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Reachout Radio

Reachout Radio BoothIn the winter of 2008-2009, I found myself with too much time on my hands and a desperate need to find some useful work. Among an assortment of odds and ends in a rack at my eye doctor’s office, in between flyers about cataracts and pamphlets explaining astigmatism, I found a card advertising Reachout Radio. It said that they needed volunteers. I’d found myself something to do — and I’m still doing it.

Reachout Radio is a newspaper reading service for the blind and visually impaired, as well as for anyone who has difficulty holding and physically handling printed material.  Here’s the link to the Reachout Radio page at WXXI, our local public radio station, which co-sponsors of the service along with ABVI-Goodwill. The studio space, equipment, and a sound technician are all provided by the radio station, while the readers are all volunteers. The readings are broadcast through a special radio using a closed-circuit frequency. The radios are loaned free of charge to people who need them. Some listeners use the service in short-term situations such as surgery, while others may listen to the service for many years.

We do live or taped half-hour broadcasts round the clock, of material which includes the local city daily newspaper, surrounding towns’ weekly and semi-weekly papers, specialty papers such as the local Catholic and Jewish press and the city alternative weekly, some national papers such as USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor, as well as the weekly grocery ads, local TV and movie listings, obituaries, and other items not readily available to people who can’t access printed materials.

I love this job, that’s all there is to it. I love the friendly people at the station, Jane at the front desk, Andy in the sound booth, the other volunteers who come and go at the hallway table where we prepare our materials. But at the base of it all is that I love newspapers. I can’t imagine not being able to read the newspaper every day. All the years at our store, we had a rack full of newspapers, the morning paper, the afternoon paper — (yes, in those days this city had two dailies!) — the USA, the free alternative papers stacked on the counter. Daddy and I read anything we could lay our hands on, usually out loud, freely interrupted and interspersed with argument, analysis, commentary, head-shaking, hurrahs, fist-pounding, or laughter, as the story demanded. Reading the newspaper out loud is just something I do, anyway. Might as well do it for listeners who appreciate the effort.

Oddly enough, I’m often led to remember Grandpa when I’m reading the paper. At its deepest roots, I trace my newspaper habit to him. He wasn’t what many people would consider an “educated” man, since he didn’t have a high school diploma. In his day, that wasn’t unusual; a lot of folks in his generation had to leave school to begin working during the Great Depression. Yet Grandpa got his own education, thanks to the newspapers. For a man who had no use for “stories”, who never felt inclined to pick up a novel in his life, it’s surprising what an avid reader he was. Not books, no, but newspapers. He read the newspapers thoroughly, attentively, every day of his life. If he could dispute the intricacies of local zoning laws, or explain the umpire’s ruling on the latest baseball error, or participate in his own medical treatment decisions, it was because he was a great newspaper reader. If he ever came across the word “autodidact”, he’d have wanted me to define it — and then griped about why they couldn’t have just “said it like that” in the first place. Even if he didn’t know the word, Grandpa was the original example of an autodidact for me.

So many mornings, as I was roaming back and forth from bedroom to kitchen to bathroom, combing hair and gobbling toast, Grandpa would be calling out, “Here! Listen to this here!” Something important enough to read aloud would stop me in my morning rush. I’d take my piece of half-eaten toast into the living room, sit on the arm of Grandpa’s armchair, and spend a restful moment sharing the paper with him. I like to think, if he hadn’t been able to read the paper himself, he’d have been tuned in all day to Reachout Radio, turning up the volume once in a while to say, “Get in here, now listen to that there!” When I’m reading on the air, Grandpa seems to come naturally to mind as my imagined audience.

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