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Radio Reading Service celebrates 35 years

Ann Faltyn (left) and Al Rasp (right) prepare to read the morning paper "live" on-air at the direction of Program Manager Nick Aldrich (center) in the Control Room.
Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service
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Ann Faltyn (left) and Al Rasp (right) prepare to read the morning paper "live" on-air at the direction of Program Manager Nick Aldrich (center) in the Control Room.

This month marks the anniversary of a Western New York organization that turned something once inaccessible accessible. For 35 years, the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service has been making a difference through the power of volunteers, microphones and newspapers.

When Radio Reading hit the airwaves on March 19, 1987, Western New Yorkers with certain disabilities got to hear something previously inaccessible to them: the newspaper.

“It kind of changed your world, because you could be listening," said Linda Kaminski. "I don't do it all the time, but you could listen like from morning 'til night, you know, 'til the time you get up in the morning, to the time to go to bed at night.”

Kaminski has been blind since birth. She was one of Radio Reading’s first listeners 35 years ago and continues to listen today.

Beverly McKim takes a break from recording a section of the Sunday NY Times from her home.
Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service
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Beverly McKim takes a break from recording a section of the Sunday NY Times from her home

For listeners like Kaminski, who may not be able to read paper media due to visual, learning or physical disabilities, the service streams a variety of newspapers, magazines, New York Times bestselling books and other publications — all of which are read completely by volunteers.

Kaminski said before the service, the only way she would have had access to these publications was if a family member read them to her.

“It's time consuming to have somebody or your friend or your family or something to, you know, read the newspaper to you, because they don't have time to sit and read it for a couple hours,” she said.

Michael Benzin, executive director of the service, said the need was first recognized in the 1960s.

“Radio Reading started actually with legislation that Congress passed way back in the '60s that essentially allowed organizations to broadcast copyrighted materials, as long as the listeners were people who are blind or had a print disability. And then the technology caught up with that," he said. "And in the '80s, that's when Radio Reading was founded by Bob Sikorsky.”

Technology has come a long way since then. Listeners originally had to use a radio provided by the service to tune into the unique 94.5 FM frequency, a sub-carrier of WNED Classical.

Now listeners no longer need a special radio. The service can be accessed on the web, which Benzin said has boosted listeners from 500 to 5,000. Radio Reading also can be contacted by email at read@nfradioreading.org or by phone at (716) 821-5555.