History of Radio Reading Services

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In the late 1960s, two men in Minnesota had the idea that the “Talking Books” concept could be expanded to include reading printed materials over the radio using the same FM radio subcarrier (SCA) technology that Muzak used to transmit background music to banks, restaurants and elevators. The pair were friends who, as amateur enthusiasts, knew something about the technical challenges and, since one of them was visually impaired, they had the motivation to make the idea become a reality. Together, they signed on the world’s first Radio Reading Service in 1969 using FM subcarriers on Minnesota public radio stations. There are now more the 150 reading services in America and many more throughout the world.

The first radio reading service in Ohio was the Central Ohio Radio Reading Service in Columbus (now called VOICEcorps Reading Service) which began broadcasting in 1975. One by one, reading services expanded across Ohio. Cleveland, Youngstown and Akron went on the air in 1976. Cincinnati signed on in 1978, Dayton in 1985, Toledo in 1989, and, most recently, Portsmouth, which began service in 1990. In 1994, an expansion service started in Athens and the Greenville transmitter near Dayton began broadcasting. Today, employing 17 transmitters, Ohio Radio Reading Services can be heard nearly every place in Ohio.

Most Ohio reading services continue to operate using FM radio subcarriers but with the introduction of television stereo a few years ago, four of the services operate on TV SAP channels (secondary audio programs). Several services have separate cable radio channels and others stream their programs across the Internet and World Wide Web. Some of Ohio’s reading services are associated with universities, some with public broadcasting stations, some with agencies serving the visually impaired and others that are stand-alone not-for-profit organizations. Financial support comes from listener contributions, United Way, state and municipal funding, endowments, grants, corporate gifts, community service organizations and fund-raising events. All Ohio radio reading services provide their signals and loan radios, when required, at no charge to their listeners.

“eTech Ohio” coordinates state funding to reading services. First appropriated by the legislature in 1984, state funds help pay a portion of local reading service expenses. For some time, eTech Ohio has provided an audio network interconnecting all nine Ohio reading services which allows them to share and exchange programming. Beginning as a microwave radio system, it was upgraded in 1998 to a state-of-the-art fiber-based digital system. In 1999, the Ohio Telephone Reader went online. OTR allows visually impaired persons from across Ohio to hear readings of their local newspapers and other printed materials using a touch-tone phone.

The Ohio Radio Reading Service is made up of all nine reading services in Ohio who join together in common interest to help them better serve their audiences. On a wider scale, several Ohio reading services are members of IAAIS, the International Association of Audio Information Services, whose mission is to support and encourage the establishment of reading services worldwide and to assist them in doing their work. With a membership now in the hundreds of services, IAAIS works on standards of good practice for reading services and in the macro issues of government regulation and technology which local services cannot easily accomplish alone.

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