AYR HOSPITAL RADIO

BOOSTING HEALING & RECOVERY FOR 70 YEARS

Claire Gillespie

Ayr Hospital Radio, one of Scotland’s oldest hospital radio stations, celebrates its 70th anniversary this year – and it can thank honorary chairman Mike Manley’s gregarious nature.
“I always loved singing and going to parties and being the MC,” Mike tells Ayrshire Magazine, recalling that at one of these parties, a woman approached him to ask if he’d ever thought about doing football commentary. He hadn’t, but he was an Ayr United FC fan and it turned out that Somerset Park was looking for someone to broadcast to football fans listening in from a number of local hospitals.
On behalf of what was then called Ayr Hospitals Relay Radio, Mike made the first broadcast on 23rd November 1953. In those early days, it was all about the football. But Mike added music into the mix, playing songs before the match and at half-time. In 1981, a three-and-a-half hour music programme started on Sundays. And in 1990, the music moved to University Hospital Ayr, where a dedicated and passionate team of volunteers provide a varied schedule for patients.
Across the UK, there are far less hospital radio stations than in the heyday of the 1980s. But while other stations have fallen victim to lack of funding, space, or volunteers, Ayr Hospital Radio has gone from strength to strength.
“In 2018, we upgraded our studio to a state-of-the-art modern digital studio working with industry leading manufacturers such as local company Clyde Broadcast and Yorkshire-based Broadcast Radio,” says John O’Donnell, presenter and interim chairman. “This will allow us to continue providing a service for the people of Ayrshire (and beyond) for years to come.”
Community councillor John, who lives in Prestwick and is vice chair of the Friends of the Broadway, got involved with Ayr Hospital Radio at the ‘Lights Up Prestwick’ event in November 2022. Within a month he’d joined as a presenter – his Wednesday ‘Morning Rounds’ show is in partnership with Dementia Friendly Prestwick and goes out to all care homes across Ayrshire.
“I love playing requests for residents and attendees at the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) club that bring back memories. Songs like Donald Where’s Your Troosers and Wild Rover are regular requests and the Dementia Friendly Prestwick group now have a choir and do a great rendition of How Great Thou Art that I play on every show.”
There’s something for everyone on Ayr Hospital Radio, from Alan Gordon’s eclectic, soul-infused ‘Mid-Week Late Show’ on Wednesday evenings, to the fun-filled Saturday morning ‘Laura’s Vibes’ with Laura Harrison. And if you’re in the mood for some ‘Joyful Noise’ (who isn’t?), Joy Taiwo delivers just that between 4 and 6pm on Sundays.
For Mike, whose own programme stopped in 2017, it was all about the easy listening. A huge fan of Dean Martin, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra (his all-time favourite song is My Way), he believed that this ‘middle of the ground’ sound satisfied a major requirement for hospital radio: uplifting patients. But music is subjective, of course, and whatever genre you’re into, numerous studies have shown that it boosts healing and recovery.
“Music seems to make it a bit easier to deal with discomfort and pain after an operation,” adds Mike.

Mike gives much of the credit for the success and longevity of Ayr Hospital Radio to his late wife Ann: “She worked hard to get it off the ground,” he says. In the early days, he and Ann would go round the wards, chatting to patients and getting feedback on the shows. In fact, the couple were something of a double act at times. Ann was always there during Mike’s shows. “She would sit facing me and whenever I made a mistake, she butted in,” he recalls with a laugh.
Being able to laugh at yourself is a key component of live radio – both Mike and John agree on this.
“Making mistakes and being able to laugh at yourself for doing them is a must,” John says. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I have had a laughing fit on-air, at my own stupid mistakes.”
For any budding radio presenters out there, Mike has more great advice: “First of all, enjoy yourself!” he says. “But also think ahead. It’s live radio, and anything could happen, from a fire alarm going off to someone coming into the room. Finally, when people call in, get as much detail as you can from them to help listeners make that personal connection.”
It’s advice worth paying attention to if you fancy a career in radio, because for many household names, hospital radio was where they started. Several past and present BBC Radio presenters (including Scott Mills, Chris Moyles, Ken Bruce, Andrew Peach, Huw Stevens, Jeremy Vine and Simon Mayo) served their time as local hospital radio station volunteers, as did actors Karl Pilkington and Philip Glenister, presenter Philip Schofield, Kaiser Chiefs drummer Nick Hodgson and the current head of BBC Radio 1, Aled Hayden Jones.
Ayr Hospital Radio relies solely on donations to survive, so if you’d like to help them continue using the power of music to help hospital patients, care home residents and the wider Ayrshire community, you can make a donation or sponsor a show by emailing donate@ayrhospitalradio.co.uk or commercial@ayrhospitalradio.co.uk.
Listeners can engage with the station via www.ayrhospitalradio.co.uk/ and the station’s social media pages (Facebook, Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter). And you don’t have to be a patient to enjoy the music and chat on offer. Anyone can listen live at www.ayrhospitalradio.co.uk/listen.
If you fancy getting involved in a more hands-on way, the team are always interested in hearing from potential volunteers. If you’re an enthusiastic team player with good communication skills, love music of any genre, can spare a couple of hours a week and help out with fundraising events when required, get in touch with Laura Harrison at ahrwithlaura@gmail.com.
“Our volunteers come from all walks of life and from across all of Ayrshire,” says John.
Meanwhile, the Ayr Hospital Radio team are gearing up to mark a huge milestone not often reached by a hospital radio station. Their 70th anniversary celebrations include a party at Crooksmoss Bowling Club, Ayr on Tuesday 28th November. Together with past and present volunteers, anyone is welcome to join the fun and enjoy entertainment from singers Neil Angus and Kenny James, along with music from Saturday night ceilidh presenter Karyn Mac. Tickets cost £10 and can be purchased by contacting info@ayrhospitalradio.co.uk.