Red dot djs ride waves of nostalgia

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THEIR stories are endless. Meet Malcolm Kirby and Bill Fowlie and within seconds they'll tell you tales about The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Sir David Frost . . .

&#149 Bill Fowlie in the vinyl collection

How in April 1964, George Harrison wittily wrote in their radio station's guestbook that his address was "The House of Commons", while Paul McCartney gave his as "Cliff Richard's House" - a reference to the star who had also popped into their Edinburgh studio just weeks earlier. John Lennon, meanwhile, was "not telling", while Ringo Starr gave his abode, rather oddly, as "Jew".

Cliff himself had popped in when he visited one of his biggest fans, a terminally ill patient called Margaret who was at the Royal Infirmary.

"Someone had got in touch with his people to say she was in hospital, so he came to visit," says Malcolm. "And we interviewed him and he signed our guest book, too."

Then there's the story about Sir David Frost and how he once left a 10 note to thank the team for a cup of coffee they'd made him. And then, of course, there is the one about legendary Top 40 DJ Mark Goodier, who was "sacked" . . .

Hidden away in their current studio in the grounds of the Royal Victoria Hospital, Malcolm and Bill are preparing for an evening broadcast, one of many hundreds they have been involved with over the years.

They're not quite the Capital's answer to Smashy and Nicey, but they are certainly the two longest serving volunteers at Red Dot Radio, the city's biggest hospital broadcasting service. And they are looking forward to next year when the station - which covers the Royal Victoria, the Western General and the Royal Infirmary - celebrates 50 years on air.

"I suppose the thing that has kept me involved over all these years is that I believe in it," says 68-year-old Bill, from Newington, who, like Malcolm, has been a volunteer for more than 40 years.

"Even if just one patient is cheered up by listening, then it is worthwhile."

But while the station's past is packed with exciting tales, including those of the many celebrities who have been interviewed, its future is somewhat uncertain.

With the proposed relocation of the Royal Victoria to the Western General site next year, the Red Dot Radio team know they too will have to pack up their things and find a new home. But at this stage they don't know where, or when.

So they are trying to be organised, raising as much money as possible to equip new premises - a job they predict will have an estimated price tag of 50,000.

"We know the current Royal Victoria is closing so we will have to find a new studio," says station chairman Malcolm, 69, from Uphall. "We have no idea what type of building we will get, so we have to be prepared." Malcolm and Bill are also trying to get in touch with as many of the estimated 600 volunteers who have given their time to the station since it first broadcast in October 1962, hoping to arrange a reunion as well as a detailed archive.

"We reckon it will take a long time to get in touch with everyone," says Bill. "So we're getting started now."

As he flicks through the mountains of LPs stored at the station, the piles of neatly catalogued CDs and shelves of 7-inch singles, Bill quietly tells another story. Apparently, he was the one who, 30 years ago, told a teenage Mark Goodier his services as a volunteer were no longer required. "We were just concerned about his long-term commitment to the station," he says, somewhat embarrassed. "I was in charge of hiring and firing at the time, so I suppose I 'sacked' him."

Former George Heriot's pupil Goodier is probably the biggest name to have come out of Red Dot Radio, but well-known broadcasters Jimmy Mack and John Phillips - who both went on to BBC Scotland - and Richard Park of Fame Academy also cut their teeth at the station.

Broadcasting every night between 7pm and 10pm for 365 days of the year, Red Dot Radio owes its roots to a 1960s Post Office telephone landline system, which allowed live Hearts and Hibs matches to be broadcast to football-mad hospital patients.

A group of hi-fi enthusiasts went on to persuade the then Football Broadcast Committee to allow them to use the landlines during the evenings, when matches were not played, setting the stage for hospital patients across Edinburgh to hear their requests on headphones. The Edinburgh Hospital Broadcasting Service - as it was then known - was born.

From there, premises were eventually set up in Hanover Street in a building owned by the Clydesdale Bank, before a new studio was found in the grounds of the old Royal Infirmary, and then again at the current Royal Victoria site.

The studios may have changed over the years, volunteers have come and gone, but the station's constant has been its desire to serve the patients who tune in every night.

As they always have done, volunteers do rounds of the hospital wards every day to note down who wants what played and make sure every listener gets an on-air mention.

"Frank Sinatra is a long-standing favourite," says Malcolm. "Usually My Way, which is funny as it is actually about dying. We'd never play it if it wasn't requested."

"And Susan Boyle's I Dreamed A Dream is also very popular at the moment," adds Bill. "As is Help Me Make it Through The Night - on the maternity wards."

It is songs like these that bring a smile to the faces of hundreds of patients who write to Malcolm and Bill to thank them for making a difference to their stay in hospital, however long that may have been.

"Who knows what the future holds for us?" says Malcolm.

"I hope that we'll still be here in another 50 years, serving the hospital patients of Edinburgh."

'I was ambitious and highly impatient'

"I WAS chastened at the time," jokes Mark Goodier, speaking from his Smooth Radio studios in London. "I felt I wasn't wanted."

The former George Heriot's pupil - who has gone on to become one of the biggest names in the radio industry - is recalling the moment management at Edinburgh's Red Dot Radio hospital station "sacked" him as a teenage volunteer, having questioned his commitment to the service.

"My recollection is this, I was already a volunteer at the Mayfield hospital radio station in Edinburgh and I think that was seen as competition," he says. "I was trying to do both, so it was quite reasonable what they did, and it certainly wasn't an Alan Sugar moment.

"I was just highly ambitious and as a 15-year-old I was highly impatient." Growing up in the Grange area of the city, Goodier knew he wanted to be a radio presenter and was determined to get as much experience as he could.

"Back then, hospital radio was one of the very few ways of doing that," explains the popular DJ, whose parents still live in the Capital.

"Nowadays, there are lots of ways. I wanted to be a presenter and that was the only thing on my mind.

"Part of getting experience with hospital radio was to understand what was going on and to hear and see how it was done.

"Hospital radio fulfils a very local need and it's very important. The people doing it back then were very passionate and protective of if, quite rightly so.

"Ok, I felt very unwanted at the time, but these guys should take credit for 50 years of volunteering for the service of others."

&#149 If you want to support Red Dot Radio as it raises funds for new studios ahead of its 50th anniversary, contact 0131-537 5353 or email enquiry@ehbs.co.uk

The station is also looking for donations of unwanted CDs, DVDs and computer games, which it can sell to generate further funds.

You can also donate money online by visiting www.reddotradio.co.uk

&#149 Former volunteers are also asked to make contact with the station ahead of a 50th anniversary reunion next year.