Monday, 18 September 2017

My Top ∞ Radio Songs #18: The Pilot Goes To Hospital

While I studied for my A Levels during the week, I spent my Saturday mornings in a radio studio. Not actually the on air studio though, just the Master Control Room... which makes it sound a whole lot fancier and more important than it actually was. The only time I got to go into the on air studio was to take in the coffee, and very occasionally you'd hear my voice on air if the jock deigned to throw a question my way... but mostly that was a muffled, off-mic thing. Rarely did he throw open the guest mic and let me speak clearly. On the rare occasion he did that... well, it made me want a whole lot more. I wanted to get behind that desk myself. Have complete control of the mic fader. Feel my lips just a whisker from the pop shield... that sacred totem that was flecked with the spittle of every jock who'd ever sat in that glorious, all-powerful presenter's chair (apart from the hygeine-conscious ones who brought in their own pop shields and swapped them over before and after their shows).

That wasn't going to happen without a little on-air experience of my own though, and it soon became clear I wasn't going to get that at the station. The old quandary that besets most teenage job-applicants: they want experience first, but how do you get it?

The answer was Hospital Radio. Most of the jocks I spoke too said that was how they'd got started, and they encouraged me to give it a go. It wasn't what I expected.

For a start, it wasn't even in the hospital. It was a few streets away, in the basement of a grand old townhouse that had been converted into flats. And as shabby as the radio station I already worked at looked, this made that look like Radio One. But every Thursday evening, I'd dutifully trudge down there and serve out my time.

The staff weren't at all what I expected either. No wannabe radio stars: at least not on the night I worked. There was a retired schoolteacher who liked the sound of his own voice and a middle-aged mother (she was in her 30s, but that was middle-aged to me back then) who obviously just needed a night out of the house. Then there were the ones who never even wanted to get in front of the mic (I know!); happy enough just to sit in the operating room (an even more down-market MCR) or prowl the wards asking for requests. This was way before the days of texts and email, remember. (I promised I'd get involved with that side of the job  when I joined hospital radio. But I managed to never once set foot inside the hospital. Kept well away from all the sick people.)

It was here that I honed my craft. Not presenting, per se, but co-presenting. I was pretty good at that. Giving the sarky comeback, setting up the gags and paying them off. Throughout my short-lived on-air career, I was always much better if I had someone to banter with. (Like a cut-rate Mark Radcliffe, without half the wit.) I'm not sure I ever cracked the intimate conversation with the listener, but then the opportunities for flying solo were always pretty limited. (At Christmas, I'd volunteer for the shifts no one else wanted. New Year's Day, I was down there at 8am to do my own thing and play my own thing to absolutely no one. Even in hospital, people had a lay in on January 1st.)

I enjoyed it though. There was no pressure on hospital radio. You just turned up, played Jim Reeves 'I Love You Because' and probably something by The Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band (because they were always requested), then maybe made up a couple of your own requests that allowed you to play some Meat Loaf. The record library wasn't anywhere near as extensive as the one at my other job: far more Foster & Allen than Foreigner & Abba, but I brought my own records in and snuck them on air whenever I could. This was the late 80s though, and regularly readers of this blog will be well-acquainted with my late-80s tastes. No one at hospital radio had even heard of The Smiths.

Around this time, I put away my childish things. Quit the brass band which had been my only social life for a good four or five years and gave up the piano lessons I'd been taking (unsuccessfully) since I was in primary school. I didn't have time for any of that if I was going to be a radio star. There would, however, be one other lesson I'd soon find myself desperately in need of...


18. Charlie Dore - Pilot of the Airwaves

Here's another radio song I owe to Uncle Tel. Soon after the story above took place, this was to become the last ever song played on Radio Caroline. But I remember it from the first time round. A huge hit in the States, Canada and even Australia... though it only got to #66 in the UK singles chart of 1979. Singer-songwriter Charlie Dore was British though, and although this was her only solo hit, she did go on to pen a number of other successful tunes... one of which I'll be mentioning later in the week. You may be surprised.


  1. Really enjoying your journey through the ranks of radio - Another fine chapter.

    I know that Charlie Dore song well - Can't believe it did so poorly chart-wise though as always really liked it.

  2. Fascinating and completely foreign to me. I had to do a little research because I had never heard of hospital radio. I confirmed we don't have such a thing in this part of the world. I'm trying to figure out what the equivalent of breaking into radio would be here. Many of our universities have radio stations, but the feel of these stations would be quite different from what you are describing. Love this series, Rol.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...