There are many ways to get news and information — you can read the newspaper, watch cable news, browse the Internet, or listen to the radio, among other options. In some cases, you’ll get the same information regardless of how you experience it; for example, the print version of the front-page stories in today’s New York Times will be nearly identical to those on the Times’ website. But in some cases, the medium modifies the message. A major news story may receive a few thousand words in print but only five minutes on cable news, and perhaps even less on the radio. Generally, if you want to get a deep understanding of news items, you’re better off reading about it than listening to the story on the radio or TV.
For most of us, that’s fine — reading is a skill very much available to us. But if you are a visually impaired person, that may not be the case.
That’s why WRBH exists.
WRBH is a radio station, 88.3 FM, in New Orleans. The station’s call letters stand for “Radio for the Blind and [Print] Handicapped” and, as that name would suggest, it’s not like most other radio stations. As its website explains, WRBH is a non-profit whose “mission is to turn the printed word into the spoken word so that the blind and print impaired can receive the same ease of access to current information as their sighted peers.” It’s a mission of equity and access; as the website continues, “the majority of information in print and on the internet is not easily accessible to those who cannot read. For the blind and print-impaired community, this lack of access to information can increase a sense of isolation, lower their standard of living, and become a serious obstacle in everyday life.”
To meet this mission, the station provides a unique programming schedule. Each morning at 9 AM local time, a host spends an hour reading the morning paper — not just the headlines, but full stories from the front pages of local news sources like NOLA.com. At 5 PM, they read the afternoon edition of the newspaper or, more recently, new articles from the relevant websites. The intermediate hours are filled with readings from books and magazines, with the occasional bit of original radio programming and some Tulane sports games.
The station was founded by a local mathematician, Dr. Robert McClean, who was blind. He had the idea in 1975 and began leasing airtime from another local radio station, and when the service proved popular enough, he managed to purchase the 88.3 FM airwaves in the area. WRBH has been broadcasting from that wavelength since 1982, 24 hours a day and year-round (except for a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the station’s transmitter). The station has its own staff but local radio hosts will often stop in as guest readers. For example, NOLA.com wrote about the station during its 30th anniversary year, and as the reporter noted, “baseball great [and voice of the local minor league team] Ron Swoboda was reading the day I was there.” The station is a community effort to help serve the underserved.
Since 2000, WRBH’s programming has been available for free via the Internet. If you want to listen, you can, right now, here.
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