Some years ago when I watched the amazing League of Gentlemen for the first time, there was a minor recurring character on the show called Mike King who happened to be a hospital DJ. We see him playing song dedications for patients such as ‘Bye Bye, Baby’ for a teenage girl having a termination and blackmailing a staff doctor to get him to attach an arm on his limb-challenged friend. If you know anything about LOG and their imaginary and darkly absurd world of Royston Vasey, you might have thought as I did – a DJ in a hospital is just something they made up.
I forgot all about it until recently when I started watching the geriatric Scottish sitcom, Still Game. One episode in particular from series four called ‘Wireless‘ was all about the main characters, Jack (Ford Kiernan) and Victor (Greg Hemphill), filling in as hospital DJs so their mate Tam could take a holiday.
Seeing this led me to believe that radio stations in UK hospitals might be an actual thing so I decided to investigate a bit further. First I found Ivan Brackenbury, aka comedian and radio personality Tom Binns. Though Ivan is a comic character created by Binns, the clip does a good job explaining the purpose of these primarily volunteer hospital staff.
I also learned that Karl Pilkington, Philip Glenister and several members of the Kaiser Chiefs got their start in entertainment through hospital radio stations. Even fictional broadcaster Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) admits to having done a three year stint as a hospital radio disc jockey…
My most surprising find was that in 1994 there was an entire TV drama set around a hospital radio station in a Scottish psychiatric hospital. Takin’ Over the Asylum starred Ken Stott as Eddie, the new DJ at St. Jude’s long- deserted radio station, and a very young David Tennant as a bi-polar patient named Campbell who helps Eddie out on air.
I can see how an internal radio station could help build a sense of community on the wards and cheer or comfort patients and their families. If anyone is aware of an American hospital that does this, I’d be interested to know. Otherwise I’ll add this to my list of surprising and delightful things that the British do differently to us.