Smile Politely

Radio Reader gives voice to print media

WILL’s Illinois Radio Reader has been sending out a sub-carrier signal of both local and national programs to visually impaired listeners since 1978. The service provides coverage to more than 400 east central Illinois listeners. The local coverage is done in-house with volunteers reading and recording articles from local papers such as The News-Gazette and The Pantagraph, which are then broadcast. Readings from national papers like the Wall Street Journal are provided by In-Touch Networks, which specializes in programming for the visually impaired. WILL also contributes descriptive narration of some of its programs, including “Masterpiece Theatre” and “Mystery.”

Radio Reader director Deane Geiken (pictured) describes the service as “Closed Captioning for radio.” There are 11 similar broadcasting services in the state of Illinois. According to Geiken, the local papers are more popular with listeners than their national counterparts because national coverage on mainstream radio is already prevalent. The most popular local items are the obituaries.

The organization originally was run from the basement of Gregory Hall on campus. Today, it is located at 59 East Armory, Champaign, in an aging house that Geiken describes as “suffering from benevolent neglect.”  Geiken says the greatest day-to-day challenge of running Radio Reader is coordinating volunteers. There are around 70 readers, and — inevitably — people have to cancel or switch schedules. The challenge he cites as being the most daunting is “getting funding for radios.” WILL provides in-kind assistance to Radio Reader — for example, engineering help, among other things — but the organization is responsible for raising much of its money itself through obtaining grants and running fundraisers such as Vintage Vinyl, which takes place this Saturday, May 16, in the Lincoln Square Village (mall) in downtown Urbana.

Illinois Radio Reader advertises its services at optometry offices, vision fairs, and other places.  No one who needs the service is turned away, but there is sometimes a wait as Radio Reader must obtain funding for the special receivers.

Decatur resident Dee Dee Adams is one of the visually impaired listeners who tunes in to Radio Reader on a daily basis.

“I’m very thankful it exists,” Adams says. “I’m grateful that someone had the idea. It’s just so neat. I like the portability; it’s like getting my own paper.”

Adams depends on Radio Reader for local coverage. For the past three years, she has relied on readings of Decatur’s daily paper, The Herald & Review, and is especially thankful for the coverage of shopping ads. On the national level, she likes to hear the Wall Street Journal

Volunteer readers announce their names as part of each recording, and Adams feels like she knows many of them personally.

“They have little ways that show how they’re different,” she says. “Voices. Gestures. It’s very personal, very cordial. I shouldn’t say this, but sometimes someone will make a mistake and I’ll be tickled. I get to know them as friends I’ve never met.”

For the last nine years Mary Gabb has been one of the volunteers Radio Reader depends on. During her service, she’s seen a lot of changes.

“We started out with cassettes,” she says. “Now everything is digital.” 

She heard about the recording service from a posting at a local bookstore and has been coming back ever since.

“We keep getting new applications for receivers.  So obviously people need it.”

Gabb appreciates the simplicity of the work — “You show up and do your own thing. It’s very satisfying.” — and the flexibility the program offers volunteers with busy schedules.

Illinois Radio Reader has touched the lives of Adams and many other listeners. According to Adams, Radio Reader “just opens a door, when you can’t see, to be able to hear the news, the grocery ads, so many things that sighted people have access to that we don’t.”


To volunteer for Illinois Radio Reader, apply to become a listener, or make a donation, contact Deane Geiken by phone at 217-333-6503 or e-mail at [email protected].

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