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After 45 Years, Reading & Radio Resource Ends Local Production

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Bill Zeeble
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KERA News
Rick Massey, legally blind, with little black Reading & Radio Resource radio in his bedroom. He'll greatly miss local news content

After 45 years, a North Texas nonprofit called Reading & Radio Resource is ending local production this weekend. The subscription radio service has had hundreds of volunteers read newspapers, magazines and books for those without sight. Organizers say their patrons are turning to podcasting and other higher-tech solutions.

Reading & Radio Resource, once called North Texas Radio for the Blind, dates to the days when a specially-equipped radio was about the only way the visually impaired could catch the day’s news.

Or hear fun, produced weekly grocery specials: “It’s time to stretch your dollars with the Super Market Special. Now here are the Stretcher brothers, Don and Ira.”

Ira Lipson is half of the Stretcher Brothers duo with Don Sundeen. They, along with KERA’s Sam Baker, were among the 350 volunteer readers. Lipson was shocked to learn this week that local productions will end.

“It was kind of heart breaking, not just because we have enjoyed working there and volunteering there, but thinking about all our listeners all of sudden aren’t going to be having a local voice for information and a chuckle or two,” Lipson said.

He is a Texas Radio Hall of Famer who helped create the Zoo format in the 1970s and worked on the launch of KTCK, or "The Ticket," the sports radio station.  

“And especially when you think of someone there who’s blind. It’s a life link for these folks,” Lipson said. “It’s sad it’s going to disappear.” 

Dave Owen, interim director of Reading & Radio Resource says the active signal won’t quite disappear. Come Monday, the 3,000 radios that pick up the station’s signal will still carry audio. It’ll just be archived recorded books.

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Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
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KERA News
Dave Owen showing off a recording booth built specifically for Reading & Radio Resource. Soon, the broadcast pods and other recording equipment will be given away.

“The biggest impact our listeners might have is a loss of Dallas content. But it’s also quite possible that we’ll be able to work with whoever takes over the signal to continue to provide some Dallas content at least,” Owen said.

Rick Massey, longtime user of the service, isn’t so sure. The Dallas musician lost his sight years ago from optic nerve damage and listens to the Reading & Radio service -- sometimes every day.

“I’m concerned that 0.3 percent of the DFW community will be left without anything that functions for local information and news,” Massey said.

The reading service’s signal goes out on a sub-channel from KERA’s antenna.

Reading & Radio Resource board member Clint Chamberlain says technological changes and a tough fundraising climate simply caught up with the operation. Gone are the days when newspapers needed a live person reading to a homebound, visually-impaired audience.

“Now those things are available through a download,” Chamberlain said. “Many people who are visually impaired have access to software that’ll read items on a computer screen to them.”

There’s another factor here. Radio Resource’s building sits a block away from KERA, with a pricey high-rise going up next door. When the real estate is sold, the income will fuel an organization transitioning from a reading operation for the visually challenged to one that will write grants to those serving the same audience.

Owen says an automated service will run out of the Dallas building through the end of the month. And then, he said, “we lock the front door, I guess you could say.”

But also leave a lot of memories.

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