Tributes were last week paid to the longest-serving member of Kettering Hospital Radio.
Harry Johnson, 81, was the longest-serving volunteer DJ in Kettering Hospital Broadcasting Association’s 44-year history, making about 2,000 shows and spending more than 3,000 hours on the airwaves.
He had been a central figure throughout almost the entire history of the radio station, which broadcasts to patients at the Rothwell Road hospital throughout the week.
The birth of the station can be dated back to 1967, according to hospital radio chairman Wally Valentine.
In August of that year, two teenagers began broadcasting there – two years after they had found themselves in hot water for setting up a pirate radio station at the hospital.
Initially, it was far from glamorous. The studio was in “cockroach corner”, underneath a set of stairs in the old hospital block.
Hospital radio moved to a new home in the mid-1970s, but even that was described by the Evening Telegraph in 1980 as a “cramped room in the hospital basement”.
Equipment was limited to just a couple of home-made decks and a record collection.
The basement room was also used for paying out wages to hospital staff, with DJs forced to compete with the hustle and bustle of hospital life as they attempted to broadcast to patients.
However, the station as it is today soon became formalised, with a committee founded in 1978.
The group, which rebranded as the Kettering Hospital Broadcasting Association (KHBA), applied for charity status – which was awarded the following year – and a new studio was opened in March 1980.
And it was Harry Johnson’s voice which was the first to be heard on air from the plush new studio.
Among the others to take to the airwaves that day was Kettering mayor Walter Bennion, who officially opened the new studio and broadcast a live message of congratulations.
After the opening, then-chairman of KHBA Dave Harris told the Evening Telegraph: “This studio has been a dream of ours for many years and we are deeply indebted to everyone who has helped to make it come true.”
The new £2,500 studio was financed by the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Fund, donations from local businesses and fundraising events held by KHBA members, who also volunteered to carry out the building work.
Its opening was a watershed moment for the station.
“It was all a bit informal [in the early days],” Mr Valentine said.
“When Harry joined there was a small group doing a bit but they got themselves organised and it became KHBA.”
Today, there are dozens of volunteers of all ages who take turns broadcasting to patients at the hospital.
Mr Valentine added: “There are about 35 to 40 members.
“We broadcast from 6pm to 10pm Monday to Friday and a bit longer at the weekend – the best part of 40 hours a week live.
“The oldest member is in his 70s – Fred Radford – then we have got a few youngsters in their teens.”
Mr Radford himself has notched up more than 30 years of service.
Mr Valentine added: “From the patients’ point of view, it’s more personal than normal radio stations, and they can help choose the music by requesting their favourite songs.
“From the volunteers’ perspective, it’s the pleasure of cheering people up and taking their mind off their worries for a few minutes.”
And Mr Valentine said at Harry Johnson’s funeral that it had been his love of entertaining people which had stood out throughout his years behind the microphone.
Harry died on Sunday, March 2, following a period of ill health.
His funeral took place at Kettering Crematorium on Tuesday, April 1, led by hospital chaplain the Rev Roger Brown.
He volunteered for a total of about 3,300 hours at the station in his 39-year stint at the station.
Harry was adopted and moved to Kettering as a young man, living in Devon Drive for the last 20 years.
His partner, Audrey James, died in June 2011, and he was close friends with his neighbours who helped to look after him in later years.
A butcher at Parker and Calton in Sheep Street, Kettering, for 20 years, Harry also worked at Stewarts & Lloyds Steelworks in Corby, at Weetabix in Burton Latimer, and at Rigid Containers in Desborough, before he became a taxi driver in the 1980s.
He continued to drive for various taxi companies up until three years ago.
Mr Valentine said: “Harry had a love and passion for entertaining people via the medium of radio and what stood out about him was his sense of humour, his enthusiasm, and his loyalty and commitment.
“He was a popular, valued, and valuable, member of our group, a stalwart, a mainstay, and – to use the modern vernacular – a legend.”
Kettering General Hospital’s director of corporate services, Susan Fitzgerald, has also paid tribute to the station stalwart.
She said: “Harry was our longest-serving hospital radio DJ and was very, very, popular.
“He put a tremendous amount of his own time into making other people feel more cheerful at a difficult time in their lives.
“He will be sadly missed.”
Harry did his first shift on hospital radio on October 10, 1975, after a friend invited him to have a go at presenting a programme.
In 2010 Harry received a certificate of achievement for 35 years at the radio station from then-chief executive of the hospital, Derek Bray.