In the mid-Sixties twelve people, predominantly Post Office Telephones staff, sought to start a hospital radio service in Oxford. The scheme was approved by the Oxford Regional Hospital Board and the United Oxford Hospitals, and on the 30th September 1967, the Oxford Hospitals Broadcasting Association (OHBA) was officially opened by the chairman of the United Oxford Hospitals Board of Governors, Mr. Eric Towler.
The studio was in an old Nissen hut based on the Churchill Hospital site. Programmes, such as Record Requests, were broadcast on Monday and Wednesday evenings whilst live commentaries of Oxford United’s home matches were broadcast on Saturday afternoons during the football season.
Initially, these programmes could only be heard in the Churchill Hospital and the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. It was two more years before the service expanded to include the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Eye Hospital.
By the mid-Seventies the membership had increased to around 30 and the broadcasting hours were extended.
It was during the mid-Seventies that the first stages of re-development of the Churchill site began and in February 1974 we moved from the Nissen hut to a Portakabin. During the subsequent years our service expanded even more when the John Radcliffe Maternity, now named the Women’s Centre opened in the late seventies, followed by the John Radcliffe II which is now considered as the main hospital on the John Radcliffe site.
In the Spring of 1978 a competition was run in a local newspaper to find a new name for the station as Oxford Hospitals Broadcasting Association, which was quite a mouthful! The winning name was chosen to be Radio Cherwell, based on the River Cherwell that runs through the city centre of Oxford, and station was re-named on Saturday 1st April 1978.
In 1980 ‘OXTALK’, the talking newspaper for the blind and partially sighted was started and we gave them the use of our studios to record their tapes. This continued for the next 30-plus years, when we had to re-locate to smaller premises.
The re-development of the Churchill site continued and on the 15th May 1982, the Churchill Hospital Governor, Mr. John Hunt, officially opened our new, purpose-built studios. In 1988 we celebrated our 21st birthday in style by seeing how many people could fit into an open top Ford Escort car – the answer being 21, of course!
By the 1990s plans were underway to refurbish the studios and add some new equipment. At the same time our Chief Engineer Michael Clarke designed a computerised broadcast system, which was installed into our studios in 1991. This enabled some programmes to be broadcast automatically and for our evening’s output to be re-broadcast again the following morning.
Our members always enjoy a celebration and we held a party in the studio for our 25th anniversary in 1992. In 1997 we celebrated our 30th anniversary by entering a float in the Lord Mayor’s Parade – the centrepiece being a huge cardboard cake.
2000 and beyond
As the world approached the year 2000 – the Millennium – there was concern that computers may not be able to cope with the date change, and that technology would collapse. As it turned out everything was fine and we continued along with the rest of the world. By making changes in our programming and with the advances in technology, we were able to expand our output to include a number of ward-based programmes and repeat broadcasts the following morning, most notably of our flagship Record Requests programme, which is LIVE weeknights at 9pm, then rebroadcast at 9am the following morning. In 2004, a new station sound was launched along with new programme formats, which included broadcasting news bulletins on the hour, every hour.
In 2012 Radio Cherwell celebrated its 45th year of broadcasting with a message from the Prime Minister of the time, the Rt Hon Mr David Cameron MP, and in 2013 Mr Cameron visited the Children’s Hospital at the John Radcliffe Hospital where we were very lucky to get an exclusive interview and photo opportunity with him.
The next few years were quite turbulent for us as the studio premises we’d had for over thirty years were to be demolished and we had to find a new ‘home’. Following numerous meeting and endless fund-raising events new facilities were eventually found for us; still on the Churchill site. It was 2017 and as we were settling into our new studios we also celebrated our 50th birthday. Within the hospitals we held a week of live broadcasts from various public areas in the Churchill, Nuffield, John Radcliffe and the West Wing. The busy week concluded with our AGM, followed by a buffet and birthday cake, held in the sumptuous surroundings of the Randolph Hotel in the centre of Oxford.