THE STORY OF WRIGHTINGTON HOSPITAL RADIO
Hospital Radio, in Wigan, began in the 1950s but was restricted to providing coverage of Wigan RLFC matches. Wrightington Hospital Radio was first formed in 1973 and became the radio station for Wigan, Leigh, Wrightington, Whelley and Billenge.
So 2013 saw the fortieth anniversary of radio broadcasting from Hospital Radio Wrightington. It was also a year of big changes and a new set of challenges for all its members.
There is not much information about the first year of the station.
In those days the hospital wanted someone who worked for them to be in charge of the station. The first Studio Manager was Charlie Fishwick, who worked in the stores at the hospital. When Charlie retired Phil Howard, who worked in the Path Lab, took over the role. Phil is now living in Cambridge and keeps in touch with Mike Carrington the lead football commentator for Hospital Radio and one of the early programme presenters.
Broadcasting hours were limited as it was done by volunteers who had other jobs. There were two live shows, one on Saturday for two hours and the other Sunday. The two midweek shows were pre-recorded and aired on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
Personnel and technology have changed over the years but the one constant has been an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers who have been prepared to give up their time to put on regular shows.
A constant, and popular, feature of the station has been its live coverage of Wigan Rugby League and Wigan Athletic. In fact, coverage of rugby league started in 1954, before the start of the station itself and continues now. Coverage of Wigan Athletic started in their second season in league football in 1979 and has followed the club’s rise through the leagues.
The ravages of time took its toll on the fabric of the original studio and time was eventually called on its use; but only on the site, not the future of the station. Hospital Radio Wrightington staff and the Hospital Trust worked closely to identify a site for a new studio. This was built in the Patient Information Centre at Wrightington and was officially opened on Tuesday 22nd October 2013.
Over forty years, musical tastes and the technology for that music have changed significantly (who remembers eight track?). The personnel involved have changed but the desire to serve the hospital community and to provide a free music service to patients and visitors remains. Hospital Radio Wrightington has not stood still and is now looking forward to many more years.
Hospital Radio History – coverage of Wigan RL
The Wigan R.L. Hospital Broadcasting system was officially opened before the first game of the 1954-55 season by Harry Sunderland. Initially, Jack Keane shared the commentary with the club’s directors.
After about a month the directors appealed for volunteers who were asked to contact the then Secretary, Jack Wood. It is believed that about ten or twelve people volunteered. The Directors decided to audition four and invited Harry Carey to attend the “A” team game against Workington the following Saturday. Incidentally for the first three or four years all “A” team games were covered, as well as first team games, such was the interest in following Rugby League while in hospital.
Harry turned up to find that he was the only one there and the sole director present directed Harry to the front of the Directors’ Box were the socket was located for connecting the equipment. Harry had to commentate on his own for the major part of the match, having never done any commentary in his life before that.
Three days later Harry met John McDermott, who had also volunteered but had not been down for the audition, and suggested that he join him. This produced the first commentary team of Harry Carey, John McDermott and Jack Keane who covered matches for around seven or eight years. The team changed when Jack Keane took over the running of the Wigan Colts and a new member was recruited, Ray Unsworth.
As facilities in hospitals improved with the introduction of TVs on the wards, the “A” team games were no longer regularly covered but Hospital radio then started to cover first team away games. Eventually, away games were dropped, as a regular event, probably because it became difficult to guarantee someone could cover the away games and also because some grounds did not have the facilities we had at Wigan.
A new member of the commentary team joined around 1987, Roy Knowles. Later John McDermott moved onto other pastures, including commentary on Micron Videos of matches.
The team of Harry, Ray and Roy continued until the final match at Central Park after which Ray and Roy took a well-earned retirement. During the early 1990s Kevin Riley was asked by Harry to step in to cover for Ray and Roy who were away on England Schools duty. Kevin remained with the team after their return.
During the time at Central Park match commentary was a one way affair along a fixed wire from Central Park. Around 1998 new equipment meant that commentary could go through to the studios at Wrightington from where it was directed to other hospitals in the Wigan area. This equipment allowed two way communication between the studio presenters and the commentary team at the match.
When Wigan Warriors moved to the then JJB Stadium (now DW Stadium) Harry and Kevin continued to provide coverage from a position on the TV Gantry on the West Stand. They also provide commentary through the stadium’s Inductive Loop System. Unfortunately, illness caused Harry to retire after a couple of years at the new ground and his place was taken by Ken Aspinall who had previously been providing coverage of Leigh’s games for Radio Metro, the Leigh Hospital Radio Station.
Hospital Radio Wrightington continues to provide commentary of all Wigan’s home games and major games away from home such as the Challenge Cup Finals and semi-finals. So Wigan fans who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in hospital when the Warriors are at home can tune into to Hospital Radio and still enjoy the match experience.
Hospital Radio History – coverage of Wigan Athletic
The first hospital Radio coverage of Wigan Athletic was during the non-league days when Rugby commentator, Harry Carey, reported on a few of Latics FA cup games. However, regular coverage of games did not start until Wigan’s second season in the league in 1979. The first commentary team were Harry Carey, Mike Carrington and Steve McIlwram. Steve left to be replaced by Mark Simpson and when he left he was replaced by Malcolm Magrath. When Harry Carey stepped down, commentary continued with Mike and Malcolm up until the move from Springfield Park to the JJB (now DW) Stadium.
In 1999 the JJB Stadium opened and Malcolm retired from commentary leaving Mike to continue. Kevin Riley from the rugby commentary team stepped in to cover for a couple of games but has remained with Mike until he retired in 2015. Mike’s place was then filled by Phil Ashcroft who came with a wealth of experience of sport broadcasting.