Our History

West Kent Rado is your local station for Tonbridge, Southborough, Tunbridge Wells plus surrounding towns and villages.

West Kent Radio has a long and rich history that can be traced back to the early sixties. 

Mark Burgess at an Outside BroadcastHospital Radio Tunbridge Wells started in 1961 when a team of ladies at the Kent and Sussex Hospital entertained patients with a request show called Strictly Off The Record.

In around 1963 or 1964 a young chap called David set up and ran a programme that was taped at home on Thursday nights, then fed through the hospital radio system from the chapel on Saturday mornings for about an hour. It was a magazine-type programme made using a small portable tape recorder. The programmes contained interviews with local and national celebrities, plus short pieces from local shops and places of interest.

Peter Lee in the Kent & Sussex Hospital in the early 1970sIn 1969, three miles down the road, a new hospital radio service was founded using a portable unit and an ancient rack of valve equipment. Originally called Radio Samantha, the station became Radio Pembury. The home was a cellar under the hospital which became affectionately known as "The Dungeon".

The Leagues of Friends of the two hospitals came together to link the stations creating the now-familiar Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells. By the mid seventies, six hospitals were linked to the network, based in the Kent and Sussex Hospital. Four of these, the Kent and Sussex, the Maternity Home, Hawkenbury, and Homeopathic Hospitals no longer receive the service or have closed.

In 1973 Cliff Richard gave his support by paying for a landline to be installed in the Assembly Hall to allow concerts to be broadcast. He performed the first live concert broadcast by the station.

The team take part in Carnival WeekHospital Radio Tunbridge Wells was soon the move. In 1980, the station moved from its home in the Kent and Sussex Hospital, due to hospital expansion, into a Portakabin studio within the grounds of Pembury Hospital from where the service continued until 1996.

The station briefly experimented with television by broadcasting live pictures and sound from the Tunbridge Wells carnival in 1986 and 1987. Audiotapes of this pioneering experiment still survive in our archives today.

The service was extended to Sevenoaks in 1988, but this was discontinued in 1991, as the Sevenoaks League of Friends decided they could no longer afford the landline as the hospital was going through a period of changes, which required their funds.

Agreement being signed for the new studiosIn 1990 the team launched a project to raise funds to build and equip purpose-built studios at the Kent and Sussex Hospital, following announcements that the Portakabin at Pembury would be removed as part of a redevelopment plan for the hospital site. After six years of fundraising £55,000 enabled the team to move into new studios at the Kent and Sussex Hospital. The studios were named in memory of former member Ashley Hale, and opened by his parents.

In 2003 a grant was obtained from the National Lottery's Awards For All scheme. This allowed the studios to be equipped with a sophisticated computer system, giving the station the ability to provide the service twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

In early 2006 the station had to say a sad goodbye to Pembury Hospital after over 30 years of service. Due to the restructuring of services by the Trust and difficulties with old and worn-out equipment, the station was unable to continue from the studio. The old Pembury hospital site was to be redeveloped into the new £230 million Tunbridge Wells Hospital at Pembury.

With the planned closure of the Kent and Sussex Hospital looming, the future looked uncertain. In 2010  despite many years of careful negotiations and planning, the station was not offered space in the new hospital. By 2011 it seemed that Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells was out of options and time.

Team members in the final Hospital Radio studioThe team was determined to continue, especially as 2011 was the  50th anniversary year. Following some negotiations, a lease was signed for commercial premises in the centre of the town.

Taking advantage of these experiences, the team formed West Kent Community Radio, the charitable organisation responsible for launching a brand new radio station for Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, and surrounding areas

Today, the team provides an FM and online community radio station on a not-for-profit basis to the local area. Programmes are no longer available in local hospitals, except when patients use their mobile phones to receive the station.

On Air Now Chris Makey 2:00pm - 4:00pm
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