Radio nonprofit reads to those who can’t see

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Every other Wednesday, five students from the The Governor Morehead School and one from Sanderson High School spend two hours at the studios of Triangle Radio Reading Service, a Raleigh nonprofit that uses the radio and other technologies to read aloud to an audience that is legally blind or print impaired.

The students, all considering careers in broadcasting, and all legally blind, spend the time learning how to operate a soundboard.

Their instructor, a part-time and legally blind employee at the nonprofit, has used Braille to label all the functions on the soundboard.

And graduate of the three-year old training program, also legally blind, handles the soundboard for the organization’s Wednesday morning show, which features volunteers reading The News & Observer aloud.

“For someone who is unable to read — the print-impaired and blind — we need to be there to read for them and advocate for them,” says May Tran, executive director of the nonprofit.

Formed in 1983, Triangle Radio Reading Service broadcasts live and pre-recorded programs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, reaching thousands of print-impaired or blind readers, says Tran, who began volunteering for the organization in 2000 as production volunteer and studio manager and in 2012 was named executive director, succeeding long-time leader Linda Ornt.

The nonprofit is one of 60 radio reading services in the U.S., plus one each in Canada and Switzerland.

It operates with an annual budget of $205,000 and four part-time employees in addition to Tran, who works full-time, plus over 150 volunteers. All its on-air readers and hosts operate the soundboards during their broadcasts.

The Reading Service features three live broadcasts every weekday from one of its three studios —  the morning show; a show at noon with volunteers reading Triangle Business Journal, other local newspapers, and national and local magazines; and an evening show that features volunteers reading USA Today.

The morning show is rebroadcast each day at 5 p.m., and all shows are recorded for podcasts available on the Reading Service’s website.

The Reading Service also pre-records 17 programs whose focus ranges from reading aloud the Spanish-language newspaper Que Pasa to interviews with veterans, lawyers and educators.

In addition to its website and podcasts, programming from the Reading Service is available through over 300 small radio receivers it has loaned to listeners; on Community Access Channel 22 from the City of Raleigh or Community Access TV in Hillsborough; and through streaming on computers, laptops, tablets and smart phones. Five other reading services also carry its broadcasts.

The Reading Services gets 25 percent of its funds from a gala it hosts each October, and the rest from corporate and foundation grants and individual donations, including an annual fund drive each March that this year aimed to raise $10,000, up from $7,000 last year.

And it plans next year to launch a campaign to raise $35,000 to replace its 16-year-old studio equipment, and another $10,000 to make its studio more accessible to its technicians.

“We always are looking for volunteers and donors,” Tran says.