The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 3:14 am

Radio reading service enters new era

Georgean C. Johnson-Coffey

Thirty-six years ago, a group of people committed to bringing print – in an audio way – to those who could not read independently created the Northeast Indiana Radio Reading Service (NEIRRS).

It was a unique idea, and quite an endeavor in 1979, to empower our visually impaired community with information and news by broadcasting the reading of The Journal Gazette and other local newspapers via radio. In its logo, a microphone was chosen to symbolize the spoken word being broadcast to listeners, free of charge.

Some of the early board members were connected to the Allen County Public Library, which housed NEIRRS studios in its Little Turtle Branch on Sherman Boulevard. Volunteers used the power of the microphone as they read the newspapers, local publications and other magazines to listeners.

The service was and continues to be primarily designed for people who have any visual or reading impairment, including those who are unable to read conventional printed material because of blindness, low vision, a literacy issue or a physical impairment, such as stroke, MS, Parkinson’s or arthritis, that makes it difficult to hold a book or turn pages.

Although the service grew, it also struggled financially over the years. Knowing the Allen County Public Library was firmly committed to its purpose, the board reached out to the library in hopes the reading service could become a part of ACPL.

Indeed, in 2004, NEIRRS became a department of the Allen County Public Library and moved to studios at the library’s DiSalle Boulevard location, where the power of the microphone continues to broadcast to our reading-impaired community, free of charge. With the library’s resources, all 36 years of NEIRRS history is being preserved through the ACPL’s local history digitization initiatives.

At the beginning, a radio was the sole source for listeners to hear volunteers read local newspapers and other publications. The radio – a special point-to-point Subsidiary Communications Authority, or SCA, receiver – needs a signal from which to broadcast. That need was met and continues to be met by WBCL-90.3 FM, which is paid a monthly fee for the service in order to be a 67 kHz subcarrier of the station, broadcasting within a 50-mile radius of Fort Wayne.

The radio is most often used by listeners, with over 600 on record in use. As technology advances, though, so does the power of the microphone. And as technology advances, so do the choices for our reading-impaired community to hear the broadcast of local newspapers and publications read by volunteers.

Today, that microphone brings print, free of charge – in an audio way – to listeners by Web streaming, podcasts and apps download to mobile devices. It can also be heard in system-wide broadcasts at The Towne House, Parkview, Lutheran and other health care and retirement facilities.

Through a recent partnership with our local public broadcast station, the broadcast can now be heard on television through PBS 39.4 on its Secondary Audio Programming French channel, broadening the radius of the listening area.

So it is fitting that the Allen County Public Library has announced a new name for the NEIRRS: Audio Reading Service.

The new name also has a new logo. It is symbolic of the power of the microphone recognized by that committed group of people 36 years ago. That microphone is still equally powerful today as volunteers read local newspapers and other publications bringing information, bringing empowerment, bringing choices, bringing print – in an audio way – to our reading-impaired community.

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