Confessions of a hospital radio DJ

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student in November 2014, in the same issue as my article about the Christmas adverts. The process of writing this one was a bit rough – the details escape me but I basically had one morning to do the entire thing – and I was never that happy with the end result. Still, it got me into the Features section (which I would end up editing after not quite managing to bag the Comment editor’s job (continuity!)) and it’s about a part of my life that’s really important to me, and that I don’t talk about that much. Maybe one day I’ll write a better article about it, but for now we’ve got this.

One of the biggest transitions I made in coming down to university was quitting my show on Hospital Broadcasting Sheffield. Every Friday night for the last two years or so I would journey to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital (round the back of Sheffield University, about 45 minutes by bus), climb the stairs to the very top floor, and enter the cramped, old-fashioned, slowly-crumbling-but-in-a-cosy-kind-of-way studio. There I would meet up with my friends Jon, Neil and Rob, and present three hours of patient requests, other music, quizzes and chat. It was terrific fun.

In a section devoted to charitable work, I know this is hardly the most noble or laborious endeavour, and I know there will be articles above and below me by much better people who have done much better things. One of the most important facts to realise about doing Hospital Radio is that there is usually  absolutely no guarantee that anyone is listening, and therefore I can’t claim to have brought joy to millions or to have changed the world in some meaningful way.

But frankly, if I improved just one person’s experience of being in hospital, then I consider it two years very well spent.

One of my duties at HBS was to go and collect patient requests, and every Friday night I would visit wards in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, downstairs from our studio, or the Weston Park cancer Hospital, a five minute walk away. I would approach people in their beds, apologetically wielding a clipboard and cheap biro, and go into my usual spiel; “Good evening, sorry to disturb you, I’m from Hospital Radio, would you like a request to be played tonight…?”

Most people were, completely understandably, apathetic about the whole thing- I know if I was in severe pain, the last thing I’d want to see is some spotty kid asking me if I want the Spice Girls or S Club 7. Some responded sardonically- the station’s two most requested songs were ‘I Want to Break Free’, and ‘Please Release Me’- while a few responded very positively, and a wide range of songs were requested, from Hayden to the Wombles. I would note them all down and then dutifully return to the studio to seek them out from our enormous vinyl collection- as I mentioned, we were an old-fashioned outfit. Getting to play these songs for people was a genuine pleasure.

I talk about my experiences “on the wards”, but I was really an interloper, appearing one moment and vanishing fifteen minutes later in a puff of hand sanitiser, and I really can’t write an article about my experiences without taking a moment to commend the superb work of every medical professional I met. I was frequently a minor irritant to the staff; I had to check in with them at each ward before I could collect any requests, and more than once I was interrupted in trying to remember who sung “Everything is Awesome” because the patient who requested it had to have their blood pressure checked. (Tegan and Sara, incidentally, which our fantastically stroppy music database only admitted after thorough cross-examination). The nurses, doctors, cleaners and other hospital staff were always extremely polite and professional when dealing with me, some interfering amateur, and I am very grateful to them for that, and have added it to my long list of “Reasons to be proud of the NHS”.

But what about that giant fox costume I so intrigued you with earlier? Well, another of the charity’s activities was doing fundraising events- we would go to some local event or to a supermarket, and stand around with collection buckets, usually with a DJ there too lay down a few tracks, and collect donations from the public. One such event took place in February last year, and I was required to dress in a giant cartoon fox costume and shake a collecting tin for three hours.

I got quite a few donations from passers-by, but I was a little more preoccupied with the fact that I couldn’t see much past the bridge of my nose, and I emerged from the costume severely dehydrated. Fortunately, no photos seem to exist of this event.

Looking back on my time at Hospital Radio, fox costume and all, I would say that it was an incredibly rewarding experience- I met very nice people and had a number of interesting experiences. And this Christmas, I will be returning for a few guest appearances. I’m looking forward to seeing my old mates again.

I just hope they haven’t got that new reindeer costume in yet.

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