Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Coronavirus: Hospital radio station reborn for lockdown patients

Malcolm Kirby Image copyright Malcolm Kirby
Image caption Malcolm Kirby in his home studio he has created during the lockdown

A hospital radio station which had to suspend transmission for the first time in 58 years during the lockdown is back on air.

Red Dot Radio had been running continuously since 1962, playing three hours a night to hospitals in Edinburgh and the east of Scotland.

Lockdown restrictions meant volunteers were unable to access the studio at the Western General Hospital.

Now retired engineer Malcolm Kirby has found a way of airing the station.

"Our radio station is only broadcast by the hardwire system in the hospital. We physically have to press a button to put it on air," he explained.

"Most hospitals have a computerised play out system but we don't so we had to tell the patients that we could not run the service during the lockdown.

"There were a lot of patients who were very upset by this as they look forward to our programme. It is a way of taking their mind off the fact they are in hospital.

"I have now found a way to press the button using Wi-Fi so we are now back on air again."

Image copyright Malcolm Kirby
Image caption Malcolm Kirby joined the radio station in the 1970s when he was an engineering student

The station was off air for about five weeks, which was the first time it had stopped since it started in 1962.

An electrical engineer, Mr Kirby has been volunteering at the station since the 1970s when he was a student at Heriot Watt University.

Then the studio was in Hanover Street in Edinburgh on the Forth Radio Network.

At the time they served 16 hospitals in the area. Now there are just eight hospitals in their patch.

There is normally a team of 20 volunteers running Red Dot, but now just Mr Kirby and station manager Andrew Wright are working to put out the programme seven nights a week.

"I love getting the programme out to the patients - and anyway there is nothing on TV at the moment, so I don't mind not having a night off," he said.

"The feedback we've had from patients has made it all so worthwhile."

Image copyright Malcolm Kirby
Image caption The team of volunteers used to transmit the radio programme from a studio at the Royal Victoria Hospital which has since closed

Normally Mr Kirby, who is the chairman of the radio station, and his team go into the hospitals in the afternoon to take song requests from patients.

He said: "The big problem we now have is that we aren't able to go into the hospitals to tell new patients that they have a bedside radio.

"The nurses are too busy to tell them so what we need is for relatives and friends of patients to let them know and to send me song requests for them.

"I have now set up a system where people can send me song requests through our website.

"There are also a lot of elderly people in hospital who know how to put on headphones to listen but don't know how to use the internet to interact with us so that's where relatives and friends can really help.

"It is a way of connecting the patients with their relatives too if they can hear a song that is pertinent to their family."

The programme has been cut by an hour during the lockdown and now runs every day between 20:00 and 22:00.

Image copyright Malcolm Kirby
Image caption The Red Dot Radio studio at the Western General Hospital is closed during the lockdown restrictions

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