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Elaine Bermitz celebrates the dedicated staff keeping Northern Air Hospital Radio live and well for six decades.

TOP ROW L-R: Bernette Clarke, Ken Anton, Matt Smith, BOTTOM ROW L-R: Phil Slater, Sian Critchley, Steve Woolfe

Northern Air Hospital Radio has been on the go for the last 60 years and shows little sign of diminishing in popularity. With a series of pop-up events marking this milestone cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, it’s only right we celebrate the dedicated folk behind the North Manchester General and Salford Royal hospital transmissions, who are missing out on well-deserved plaudits for their years of service to listeners.

For those who can’t sleep, are too sore to read, or simply don’t have many visitors, there is always a welcoming voice ready to play a wide variety of tunes, tell jokes or keep them up to date with sports results and national news. These may seem like small luxuries, but when you need them, they can be a great relief.

To put on a programme requires not only presenting skills but a large library of records and material, as well as an increasingly sophisticated technological network. Key to its success is Ken Anton, an IT manager for TalkTalk Telecom Group, who ensures the system works correctly during the day. As a classical music fan, he feels energised after listening to most forms of chamber music. He must gain considerable satisfaction from his efforts, as he has dedicated more than 40 years to the cause.

Sian Critchely has covered most of the sounds of the 60s and the 80s during his radio shows at the station and is now going back in time to the 70s: “I try to focus on one year in each show , and while I adore indie guitar music, I play anything that falls into the category I am presenting.

“I feel I am sharing with the patient and it’s a total contrast to my day job. I can indulge my love of music and I don’t have to pass judgement on any of it – I just play it. I’m happy to do something that is free for others and it has become quite pleasant listening to my own voice!”

Steve Woolfe is a tax consultant by profession. As chairman of the station he is responsible for its profile and progress as well as the future of the operation. Having had some experience with student radio broadcasting, he didn’t begin presenting until 2008, when his daughter wanted his help to get some experience in radio. A penchant for rock music might put him in danger of giving sensitive patients a bit of a headache, but he enjoys collecting requests from the wards, so there’s always an audience for his work. “I enjoy the contact with patients and they appreciate the fact that when I visit, I am not going to inflict any medical pain on them! It’ s the interactive aspect of the process that I have missed during lockdown, although anyone can send requests via the website and they also use email, or their bedside phones.”

A lot of non-musical messages go out too from the hospital, the NHS and local organisations – and it is that area which Steve wants to grow. The local trusts are being reorganised and Wythenshawe, Manchester Royal Infirmary and Trafford General hospitals will shortly receive the show as the studio expands its reach.

Colin Daffern presents the Friday night soul and R&B show, as well as a Saturday night show: “I will play anything from Mantovani to Manic Street Preachers, but I mainly do requests and we occasionally play at local events. I love to encourage the patients to tell the story behind their requests and to talk to them about my musical passions – my 13 years here have just flown past.”

Bernette Clarke is the most talkative of the presenters; she likes to co-host, so she can talk to both presenters and listeners and is very keen to meet those who want to share stories on air. She says she always comes away from the hospital feeling grateful that she has her health, is not in pain or confined to bed. Loving the 70s era, she knows her music and sticks to it.

Possibly the most dedicated music fan of the team is station manager Phil Salter. Possessing an immense collection of records, he likes to play music which many patients have never heard. Though his favourite eras are the 60s and 70s, he can proudly provide music from well before and long after that time. He would have loved to have been a professional presenter and sees hospital radio as the ideal alternative.

Each member of the team gives up their time on a regular basis, which may sound easy, but in reality proves a challenging commitment – and it is their dedication and enthusiasm which keeps them, their listeners and the station going.