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A Detailed History of our first fifty years...

How things were in the 1950s

It must be remembered that in 1952 at the start of Hospital Broadcasts in Bristol the media scene was very different to today.

The high-quality FM radio signals we know today did not exist. Stations could only use low-quality LW (Long Wave) or Medium Wave (MW) services.

Hospital services reached patients via a Rediffusion system, essentially a network of speakers at the listener end connected to the signal source by very long wires (sometimes using the telephone system).

This would have been very different to today.



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What people could listen to.

In those days, hospital patients could only receive three or four channels: 'The Light Programme', 'The Third Programme' and 'The West of England Home Service'.

There was also a channel called 'Foreign Selections' which contained any station that the Rediffusion engineers could tune to during the day and in the evening carried Radio Luxembourg.

Hospital Broadcasts were available on the "Radio Luxembourg" channel. Television was not on the air during the day and the BBC was the only channel available as ITV did not start broadcasting until 1954.


1952 - The Start without a studio.

When BHBS Hospital Broadcasts came along we had several immediate advantages: we were local and able to bring items of local interest to our audience (notably sport and interviews with local entertainers), our signal quality was better than the BBC, and we had the time to mention individual patients' names.

Hospital Broadcasts started with an idea by TOC H, a charitable organisation, that it should endeavour to help patients in hospital, the idea was further promoted by Rediffusion who had installed and controlled the landline distribution of radio programmes around the City of Bristol. They saw the provision of Hospital Radio in the City's Hospitals as a natural progression of their service, and in a letter sent by their General manager to TOC H proposed the start of a service. This was duly reported in the Evening Post on the 28th January 1952. The first programme broadcast was the match between Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury Town on August 23rd 1952. The first broadcast was relayed on Post Office landlines to five hospitals with another joining the network the following week. Both the Bristol Evening Post and the Bristol Evening World reported the event. This meant that BHBS first started broadcasting from the sports venues themselves and not from its own studio. COMMENTARY BOX, CITY GROUND, 1952
LAURI LUCENA, BHBS CHAIRMAN 1952-1975 In Bristol the members of TOC H led by Laurie Lucena went cap in hand to the two local soccer clubs, and used his careful negotiation skills to come away with not only facilities at the respective grounds but also with a donation of 50 from each club. So it was that when the 1952/53 season opened, six of Bristol's hospitals were linked to the Rovers ground at Eastville by post office land lines, and several thousand unseen supporters joined the 23,000 crowd in the stadium enjoying the match. The original idea had been gleaned from an incident at Fratton Park, the home of Portsmouth Town Football club. When the ground became overcrowded, the gates were locked leaving many thousands of fans outside the ground unable to see the match. A young police sergeant sensed impending trouble and climbed onto a wall to give a running commentary to the crowd outside the ground. This act gave the policeman and a few of his friends the idea of relaying commentaries to patients in hospital. And so hospital broadcasts were born.
1956 - Rugby and Cricket

The next expansion to the service was the inclusion in 1956 of rugby from the Memorial Ground where our commentators sat in the midst of the crowd in the grandstand. In the following year cricket commentaries began from a commentary box mounted on the roof of the club house at the County ground in Neville Road, the home of Gloucester Cricket Club. Ball-by-ball commentaries on all home games became a regular feature on the airwaves and by the end of the 50s we were broadcasting full match commentaries of all the home games from Ashton Gate (the home of Bristol City), Eastville Stadium (the home of Bristol Rovers), the County Ground where Gloucester County Cricket Club played and also The Memorial Ground, home of Bristol Rugby Club. Other sports were covered by taping commentaries and then replaying the tapes from the studio, including speedway from Knowle. Other sports later broadcast live included those when Eastville stadium became the home of the Bulldogs, Ice Hockey from the Mecca Ice Rink, and wrestling from the Colston Hall (which was taped so that the edited highlights could be broadcast later) and boxing from the Bristol Sporting Club in Clifton.


