dury before one of two shows he did with The Blockheads at The Gaumont. When Ian saw my long list of questions he was at pains to point out that he did need to go on stage at some point that evening!

That quip helped put me at ease and I cherish the memories of the ten minutes I spent in his company. Before I left his dressing room Ian and his bassist Norman Watt-Roy signed my LP copies of the New Boots And Panties and Do It Yourself albums, giving me even more reasons to be cheerful that evening.

Among my other HRI interview highlights was chatting to country legend Billie Jo Spears before a show of hers at the Gaumont. She was one of America’s biggest singing stars at the time having enjoyed huge hits with Blanket On The Ground and What I’ve Got In Mind. Opening for her was Bobby Bare.

To be honest what I knew about his career could have been written on the back of a postage stamp but I did manage to get several minutes with him down on tape.

He was an amiable guy and seemed genuinely pleased I’d taken the trouble to interview him. At 86 he’s one of the elder statesmen of country music. There aren’t many from his golden era still with us.

My return to Hospital Radio Ipswich last Sunday saw me feature those Ian Dury and Billie Jo Spears interviews. I have those conversations and many more archived on cassette. Remarkably the tapes hadn’t deteriorated in the intervening years so listeners were able to hear a very young and nervous sounding Foz cutting his teeth on the interviewing front.

My ‘comeback’ programme last weekend also featured a simulcast with BBC Radio Suffolk. I linked up with former colleague Matt Marvel who was all of one year old when I made my Hospital Radio debut.

I’d like to pass on my congratulations to all at HRI past and present. Half a century of providing so much entertainment and comfort to thousands of patients is a magnificent achievement.

Times have certainly changed over the last 50 years and Hospital Radio Ipswich has changed with them but never to the detriment of its essential role in the community. I’m certain its tremendous contribution to the town of Ipswich will continue and I very much look forward to helping the organisation on the next stage of its journey.

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