Behind the microphone

When I was a teenager someone asked me what I wanted to do after leaving school and my reply was, be a sports journalist. At that time wheelchair or disabled sports got little or no media coverage.

As the time to leave school loomed large I wanted to go to Llandrillo Technical College to take some business studies exams. Sadly, attending Llandrillo at that time was impossible as it didn’t access to many parts of the building. Mr Rhapps, the headteacher had put pressure on me to go to Hereward College, Coventry. To me and my parents this seemed odd as we had a college a few miles down the road. My Dad wrote to all the MPs whose constituencies were covered by Ysgol Gogarth and all bar one joined the fight to get Llandrillo College made fully accessible to disabled and especially wheelchair using students. Ironically, the only one who didn’t was Sir Wyn Roberts, the MP for Conwy where Ysgol Gogarth is situated.

Finally, the work was completed and Lord Roberts as he was to become was asked to open the newly adapted college. Thankfully I passed all my exams apart from touch typing. I am convinced that people like me, with Spina Bifida, have slight dexterity problems. I have no evidence apart from life experience to back this claim. All I will say is that I am typing this blog post with one finger.

In the last year or two before leaving school I met a man who had a big influence on part of my life. It could have been even bigger, but more of that later.

His name was the late Rev Elwyn Jones. He was at the time the head of religious broadcast at Radio Cymru. He also created a radio programme on disability issues called Canllaw. Through his support I got to do a piece on the programme. Over a number of years it led to my contributing to his and other programmes on disability issues mainly.

After he retired he was replaced by the Rev John Roberts. Thanks to him I took part in his religious affairs show Bwrw Golwg, live on a Sunday morning on a number of occasions. On one morning his producer, Cerian Arianrhod, phoned and asked whether I would like to host Bwrw Golwg as a one off as John wasn’t available. We had some discussions on the matter and came up with the idea of an edition based around religion and disability. Cerian felt that there was no point in my doing a copy of John’s programe and my lifetime of experience of disability and faith would be interesting to his audience. I got the chance to interview several people with differing views on the subject and after the show went out the head of radio in Bangor, Marian Wyn Jones, called and was very complimentary. I know that a number of people would have gone back to the station and pushed to do more work. As I have mentioned previously, my lack of confidence and self belief got in the way.

After settling down in Wolverhampton and doing the occasional item on a lunchtime show for Radio Cymru called Taro Post hosted by Garry Owen, I was advised by Shan that if I was interested in radio broadcasting the hospital at New Cross had a radio station. I got in touch with Jo Lloyd who was in charge of recruitment. She said they would arrange for me to have an interview. I received an information pack through the post, returned the relevant forms, and on a Saturday lunch time I headed for New Cross Hospital.

I was met by Richard Stanton, the Chairman of the station as well as Jo and a man called Mick Byrne, the training officer. We discussed things. They pointed out that no wheelchair user had worked with them before and did I envisage any problems. We checked access in the studio and found no problem. They told me that they were surprised when one of my references came from the BBC Radio Cymru office. For a while they thought I was a professional.

After a pleasant discussion it was decided that I would join the team for training as soon as my CRB and my hospital pass and parking permit had been processed.

What had amazed me was that the volunteers who interviewed me that afternoon had years of experience at the station behind them. If they kept volunteers that long they were doing things right.

When Mick and I met to start my training on a Thursday night he asked, ‘Will you please tell me if you need help’. This was a very enlightened attitude. On many occasions people will give those of us with a disability assistance whether we ask for it or not. Something that can be very annoying.

From day one we have got on. Training began with visiting a selected ward. Like many hospitals New Cross is full of long corridors. It takes time to realize where you need to go. We would let the staff know we were on the ward and go and chat to each of the patients in turn. We asked them if they knew that they had access to a hospital radio station and if so did they want a request played on that evenings show. As a volunteer you also had to know how to access and demonstrate the equipment. Thankfully it’s easy to do. This part of the work would teach me the technical side of the job as well as the personal. As someone who has been a patient in a number of Hospitals I could empathize with them. What you battle with on most days as a patient on any ward is not illness or treatment but boredom. Not being with loved ones and restrictions placed on what you can do is hard.

Then it was a matter of returning to the studio and attempt to find the music requested on our computer system which had thousands of tracks or in our library of CD’s and vinyl.

Half way through the 3 month training it was time to get behind the microphone. I have to admit, this was the part of the job I was looking forward to most. Thanks to my experience at Radio Cymru I quickly started to get into the swing of things. I had been given great advice by a friend who was a radio and tv journalist called Sian Parri Huws. Sadly she died of cancer a few years ago and is still missed at Radio Cymru and Radio Wales. Sian told me that as a trainee she was told, think you are talking to one person. Forget everyone else. It seems to work.

When training comes to an end what normally happens is that Mick Byrne and Richard Stanton find a slot in the schedule and you join the person in that slot.

Mick asked if I wanted to stay with him on a Thursday night. We have now been a double act for nearly a decade on the Thursday Night Club. My late Wife Shan and Mick’s partner Annie referred to us as the two teenagers. We have the same dry sense of humour which helps.

After working with Mick for some time a new recruit joined for training called Dave Waldron. After his three months we got on well together. Before long we were asked if we would like to do a show together on a Saturday lunchtime. We agreed, and it became two visits a week to Radio Wulfrun. Thankfully, Shan was very supportive. She realized that it was something I enjoyed. My only regret was that for most of our time together she had not had the social outlets I had in my life.

Those of us who work on Radio Wulfrun will only meet the people you share a show with. Or, if you are on the management committee you will meet them too.

During the time I have been a volunteer we have done several outside broadcasts. These are used to raise money for the station. Very early in my time at Radio Wulfrun a group of us were hosting an outside broadcasts at Tesco in Wolverhampton. Shan had come with me to the event and we were collecting funds outside the store. Along came Mick and after being introduced to Shan and with a totally straight face said, ‘I can’t stand your husband!!’ His humour will get him in trouble one day.

When Dave Waldron left the station I was joined on a Saturday by Jo Lloyd. She has been with the station for many years. The two of us worked out a strategy in order to put together the Saturday Show. She would present the first hour whilst I went around two wards collecting requests and sorting out the music. I would then present the second hour which included the music chosen by the patients. Thanks to Jo, I have got a new found love of the songs from the ‘American Song book’. I just wish I could sing them. When we had the station annual meal one year Jo introduced herself to Shan as my ‘Other Woman’, something Shan found highly amusing. She even told family and friends that I had another woman. This led to some very puzzled looks.

In 2012, my friend Sian Parri Huws contacted me after I asked if Radio Cymru would like to do something about the 50th birthday of Ysgol Gogarth. To my surprise she said that they would and she would like to put the programme together with me. We had become friends through a mutual friend from my school days, Hywel Wyn Williams from Barmouth. Hywel and Sian had been in the same crew on a tall ship run by a charity called the Jubilee Sailing Trust. Sian suggested that we interview a list of people connected to Ysgol Gogarth I had put together. We spent an enjoyable day going around North Wales putting the interviews together. Then we did a chat on the prom in Llandudno. I then told Sian about Radio Wulfrun and she said it would be fun to add it to the programme. She travelled down to our home in Bilston and the two Sian/Shan got to meet. I then took her across to the studio. When Sian learnt what we do she said that even with all her experience she couldn’t do a programme like ours unscripted.

As my health improves I am looking forward to getting back around the wards at New Cross and back behind the microphone. The place I really do feel at home. Shame it took me so long to realize it. I could have been famous like another former hospital radio broadcaster, Sir Terry Wogan.