30th Anniversary - Through the Eyes of Radio
The Radio Information Service flickered to life as a fully-funded service of WUIS in December 1981, becoming the first official radio reading service for the print disabled in central Illinois. Over past 24 years the service has evolved into an essential source of programming and information for the visually impaired community.
As is the challenge for virtually any new program, generating awareness was the primary objective during the first several months of operations. “We purchased receivers and began actively promoting the service,” explains Jeanne Enlow Urbanek, the station’s first Radio Information Service director. With one staff member and a part-time student worker, the need for volunteers was evident immediately. UIS students and members of the community responded generously. “We were fortunate because we had several volunteers who were interested in helping and they would begin reading at 8 a.m. and keep programming on the air until 6 p.m.”
Among the first programs offered was the daily reading of the State Journal-Register, the station soon added newspaper ads, the Illinois Times, and one hour each day was reserved for book reading. The station also sought to involve the listeners more actively in the sideband service and began an interview program focused on pastimes and special interests of those with visual impairments.
“I hosted a program in which I would interview one of our listeners,” explains Jeanne. “Each of them had different hobbies and activities that they enjoyed, and they would talk about them from a visually impaired perspective. For example, one woman was a gardener, and she talked about how she took care of her vegetable garden. Another woman sewed most of her own clothing; another gentleman would fix things around the house. It was a fun show, and it was valuable because listeners could learn how another person with a similar disability could have a vegetable garden, or sew, or fix things around the house.”Each day would close with a second reading of the Journal-Register at 6 p.m.
Today the Radio Information Service operates around the clock and is run by Becky Yaeger. “We have eight hours of local programs and the remaining hours are filled with national programming out of New York.” The offerings have expanded considerably over the last several years. In particular, the station has significantly increased the number of local newspapers read either daily or weekly.
“We’ve added the Pana News-Palladium, Decatur Herald Tribune, Lincoln Courier, the Taylorville Breeze Courier, and the Quincy Whig, We’ve also added grocery store ads,” explains Becky. The national programming includes excerpts from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Reader’s Digest, People Magazine, and numerous other popular publications. The Service continues to host a book reading program called “Book Nook,” in which volunteer readers read the book of their choice. “When I am reading, I try to choose books that are bestsellers, and I try to read local books as well, which will never be available on tape,” says Becky.
The Reading Information Service still relies on the willingness of volunteers to keep the programming on air. Currently, the service enjoys the help of some 30-40 volunteers but would welcome 10-20 more. The reading time slots range from 30 minutes to 2.5 hours. “Some volunteers read in two-person teams because to read by yourself for over an hour can become very tiring, but two-person teams work very well. One person is sufficient for the 30 minute spots.”
The Radio Information Service is broadcast on a closed circuit sideband channel on WUIS-WIPA's main signal. It can be heard on a special radio called a sideband receiver. The receivers are provided at no cost to listeners in central and west-central Illinois. Currently about 500 radios designed to receive the sideband service are assigned to individuals throughout the WUIS listening area.
According to Illinois Radio Information Services Inc. (IRIS), an association of radio information services for people who are print disabled, thousands of Illinois residents use the radio information services each day. IRIS cites figures from the Library of Congress which estimates that 1.5 percent of the population is print disabled. More than 1,790,000 of the states nearly 12 million residents qualify for a radio information service.