Hospital Radio Maidstone acquired an old Sprite caravan in the 1970s to assist with their outside fund raising activities and events.
The captain of that ship was and still is Vin Judd, HRM’s Fund Raising Co-ordinator, who converted the old mobile traffic jam into a state of the art studio, over the years several times, in fact.
As you may be aware broadcasting equipment evolves, and since those days the record players and racks for 45s and albums have been replaced with CD players, the cassette deck has made way for tiny minidisk machines, and miles of wires have been replaced with radio mics.
By popular demand the chemical loo was removed, and while retaining a seating area at the pointy end (the boxes underneath were very useful for storing rolls of cable and gaffer tape) the bit at the back where the 1960s family would sit at the table and eat their Vesta curry and play Ker-plunk was replaced with a huge mixing desk.
Apart from sign writing the basic caravan stayed the same, but the fact that one of the wheels fell off when they where collecting it more than 30 years ago indicated that even then it was past it’s sell by date.
With regular running repairs and updates to the structure provided by Vin, and mechanical servicing carried out by our good friend Alan Barrett, the old girl rumbled bravely on for almost 35 years, and while it’s impolite to ask a lady’s age, carbon dating would have revealed her to be in her late 40s.
Over the last 10 years or so, as Vin carried out further running repairs, he could be heard muttering "we need a new caravan" to which everyone largely turned a deaf ear. Realisation that he was right came when we attended a fund raising event at Benenden Hospital in the summer of 2010. As we hitched the caravan up to our hired van, the rear lights lit up like a Christmas tree. After about an hour of crawling about under the trailer with insulating tape and pliers we managed to get them working correctly, it must have been a sign of things to come as before we got back to the studios at the hospital one of the tyres blew out on the Tonbridge Road.
With this wake up call we started looking for a replacement in earnest. Unfortunately modern caravans are made of balsa wood and polystyrene, and were completely unsuitable for loading up with amps and speakers, so we had a long hard peer into our piggy bank, and realised that we had just about enough pennies to get something more suitable.
We started looking at box trailers, but the amount of work needed to convert them into a place where we could run a public address, make a cup of tea and a bacon roll, store loads of essential kit and still sit down was huge.
Another option was exhibition trailers, the type where the side lifts up to form a canopy, but we were worried that it would be very draughty and cold when we did winter events, such as the Kent Life firework display in November.
Eventually after much research we decided that the trailer that most suited our needs was called a Towmaster Oregon, so we set off to a dealer’s premises near Portsmouth to have a look at one. It was absolutely perfect, but with all the fixtures and fittings we required it came at a price!
After much discussion and further research we discovered that there was a second hand one with the necessary extras (electric wiring, flooring, a kitchenette, lights and seats) available, but it was in Penrith, Cumbria, which meant a round trip of more than 600 miles just to look at it.
It was now late October, and we realised that the weather across the Pennines was about to get an awful lot worse, and we wanted to get the new trailer and have it ready for the summer of 2011, so after many negotiations with the seller, we agreed on a reasonable price, and after receiving dozens of high resolution pictures by email to establish such things as tyre condition, body damage etc, we hired a van, drove to Cumbria and if it was any worse than we’d been led to believe we’d walk away.
Paul Jordan and yours truly set off on the long drive to collect it, and after an overnight stay in Moreland, we did the deal. The trailer turned out to be in very good condition, so we hooked it up to the van and headed south. A week later, Penrith was covered in snow.
The logistics of getting the trailer - which had been sitting on a farm for a year and was covered in sign writing and mouldy green slime - back to the studios before the weather took a turn for the worse were not straightforward.
For a start, we still had the old caravan, which had to be decommissioned and repainted, and we then needed to find a home for it, as we didn’t really want to scrap it. We didn’t have anywhere to store the new trailer either, as our storage compound wasn’t tall or wide enough for it, so the new trailer spent its first few weeks with us stored on a farm near Offham, devoid of as many things, such as wheels, towing hitch etc. as we could remove to make it difficult to steal.
The next job was to raise the roof of our compound and widen the structure supporting it. With a few helpers and some decidedly hostile weather conditions Vin carried out the necessary works over a number of weekends.
Fortunately one of our members stepped forward and bought the old caravan from us for the princely sum of £1. Significantly our former fundraising base went into retirement on December 31st 2010, and on New Year’s Day 2011 our new trailer was delivered to our compound by Alan Barrett.
Then the real work began. In driving rain a hardy bunch of volunteers spent a freezing February day washing, scrubbing and polishing the new trailer, removing the old vinyl sign writing, and T-Cutting the plain white exterior.
Once this was done, Vin Judd and our studio engineer Andy Wood spent every available hour converting the interior into our new outside events studio.
Many hours were also spent behind the scenes designing the image of this new blank canvas. Between us we came up with a brand new logo, and a friend of Andy’s - Lon Smart – who is a graphic designer for a world famous corporation, (think "mouse with big ears") very kindly started creating the concept art for our ‘trailer wrap’ – covering the trailer with printed vinyl sheeting.
We had set ourselves a deadline of March 25th 2011 to get the trailer ready for display over the weekend of the annual conference of the Hospital Broadcasting Association (HBA) at the Ramada Great Danes in Maidstone.
In order to ensure that we took the time to get the trailer branding right, we decided to present the trailer in its ‘naked’ state – plain white, with some pictures of our members displayed on the outside, and our brand new logo revealed for the first time on the signboard.
The trailer was very well received, with many of our colleagues from other hospital radio stations commenting that our trailer was better than their studios which was a huge compliment as this new facility was purely the result of the hard work of our dedicated fund raising team. At that point we had received no outside help apart from our art designer and Alan Barrett who toward the trailer, it was all our own work.
We’re very pleased that with our first few events the new trailer has been very well received. At the conference HBA President June Snowden complemented us on our achievement, noting that it’s incredibly important to get hospital radio ‘out there’ and raise public awareness of what stations up and down the country are doing.
With the trailer almost finished, and art work ready to hit the press, we were looking at funding the “wrapping" of the trailer, an offer we’d had to do the work free of charge apart from materials had come to nothing, so once again we started to stare long and hard at our somewhat depleted funds.
At this point we received an extremely generous offer of sponsorship from David Knight, former Chairman of Maidstone River Festival, and Managing Director of Quazar International, an Aylesford based company specialising in producing reflective materials for road signs and work wear.
David kindly donated a four figure sum to enable us to get the trailer wrapped.
In February 2011 and thanks to a very good friend of Andy’s, who is an extreamly tallented Disney artist based in Orlando, we went through many ideas and after numerios emails between the members of the committee we arrived the the current look and design for the trailer. We collected the trailer from the sign writers in Edenbridge with the help of Alan Barrett once again – one rainy August evening.
The last job of having windows fitted to its folding doors has also been completed and for the time being - we are all set to take Hospital Radio Maidstone out and about to more and more events.
If you have a forthcoming event, such as a school fete, disco, party, barbecue, dog show, boot fair, motorcycle or vehicle show, we provide experienced presenters and a first rate P.A. system to liven up any event, so why not get in touch for a quote – details below.
Can you help? We are looking for sponsors to help us with the running of our service. In return we will display your company logo on our trailer, and produce a sponsor trail to be broadcast on every show on Hospital Radio Maidstone’s unique 2 channel network.
Contact us on 01622 224747 or email: info @ hrm.org.uk