Posted Friday 31 July 2020
When a Kingston School of Art music and performing arts expert watched a documentary about Covid-19 hospital patients, she was struck by how many people being treated in intensive care units lay face-down for long periods of time, not able to read or watch TV. With few, or no visitors, the experience reminded associate professor Dr Helen Julia Minors of how hospital radio can be an essential medium for isolated patients and the staff caring for them.
The programme left such a lasting impression on Dr Minors, who is head of the department of performing arts at the University, that she was inspired to pitch a new radio show, Helen's Classical Story Time, to hospital station Radio Wey, where she already volunteered presenting a weekly music show.
The station, which broadcasts to Ashford and St Peter's Hospital in Surrey, as well as several Surrey care homes, embraced the idea. Her new 30-minute show has aired every Monday evening at 7.30pm since lockdown started. Dr Minors tells the short stories of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, with classical music interludes, including pieces for violin and music from Sherlock Holmes films and TV shows.
The classical music expert said she chose the Holmes stories because he's a well-known character who spans generations, having been adapted thousands of times in stage, television, radio and film incarnations since his creation in the late 1800s. In addition to being a familiar and popular character, the stories, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are now in the public domain following the expiry of copyright. The language is also appropriate for all ages, allowing anyone who listens in to engage with his adventures, she said.
"It's so important to provide people in hospital with emotional engagement and mental stimulation, especially as Covid-19 patients are being treated in hospital for long periods of time", Dr Minors said. "My shows are a way for me to release my energy and creativity - I find it really enjoyable and doing my shows from home means I'm doing something useful during lockdown. I've known family and friends who have listened to audiobooks and stories when they were in hospital, so I know what hospital radio means for people."
The new show follows on from Dr Minors' other Radio Wey weekly music show, Helen's Classical Community, which aired for the first time earlier this year - just before lockdown was announced. The restrictions meant she found herself suddenly setting up a home broadcasting studio, instead of taking to the airwaves from the station's high-tech production booth.
Over the weeks of lockdown, Dr Minors became more accustomed to her home recording studio and adjusted her presenting style. "The more I do the shows from home, the less emotionally drastic it feels. My recordings are smoother and my pace has changed. Knowing people aren't getting visitors, I make a point of being more conversational. Presenting at home I'm also reminded of the scale of what we're facing during the pandemic - it feels more profound. I'm not walking around doing requests on wards anymore, which reminds me of the gravity of the situation."
Dr Minors carefully designs her music shows with her audience of patients and hospital staff listeners, in mind. She increased the amount of dialogue in her shows and adapted her programmes to include music which is familiar and meditative. Her Classical Community show covers everything from Ragtime to American experimental pieces and 19th century Russian compositions.
Armed with her experience as a presenter, co-host, guest shows, pitches, and programme development, Dr Minors has also shared her knowledge during guest sessions with broadcast modules with her third year Kingston University students. "Students on the course learned about the important role played by charity radio - how programmes can be designed as narratives, which encourage people to think, engage and learn, with radio music possessing the power to shift moods," she added.
Radio Wey carried off four National Hospital Radio Awards this year, including one for innovation which recognised the introduction of WiFi speakers into hospitals. This means patients and staff don't need their own mobile devices to listen in, a source of pride for Dr Minors.
The Kingston School of Art academic's expertise and contribution to entertaining patients during their treatment and recovery was hugely appreciated by the station, Radio Wey programme controller Andy Brown said. "Helen's knowledge of classical music is highly valued at Radio Wey. I admire the time and energy she puts in to prepare and research her shows, as well as producing them from home while our studios were closed due to the Covid19 lockdown. Her enthusiasm and passion shines through and gives pleasure to all who listen to her programmes."