No job, plenty of time, and fortunate enough to not have to work if I don’t want to. Might sound perfect but it left me one rainy Thursday afternoon looking blankly at a computer screen. Am I too young to retire, what does retirement actually mean? The game plan had always been, leave Local Government aged 55, tick, fill a day with charity work, tick, spend three days doing something useful, big cross! Even after my struggles to deal with the management structure at the Alzheimer’s Society there were definitely days when I wondered if I’d done the right thing. Was I a coward? Had I let my friends down, was I heading for a life in front of the TV watching Bargain Hunt? So what are my interests I thought. Well radio has always been there since I walked through the gates of Friern Hospital (all revealed in Part 1) and over the past two years I’d been welcomed into what I called ‘Dementia World’.
Now I have no idea how many internet searches I do a day, I’m a great one for putting every question I can think of into Google and seeing what comes out. It even became a feature of my Activity Groups, they were known as ‘Google Moments’. How many stations on the London Underground? Ask Pete he’ll ask Google they used to say. Its 270 by the way and one afternoon in one of our groups 14 people living with dementia named over 150 of them before I got anywhere near Google! So into my font of all knowledge I put ‘Radio + Dementia”. Out came a few adverts for Dementia friendly radio sets and a few people had put together some old songs under a heading of reminiscence but the more I searched the realisation began to dawn nobody was regularly talking about Dementia on the radio.
So there was definitely a gap in the market but filling it was something that would take a bit of thinking about. Back in the day trying to get an existing station interested would have been virtually impossible, but the introduction of internet radio had changed all that. But then again who listens to internet radio? Well actually most of us do, every morning I ask Alexa to “play Radio Five Live’ I then go downstairs and hit the pre select buttons on the soundbox that connects straight to whatever station you want. Using DAB the rest of the time, even in the car, I actually realised I hardly ever listen to conventional ‘airwave’ radio anymore.
The next job then was to find an internet station willing to take on an hour of talk about a subject that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. As well as the fact I had nobody to talk to and no format. Enter once again Google which led me to No Barriers Radio in Welwyn Garden City, the station against discrimination. An initial e-mail and phone conversation found a station set up by a team with learning diffculties who had done an amazing job in getting themselves a small cupboard sized studio in a prized office development. When I put my idea to them they invited me in with open arms and suddenly I was back on the radio.
So I had an hour a week no title, no format and no guests. The title came first I’d heard cancer called the ‘C’ word because it held a dread factor so why not The ‘D’ Word as Dementia holds a similar feeling for many people. Next came RadioTDW as a logical title for social media or so I thought, until using my friend Google again I found a Mexican radio station had beaten me to that one. Undetered I started putting a format together conscious of the fact most people have a short attention span and living with Dementia can make that even shorter I needed something to break up my chats. No problem there a lifelong love of all types of music and a pretty big collection gave me plenty of tracks to break up the chat. But who do I chat to? For that I’ll always be thankfull to my local Care UK home Snowdrop House in Ware. They set me up with one of their Dementia experts, a Macbook and a retro microphone purchased from Amazon did the rest.
I’ll be forever grateful to the team at No Barriers for opening the studio door to me but it only took a few weeks for me to realise I needed to look for a bigger audience. When I was working in Public Health I used to present a 10 minute podcast called “I’m a Public Health Professional Get Me Out of Here!” It was what people call a sideways look at the subject featuring plenty of old jokes, my grandads sayings and a Furby called Stanley. (You can’t get much more sideways than that!) Somehow it got picked up by UK Health Radio and was broadcast over a couple of years. In for a penny in for a pound I managed to record an interview with Dementia Adventure, who are a great organisation who arrange holidays for people living with dementia and their carers. A quick mix job with Apples excellent Garageband and it was on its way to UK Health Radio.
Now many years ago I can remember sending demo tapes out in the post to numerous radio stations and then standing there snatching the post from my side of the letterbox as the Postman was poking it through from his. I can also remember being very disappointed when the majority of my targets failed to reply. So this time I was shocked when I got an e-mail back within a day from Johann the CEO at UK Health Radio asking me to call him for a chat. I’d already worked out my approach the station covers every health condition you can imagine, and some you can’t, but they don’t do anything on Dementia. One of my main aims was getting people to accept that Dementia is just another health condition and they could talk about it like they talk about cancer or diabetes.
I must admit I was a bit aprehensive phoning Johann, he’s a very approachable guy but I was still expecting the worst, especially when he started our conversation with the words; “I’ve listened to your demo and I think its very good.” Experience told me that the next word in that type of conversation is usually “but”. This time though it wasn’t as Johann went on ; “I’d like you to do an hour a week for us is that OK?” I’m not sure what he must have thought of my reply which was a sort of mumbled “er well er yes I think so?”
Suddenly a rainy Thursday afternoon internet search had turned into a weekly radio show and that was just the start………..