In July 1954, the Post Office put up the rent on landlines that connected Bristol City and Rovers football clubs to Rediffusion and 12 hospitals. The increase (to 400 a year) posed serious challenge to the TOC.H members of the Bristol Hospital Broadcasting Society. After some deliberation, they decided to make more use of the landlines by starting a recorded programme called "Autograph Album". Then-Chairman Lauri Lucena commented: "It started from a big hole! A very large hole was being dug in the centre of Bristol in full view of the patients in the BRI and patients asked about it. For the first programme, one of the diggers was interviewed. We thought that a chap talking about a hole might not interest the ladies so we bunged in a chap who measured the fattest lady in the world for corsets etc. Brian Powell interviewed them, made them sing or tell a story, and I stuck the patient's Autograph Album under their noses".

ROY DE LANCEY INTERVIEWS A GUEST FOR 'AROUND THE TOWN' While every programme contained interviews with national celebrities who were visiting Bristol, the local touch was not forgotten with frequent interviews with the nurse of the week and patient of the week. Topical local events were also covered including live music when circumstances allowed. The programme also kept a scrapbook which read like a who's who of show business in the 1950s. Names that are prominent are Max Miller, Petula Clark, Benny Hill, Morecambe and Wise, Billy Cotton, Terry Thomas, and many many more.

The equipment used on these early OBs was crude and simple by today's standards but nevertheless the quality of programme produced was comparable to those aired by the BBC. Each outside broadcast was usually recorded using one microphone and a Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder. The most difficult part of the whole exercise was transporting the tape recorder to and from the hospital. Very few of our members had cars and the only means of affordable transport was the bus or a bicycle, a very tricky business with the very heavy tape recorder balanced on the crossbar.


On the 13th April 1956 BHBS broadcast its first scoop. The Queen was to visit Bristol on her way to open the Chew Valley Reservoir. The BBC were covering the event, but, because television did not start until 6.30 each evening, they would record it for later use. They offered the live commentary to BHBS and, with Laurie Lucena perched high on the old CO-OP building at Narrow Quay to link the BBC commentary, the live BHBS broadcast scooped the national media.


1967 - our first dedicated studios are built at Victoria Street

VICTORIA STREET STUDIO Over fifteen years after its inception,  Bristol Hospital Broadcasting Society (as it was then called) moved into its very first purpose built studio. After years of recording programmes in members' houses and in the back room at Rediffusion, Bristol Hospital Broadcasting Service at last had a home of its own. Located in an office block in Victoria Street, right in the heart of the City with restricted hours of entry, it still seemed like a palace.

The new studio consisted of two rooms divided by a plywood partition. The larger of the two was used as a studio and the smaller as a control room. At first the simple equipment from the Rediffusion premises was used to produce record request programmes. The outside broadcasts switching equipment was still at Rediffusion and was switched by remote control from the new studio.

In the new studio, all of the programmers came together for the first time. Prior to this, the Wednesday nights programmes had been recorded the previous evening in the small studio in the Colston Hall and then taken over to Broad Plain for transmission the following evening. Now, with everyone together, we were able to expand.

The first move was to design and build a studio console. The first custom-built BHBS mixer had ten channels, used quadrant faders and contained a Ferrograph tape recorder with a Quad tuner and amplifier, two Thorens TD124 turntables and a talkback system built in. The desk was specially built in the control room so when the time came to move in 1972 it had to be torn apart to get it through the door. Of that desk, only the turntables remain.


The Colston Hall Studio

The programmes by this time had expanded to fill five evenings a week (afternoons, actually, as the programmes started at 5pm and went on until 6pm). The Colston Hall studio was now no longer used to record programmes and had in fact been commandeered by the BBC which had formed a training orchestra based in the Hall. They had also equipped a room at the rear of the Green Room as a studio and installed an electric hoist for a microphone.

Until this time any broadcast that we did from the hall had to be rigged separately for each event (a task that took several hours) as a nylon rope had to be stretched across the balcony and a microphone suspended from it. Thanks to John Hunt, an ex-BBC engineer, we were able to use the BBC control room and all of their equipment to relay our broadcasts to the hospitals. With this facility at our disposal, the number of concerts relayed from the hall increased tremendously and we were able to cover every concert during the concert seasons.


1972 - Goodbye to Victoria Street Studios

Less than five years after our move into the studio in Victoria Street, we were informed that the rooms would be required for someone else, and we had to look for alternative accommodation. In this respect, United Bristol Hospitals - the forerunner of the Bristol and Weston Hospital Authority - turned up trumps, and provided us with our custom-made studio suite. Thus it was that at 6pm. on 23rd November 1972 the last programme was relayed from our Victoria Street studio.

