Mayfield Radio Unit
If you have ever been a patient undergoing treatment in hospital, you know what it is like to try and fill in the time between medical sessions, the food and tea trolley and visits by friends and/or relatives. In years past you may have been able to listen to the TV or radio but you may have had no choice over the station or the volume. That is now changing with modern technology but you now often have to pay to see what you want. The credit voucher is beginning to replace the bunch of grapes as a present. Even then, the choice on offer may not be to your taste.

Helping to provide some tailored entertainment in these circumstances was one of the drivers behind the establishment in 1971 of what has become Mayfield Radio, a hospital broadcasting station based in the premises of Mayfield Salisbury Church in south Edinburgh. Some of the then youth club were interested in recording music for dances and events and decided that it might be of interest to the patients in the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital if music they wanted to hear could be played to them.

To cut a long story short, after discussions with the authorities it was agreed that an hour long recording on a bulky tape recorder would be taken to the hospital once a week and be plugged into the sound system. During the programme requests would be collected from the patients, many of whom were long stay, for the next week’s programme.

There was a demand for more programmes. The physical task of lugging a machine to the hospital became burdensome, so landlines – using the telephone system – were used to broadcast from the church’s premises. A studio and control room were built by the members and Mayfield Radio Unit was born.

All of this activity was supported by the church by way of premises and the costs of some overheads. The rest of the funds came from hospital endowment funds and, most of all, the time and commitment of the group of young people. To save money, equipment was built by the team. Coffee mornings and donations helped raise funds to build up a library of records. Records were catalogued. Training programmes were drawn up for engineers to manage the sound and for presenters to learn to enunciate clearly. For the first few years presenters always had to make sure that there was sound going down the line because if there was a silence for more than 10 seconds the machinery in the hospital tripped and the programme would stop broadcasting. That is why some of our longer- serving presenters can talk the hind legs off a donkey. We maybe did not invent “Just a Minute” but there is a certain skill in taking constantly without spouting drivel while the engineer tries to repair a technical problem.

It was –and is –enjoyable and satisfying. It kept old and young occupied as we grew in broadcasting hours to provide a service 7 days a weeks for 2½ hours each day, now 3½ hours at weekends, 365 days a year. One of our members, John Calder, kept broadcasting until he was 90 before he sadly passed away. We have young people of 15/ 16 doing Duke of Edinburgh service, many of whom stay on with us after their required period. Several of our team move on to professional broadcasting – Sheena McDonald and Mark Goodier to mention two. Others, like myself, limit our broadcasting activity to the Unit.

My name is Boyd McAdam and I started with Mayfield Radio as a teenager. I am now in my early 50s and apart from a 30 month spell in London and a few Fridays off a year for holidays and family events I have been broadcasting every week. I am not unique. There are others who devote more time and energy than I do. It is a sign of the commitment and desire to provide a service that marks out many in the Unit.

Although based in church premises there is no expectation that radio unit members belong to the church. As a church organisation we record the Sunday service on cassette for distribution to the housebound as well as supporting the technical side for events in the Church and on occasion organising events for the patients. Primarily though we see the Unit are part of the community.

We hold great store by our personal links with our listeners. Over the years this has become a much greater challenge both as the number of hospitals to which we broadcast has altered and as modern medicine minimises the time patients stay in hospital. In our early years we got to know some patients in Liberton hospital over a long time and grieved when they succumbed to their illnesses. The throughput of patients nowadays makes such individual links a rare event. We still broadcast to Liberton, and now also to the New Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. In the past, in addition to the PMR we broadcast to Longmore and the Deaconess Hospitals, now all closed. We are not the only hospital radio organisation in Edinburgh: there are 2 others EHBS and Radio Lollipop in the “Sick kids” but we manage to co-exist well.

We remain a free service for the patients though finding headphones to plug in to the hospital’s sound system is not always easy. And our capacity to get round patients to collect requests is nowadays more limited. People’s lives are ever busier and the operation of broadcasting keeps our core membership of 40 or so very occupied.

Fortunately, over the years technology has advanced. Digital sound and computers are taking over and our library of vinyl has been replaced by CDs. Broadcasts have taken place from the wards themselves. Interviews with visiting stars of stage and screen – many of whom are very willing to allocate time to record a few words - can be conducted with small hand held recorders giving high quality sound.

As with any organisation we have our Committee structure which covers membership, programme policy, disclosure checks, technical development and so on. It is surprising what needs to be discussed, if not in Committee then when compiling a programme.

Would you for example play the theme tune to the film “MASH”? What about Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”? The formal title of the former is “Suicide is painless”. The opening line of the latter is “And now, then end is near, and so I face the final curtain..”

Our main aim is to play what our listeners want, within reason, and to make patients’ stay in hospital a bit more entertaining and suited to their musical tastes. Tastes do change. Those in the Geriatrics ward are more likely now to request the Beatles or the Rolling Stones than Richard Tauber or Moira Anderson.

However, the wish to help serve others does not change and Mayfield Radio, just like all the other hospital radio and TV stations around the country, have that ethos at their core.

If you wish to become involved have a look in your local phone book or check with your local hospital. A new career may beckon! Terry Wogan can’t go on for ever. But then again …………..

Boyd McAdam
Chairman of Mayfield Radio Unit
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18 West Mayfield, Edinburgh EH9 1TF  |  0131 667 7742  |  |  ©1999 - 2011 Maggie Tam, Mayfield Radio Unit  |  Reg. Charity: SC013624