it was 40 years ago today ...
Radio Forest (originally known as 'Forest Radio') was established in November 1976 (so that's a little over 40 years for those of you paying attention). It was the brainchild of local estate agent Heather Thirtle and provided music and entertainment to the patients and staff of the Forest Hospital in Buckhurst Hill, Essex.
A small team of eight people including co founder Nick Churchill, Noel Carter, Christopher Potter and Kenneth Warriner, built studios and equipment and got the station on air. In 1978 Stuart McDonald became the first elected Chairman and registered Radio Forest as a charity "to relieve sickness through entertainment".
By 1980 the organisation had grown with 30 people providing a radio service six nights a week. The studios expanded and moved to St. Margaret’s Hospital, Epping in 1980 but continued to broadcast to the Forest Hospital via a landline until it eventually closed. By the mid 1980s over 40 volunteers were broadcasting, ward visiting and raising funds seven days a week.
Radio Forest continued to expand and in 1990 opened its third on air studio. Further new equipment enabled the station to provide recorded music and information overnight making us one of the first of our kind to provide a 24 hour service. In 1996 Radio Forest was granted a license by the Radio Authority (later Ofcom), to broadcast on FM for 28 days to the Epping Forest area over the Christmas period. The public response was incredible, enabling the station to compete commercially with other local stations and raise much needed funds.
A move within St. Margaret's Hospital in 1999 meant the building of a new studio and the embracing of modern digital technology. Radio Forest was once again a pioneer by developing its own digital sustaining service, with the ability to provide a true 24-hour service including local and national news.
In November 2002 Radio Forest launched its second radio service 'Classic Hits Forest Gold'. Broadcasting a non stop mix of hits form the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. 'Classic Hits Forest Gold' proved to be a popular addition to the St. Margaret's Hospital airwaves. In 2003 'Classic Hits Forest Gold' launched at Ongar War memorial Community Hospital, in Essex, via a radio link and in 2005 Radio Forest was also able to provide 'Classic Hits Forest Gold' to Plane, Poplar and Orchard wards at St. Margaret's Hospital.
In 2007 a brand new hospital on the St. Margaret's site was completed and so was a new on-air studio with the original studio dating from 1999 getting a much needed re-fit. This allowed for more live programmes on both radio services.
In 2008 Radio Forest Community Broadcasting expanded its service to the Derwent Centre in Harlow and 'Radio Forest FM' was renamed 'Forest One'. Ongar War Memorial Hospital closed in October 2008 but "Classic Hits Forest Gold" was extended to Saffron Walden Community Hospital instead just as the hospital completed a 2 million pound refurbishment. In 2010 Brentwood Community Hospital became the latest hospital to have "Classic Hits Forest Gold" installed in all its public areas and wards. This project was part funded by the Brentwood Community Hospital League of Friends.
In 2012 "Classic Hits Forest Gold" celebrated its 10th birthday and launched as an online internet radio station while at the same time maintaining its core hospital radio ethos.
Currently Radio Forest provides 24 hour entertainment via two distinct services across 6 sites in Essex. Classic Hits Forest Gold continues to expland it's audience worldwide with regular listeners from the USA, Canada and Eurpope as well as here in the UK.
We are staffed entirely by volunteers, some of our founder members are still presenting programmes and helping to keep the service on air.