The Cottage Block studio complex was opened on the 12th January 1974 by the then Lord Mayor of Bristol, Alderman W.W.Jenkins. In his opening address he said that, as a recent hospital patient, he fully appreciated the service that we gave. He offered his assistance, not just as a name on note paper, but as a member. He was invited to make good on his offer in the summer of 75, when ill health compelled Laurie Lucena to resign his position as chairman of the service. Mayor Wally Jenkins stepped into the helmsman's position and occupied the chair until 1985 when our present chairman Iain Elliott was elected. Iain had joined the service in 1965 and had been the station engineer for the past fifteen years.


1974 - Cottage Block

After the move from Victoria Street it took almost two years to get the new studio fully operational. The studios in Cottage Block were based in rooms above Ward 17 of the Bristol Royal Infirmary. The studios were very spacious and consisted of two control rooms and two studios, backed up by a workshop and equipment room. The larger studio was big enough to house up to 20 people in a discussion programme whilst the smaller studio was a two-man affair.

We had so many guests who had been invited to the opening that we couldn't house them in the studio. We divided things by having the Lord Mayor come to the studio to perform the opening ceremony while the 36-piece band and our guests were in the HTV studio several miles away. After his speech declaring the studio open, which was relayed to the audience at HTV, the Lord Mayor was driven to the studio and took part in the concert which was relayed back to our studio and then on to the hospitals. The whole operation was made even more complicated because Bristol City were playing Blackburn Rovers at the time and Blackburn Hospital Broadcasts wanted to listen to the commentary. This meant that, as well as broadcasting an opening ceremony from two sites, we also had to broadcast a football commentary to the other end of the country. The studios were well and truly declared open! THE COTTAGE BLOCK STUDIOS

In the early 1990s there were moves to redevelop the central area of Bristol around the St James Barton Roundabout and, as part of that scheme, the hospital would sell some of its land to provide space for the new plans. Cottage Block was central to these plans and we were warned that we might have to move but no firm date or new site was forthcoming and with the onset of the recession, the plans for this development were shelved. However, just as we were beginning to feel settled, we were told that there were major plans for the Department of Medicine to convert Cottage Block into research laboratories. The good news was that they would provide us with a suitable site and build us a new studio to our designs. The bad news was that they wanted the whole move from suggestion to completion done in no more than three months!

1994 - The B.R.I Studios

The designs for our new studio, which was to be based on level five of the old BRI building, were sketched out in March 1994 and we moved in on May 23rd 1994, less than eight weeks later!!! The speed of the move was such that we did not have time to build any of our new equipment. The studio was officially opened by Roy Hudd on October 23rd 1994.  The Special Trustees of United Bristol Hospitals provided the funds to build the studio and provided one of the new mixing desks, but we had to raise the money for all of the ancillary items such as chairs, cables, curtains and many of the more mundane items needed to make a studio work, as well as a second new mixing desk. A sign of the times was the cost of replacing the studio desks. In 1970 we built the desk (which gave us excellent service for 24 years) for 400. Twenty five years later we paid almost 6,000 for a replacement! Surprisingly the turntables which were bought for use in the Victoria Street studio back in 1967 are still going strong - 34  years later even though they were now much older than many of our members

BHBS Today

Our programmes are mainly record request programmes broadcast from our studio in the BRI. Our sports commentaries come live from Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium, Bristol City from Ashton Gate and Bristol Rugby from The Memorial Stadium. Each sports ground is fully equipped with a mixer and two microphones. Live musical entertainment consists of weekly classical concerts from the Colston Hall We supplement this with recordings from St George's Brandon Hill. Every Sunday morning we broadcast a service from the BRI chapel. IN THE OUTSIDE BROADCAST CARAVAN


"And the winner is ..."

BHBS is proud to have regularly won the British Telecom regional prize as the best Hospital Broadcasting Service. The competition, judged on a 15 minute compilation tape of all of our programme output, carries a prize of 500. We have won the award in 1993, 1995 and 1996. We didn't enter in 1994 as we were in the throes of moving studios and in 1999 we were a runner up in the "best non-music" category with our local news service.


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