Radio Reading Service connects the visually impaired to community at large.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- When Paul Dustman and James L. Donnan founded Youngstown Radio Reading, they had a mission: Provide the visually impaired with independent access to information.
Donnan was hired to oversee construction and broadcasting of the organization. Dustman is executive director of Youngstown Society for the Blind.
Back then, programs were broadcast from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and primarily consisted of readings from area newspapers.
Today, celebrating its 25th anniversary, Youngstown Radio Reading Service broadcasts from noon to midnight every day of the year and offers a wide variety of programs ranging from sports to cooking. Volunteers read three area daily papers -- The Vindicator; the Tribune-Chronicle and the Morning Journal -- plus USA Today, the Business Journal and all of the weekly papers from surrounding communities, said Mike Bosela, program coordinator. Novels, divided into one-hour segments, also are read on the air.
Listeners especially like to hear court notices, birth and marriage announcements, obituaries and grocery store ads, Bosela said. Providing access to these types of information helps listeners connect to the community at large. They may have a friend or family member who can read to them, he noted, but that's usually at the reader's convenience.
Referring to Youngstown Radio Reading, Bosela said, "They know we're there all the time. They can count on us." Program schedules are announced frequently, he added, so listeners know when their favorite radio shows air. Youngstown Radio Reading transmits over the subsidiary communication authorization channel (SCA) of WYSU-FM.
Start: The first broadcast aired May 28, 1976. That show, Bosela said, was taped at the Youngstown Society for the Blind and then played over the air at Youngstown State University's studio.
After volunteering for several months, Bosela joined the organization in August 1979 as a broadcasting technician. Twelve years later, the Youngstown Society for the Blind was struggling to make ends meet. Providing services to the visually impaired was increasingly difficult and the future of Youngstown Radio Reading was uncertain. So, the organization merged with Goodwill on March 1, 1992.
"Goodwill was a stronger facility for services for the blind," Bosela said, and financially, it was sound.
Youngstown Radio Reading relocated from its studios on Glenwood Avenue to a studio in the Goodwill building on Belmont Avenue. It broadcast its first program from the new studio Oct. 1, 1992.
The reading service, which relies on volunteer readers to provide 98 percent of the programming, lost some of its regulars in the move, Bosela recalled, "but we gained as many as we lost and more" once the operation was resuscitated. Between 125 and 150 readers volunteer from as little as once a month to as often as four times a week, he noted.
Since Youngstown Radio Reading began broadcasting, "we've only had a couple of hours of interruption. We're really proud of that," Bosela said. The station was knocked off the air for a few hours in 1985 when WYSU lost power from a tornado; it was down again on Sept. 30, 1992 while the studio was moved from Glenwood to Belmont Avenue, he said.
Youngstown Radio Reading serves 955 households throughout Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and southern Ashtabula counties in Ohio and Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania. Sixty percent of listeners are women. There's no advertising.
Reaching out: Lois Patton, a 75-year-old Poland resident, has been listening every day for 19 years. "I really like this radio," she said. "There's a lot of good programs."
Listening to reading of the local papers and a cooking program are among her favorite pastimes. "It's good for information," she said. "I'm in a hospital bed and I can't get out and I tell my daughter all these recipes."
Don Reisinger of Warren is a loyal listener. He's been tuning in every day since 1976 or 1977. "I enjoy it. Radio Reading Service has been a real big part of my life," he said. Sports shows and readings of local newspapers are his favorite programs. Reisinger also is host of a show for Youngstown Radio Reading and likes to listen to the readings of newspapers to get ideas about guests he could feature.
A $180,000 grant from the Rehabilitation Services Commission provided start-up money for Youngstown Radio Reading Service, and the Ohio Educational Telecommunications Network Commission provides half of the annual $94,000 operating budget, Bosela reported. The United Way of Mahoning and Trumbull counties, Lions Clubs of Youngstown, Austintown, Warren and Canfield, private donations and Goodwill provide the balance.