The visually impaired of the Jamestown area now have access to radio broadcasts that feature readings of local and national news.
The recent implementation of an additional signal allows the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service to bring its radio reading service to the blind, visually impaired and print-handicapped residents of Jamestown. Through the service, volunteers broadcast daily readings of newspapers, books and magazines via specially tuned radio reading receivers, or reading radios, which cannot be heard on normal radios. The radios are provided free-of-charge to qualifying applicants.
According to Robert Sikorski, president of the NFRRS, although the radio reading service has been available to Western New York residents since 1987, the radio signal was specifically unable to reach southern Chautauqua County until now.
Shown is one of the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service’s reading radios, which is a specially tuned receiver that picks up a signal which cannot be heard on normal radios. Through the service, volunteers broadcast daily readings of newspapers, books and magazines that blind, visually impaired and print-handicapped residents can listen to for free.
"Because Buffalo is east of Jamestown, the signals of the Buffalo radio stations traditionally were not going west," said Sikorski. "With that in mind, Olean can typically get Buffalo radio stations clearly, but Jamestown has always had a difficulty. But, given the fact that I was a past Jamestown resident, I felt that it was really important for us to be able to serve Jamestown and the Southern Chautauqua County listeners. And, we're just so proud that we're finally able to reach Jamestown now."
Although NFRRS' signal is new to Jamestown, the nonprofit organization wasn't the first to offer the service. According to Sikorski, New York state's first radio reading service to the blind was provided by the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System in Jamestown. The service was discontinued in the 1990s, and the NFRRS made an attempt to reach Jamestown, but was unable to do so until recently when a new signal was established via the member-supported public broadcasting organization, WNED.
"The Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System was the first in New York state, and an inspiration to us and the other radio reading services throughout the state," said Sikorski. "But, when they went out of business we tried to get the signal into Jamestown, and because we were on a Buffalo radio station it couldn't adequately get into Jamestown. Then the folks at WNED radio allowed us to not only broadcast on their main subcarrier out of Buffalo, but also on their subcarrier, or their translator service, out of Jamestown. So, we have had special radios made that are different than the ones we give out to people of the Buffalo area."
One of the best things Sikorski has ever heard regarding radio reading services as a means to delivering news was an experiment by Walter Cronkite, who had the entire text of a CBS half-hour show reprinted as if it were on the front page of the New York Times, and it took up less than three columns.
"If visually impaired or blind people can hear the radio or listen to TV, don't they get the news?" asked Sikorski. "Sure, they do, but they don't get it in depth the way we can provide by reading Time magazine, a Jamestown article about local activities or a best-selling book. We're giving detail, and people love the fact that we give them the same kind of depth as someone who can pick up a newspaper."
The NFRRS features local, regional and national news publications, more than 80 different magazines as well as best selling-books. Articles that appear in The Post-Journal will be read on the radio on Saturday afternoons. The OBSERVER, of Dunkirk, is also read on the station. Subscribers receive a large print copy of the station's schedule every other month, and it is also announced on the air by the hour.
For a full listing of programming, visit www.nfradioreading.com.
The service NFRRS provides, and the radios, are free to those who are blind, visually-impaired or are print-handicapped. A voluntary subscriber fee of $50 a year is accepted by the NFRRS, but not required.
"We've never required anybody to pay for our service," said Sikorski. "We do have a voluntary subscriber fee, but we stress that it is totally voluntary. If people wish to chip in, they can at the $50 level, or whatever they wish to give."
The radios cost the NFRRS about $125 each, but that cost is not passed on to the listener. Much of the funding for the organization comes from Lions Clubs, including the Jamestown branch, as well as foundations, fundraisers and special events. The organization employs one full-time employee, two part-time employees and more than 300 volunteers, who together produce more than 9,000 hours of programming each year.
The volunteers play a major role in keeping the radio on the air. Radio readers broadcast readings 24 hours a day, every day, from their studios at 1199 Harlem Road in Cheektowaga. Volunteer opportunities are available to those willing to participate as a reader.
"When we first started the service we thought we'd have to weed out a lot of people, but the weeding process goes pretty quickly," said Sikorski. "People who want to become broadcast stars tend to leave us pretty quickly, while the people who enjoy reading love to stick around. In fact, this year we're honoring a number of people who have been with us for between 15 and 25 years."
Sikorski believes that one of the reasons people enjoy volunteering is because there is no minimum amount of time required to participate, so they give what they can, and it is appreciated, he said. But, another reason, one that has more impact, he said, is appreciation shown by listeners. A typical radio station listener tunes into a typical radio station for about 20 minutes a day, whereas a reading radio listener typically listens for about five hours a day.
"They depend on the service," said Sikorski. "And, our listeners will wait for our readers to come out of the studio to call them just to say thank you. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen readers break down in tears after a phone conversation like that - because it just means the world to people."
For more information, call 821-5555 or visit nfradioreading.com.