History (c.1975 to 2009)

Hospital Broadcasting Services Ayrshire (HBSA) started life in the mid-1970s. A man called John Barbour had the idea to start a hospital radio station modelled on the HBS in Glasgow. Like the Glasgow station, HBSA would serve more than one location from a central point. HBSA would be a volunteer-led organisation and has never had any paid staff. John Barbour worked for the health board as a technician for the telecoms department, because of this, he was in a perfect position to install and operate the fixed wire system which would carry the service. The original service reached Ayrshire Central Hospital (ACH), the adjacent maternity unit and Ravenspark Hospital. The service was listened to on a small handheld speaker which needed to be held close to the ear. There were also some speakers with volume controls in the day rooms. In addition to this, impromptu performances by singers and bands were held around the wards, none of these were broadcast.

The first programmes produced by HBSA were recorded onto reel to reel tape offsite. The first shows were mostly aimed at an older audience and often featured country music and Scottish music by artists like Jimmy Shand, supplemented with standards by the “ratpack” and the crooners of the 1950s. These programmes were recorded in some odd locations and in a disorganised fashion – some shows were even recorded in the back room of a hairdressers in nearby Saltcoats.

In 1979, HBSA was constituted as a charity with the relevant authority. HBSA would now be run by a committee of trustees. Around the same time, rooms were acquired at the Gatehouse at ACH. The area had been used as a weighing station for trucks bringing fuel for the hospital heating boiler but were no longer in use. Until HBSA vacated the premises in 2009, the reception room had a large cast iron weighing machine which clanked loudly when anyone crossed the attached weighbridge outside. A studio was kitted out with twin turntables, reel to reel tape players and eight-track cartridge players for jingles. A record library was created as well as areas to prepare shows and a committee room.

From the “studios” at the ACH Gatehouse, HBSA began to broadcast live to ACH and the maternity hospital. When Crosshouse Hospital opened in 1985, HBSA began broadcasts there too. The service to Crosshouse was sent up a dedicated phone line, never famous for its quality or reliability. The patients would listen on headphones or speaker boxes. The service grew throughout the 1980s, adding members and filling out a schedule which typically ran from around noon until 10pm, with gaps in the HBSA schedule being filled by feeds from WestSound and BBC Radio Scotland. To raise funds, HBSA started doing roadshows and attending various local events to provide PA and music. This was easy for HBSA as a number of presenters were semi-professional or full-time DJs in the pubs and clubs of Ayrshire. HBSA even purchased a small caravan to operate roadshows from. The money raised helped to repair and replace equipment and to improve the service. The caravan, however, met a fiery end at the hands of vandals sometime in the early 1990s.

Through the 1990s, HBSA continued to provide broadcasts to ACH, maternity and Crosshouse. Although the service and studios improved, HBSA still had to rely on an old-fashioned telephone line to reach Crosshouse, where the most potential listeners were, and the results were never satisfactory. This would be a problem which would never be solved. In 1994, HBSA applied for a grant from the ITV Telethon Trust, which was successful. This grant allowed an upgrade in equipment again and another improvement in the service. HBSA gained a lot of attention and good press and this led to HBSA being awarded the Scottish Regional Award in the British Telecom (BT) Hospital Radio Awards Scheme. During the 1990s, roadshows continued, and in spite of the loss of the HBSA caravan, these shows provided a good income for HBSA. During the 1990s, HBSA did not foster good relations with Crosshouse Hospital and this would come back to haunt them.

The 2000s turned out to be a pivotal time for HBSA: Several different factors came into play which would challenge the service to change or face closure. During the 2000s, the radio landscape changed with Ofcom licensing more and more community stations, and because of this, there became an increasing scarcity in volunteers, and technology would work for and against HBSA.

In the early 2000s, HBSA’s studios had developed from tape, vinyl and cartridge and now operated out of one studio which had record players, CD players and minidisc players. HBSA now also had a very rudimentary “off-air system” which meant that there was output 24/7 and no longer a need for other stations to fill in. During this period, HBSA enquired about moving location to Crosshouse, which was refused each time. In 2005, Crosshouse hospital announced that they would install Patientline, a new digital bedside console which would carry TV, internet and radio to every patient. Radio would be free for patients, so, this seemed like a great opportunity for HBSA. During 2005-6, the system was installed, and immediately this created a huge problem for HBSA: The telephone line used to send the broadcasts to Crosshouse was nowhere near good enough for the job and HBSA was off-air. HBSA installed a computer in a plant room above Ward 5 and loaded it with music and jingles, and for a period of time, this was HBSA’s only presence in Crosshouse Hospital. To try and cure HBSA’s technical issues, the station applied for and got a grant from the AAHB Staff Lottery Fund for £12,000. HBSA went digital: New mixers, CD players, MiniDisc players and a whole new station ID provided by the Jingleman organisation. HBSA now started broadcasting to Crosshouse using ISDN technology. John Grant, the station manager, devised a method of sending a digital stereo signal via a phone line to Crosshouse and HBSA was back on-air. But success was short-lived. HBSA was very short on volunteers, its building was crumbling, there was no money in HBSA’s account, and in addition to this, there were always problems with the line to Crosshouse breaking down. At this point, HBSA’s committee considered the possibility of closing the station down

In early 2009, redevelopment of the ACH campus had started: Buildings were being demolished and repurposed in massive shake-up of the whole site. HBSA was contacted about the Gatehouse Building, where they had been since 1979 – the building was to be remodelled and repurposed as a clinic and HBSA would have to go. Mark Fisher and John Grant managed to convince a very willing AAHB that a relocated HBSA Radio could make a valuable contribution to Crosshouse Hospital if they were relocated to that facility. In August 2009, Brick & Steel contractors completed work on two brand new purpose-built studios at Crosshouse which would become the new home of HBSA, and on the 17th October 2009, Mark and John cleared the last of HBSA’s equipment into Mark’s SUV and moved to Crosshouse. After 30 years in Irvine, HBSA would restart as a new radio station in Kilmarnock.