Joanne Holden, Mar 26 2019
For 30 years a Timaru radio station has brought comfort and company to those recovering in hospital.
Timaru Hospital Radio founder Ron Heney and the 40 others who have sat at the mixing desk throughout those three decades, have adhered to the motto "better health through better music" since the first broadcast on April 2, 1989.
"Even if we were playing to one person that wasn't feeling well, that would be enough," Heney said.
"It's been quite a successful mission."
Heney was introduced to the concept of a radio station for hospital patients while on holiday in Holland, where Heerenveen Hospital had set one up.
But it was not until his own spell at Timaru Hospital for an infection a year later, that he wrote a letter to the hospital board proposing the idea.
"They said yes. They were a bit nervous about it, only giving us a three-month trial," he said.
"It's my fault, from the first night . . . and as long as I've got two pegs on the ground, it will continue."
Originally heard through headphones available to individual patients, the station switched to an FM frequency after a hospital refit in 1999.
Music played spans the period of the 1920s to 1970s and appealed most to over 60s, Heney said.
"It's a niche for people who don't have another alternative. We are the alternative."
It cost about $3000 per year to keep the station running, with much of that cost covered by the community.
Station director Bryan Blanchard, whose arm was twisted into getting on board by Heney in 1991, said the station boasted "a lot of good, long-time listeners" with "quite a few truly dedicated listeners" having passed on.
About 10 shelves-worth of vinyl, cassettes, and CDs had been donated by listeners, though volunteers have contributed their own music collections to the station - Blanchard boasting about 100,000 records to choose from.
Blanchard's time slot is Wednesday night and every second Sunday morning.
"The first few times is butterflies but you get the hang of it and it just flows."
One of the station's 15 volunteers is behind the desk from 5pm to 10.30pm on weekdays, 9am to 6pm on weekends.
"I think the only day we don't broadcast live is Christmas Day," Blanchard said.
When nobody was behind the desk, a 24-hour transmitter donated by the Rotary club filled the airways with music.
Heney, who no longer has a regular time slot but still keeps up maintenance of the mixing desk he built in 1999, said when the station shifted to an empty Watlington Intermediate classroom, two listeners helped with moving the gear.
"We've been very lucky over the years with the people who have helped us," he said.
"It would be a whole lot more popular if we could afford a high-power frequency but we don't want to get into the commercial side of things.
"It's not to be and it never will be."
The station base has moved three times in its 30 years - from the hospital's Gardens Block, to a vacant shop beside the former Majestic Theatre on Stafford St in 2012, to the former Watlington Intermediate 15 months later, back to the hospital in 2015.
"We're ever so grateful to the South Canterbury District Health Board for giving us the home," Heney said.
The station broadcasts at one watt with aerials set up at the hospital, Timaru's Marchwiel suburb, and Geraldine. The frequencies are 88.0, 107.5, and 107.1, respectively.