WORCESTER — The generation of children who grew up huddled on the living-room floor listening to radio programming they had looked forward to all week has come of age. Now in their later years, many of those seniors have found that their reliance on radio has come full circle.
Thanks to a nonprofit organization called Audio Journal, Worcester County residents who are unable to read their local publications — whether because of visual impairment or a mobility problem that prevents physical access — can instead have a seat on their favorite easy chair and tune in to The Wall Street Journal, followed by the Telegram & Gazette and an occasional New York Times.
Founded in 1987 with five volunteers and studio space in an unused closet at the Worcester Public Library, Audio Journal and its 170 volunteers will celebrate 25 years of service to Central Massachusetts this year.
The schedule guides listeners through a loop of information they might not otherwise be able to access — from grocery store circulars to obituaries and TV Guide highlights. At designated times throughout the week, listeners can be taken on a journey by the Armchair Traveler or be entertained by discussion programs, a “Children’s Hour” and short stories and poetry.
For the most part, though, programming consists of friendly voices reading aloud.
“We don’t do too much editorializing on what we are reading,” said Director Vincent Lombardi. “Our listeners wouldn’t appreciate that. They want us to simply be their eyes.”
But Mr. Lombardi is careful to explain that the very act of being another’s eyes is much more satisfying and rewarding than it sounds, which is perhaps why they boast a low turnover in readers, with some having participated for 20 years or more.
“On the surface, we are a service that reads to people who can’t read for themselves,” he said. “But the bigger picture is that we keep people connected to their community.”
According to Mr. Lombardi, a small portion of Audio Journal listeners have been blind for their entire lives. Many more are legally blind and visually impaired, but were once able to see, and therefore read, without struggle. But though having lost ability as they have aged, they are used to having access to information that pertains to their life.
One common misperception about blind or visually impaired people, said Audio Journal Outreach and Development Coordinator Emily Buresh, is that they could simply use braille to read.
“Braille can be very difficult to learn, especially for older people who may have worked with their hands throughout their lives and have lost some sensation,” she said.
For those folks, said Mr. Lombardi, it’s a comfort to turn on the Audio Journal receiver and have a warm, friendly voice giving you that information.
“Our listeners grew up with radio,” he said. “They are comfortable and familiar with it, and we have always felt that the medium of radio is a perfect vehicle for reaching this audience.”
In the past two years, Audio Journal has added a program called Community-Based Employment Service through the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, which allows for staff to bring in people who are visually impaired to help train them for future employment.
“We can help them with proper business attire, workplace socialization and even interview skills or résumé help,” said Volunteer Coordinator Valerie Clapham. “The program, so far, has been a huge success.”
While it would be fantastic for the “station” to have a number on the radio dial (“We’d need millions of dollars to get to that level,” said Mr. Lombardi), the programs are broadcast on the secondary FM channel of WICN 90.5 Public Radio, and people need a special receiver to gain access.
The receiver is free, easily distributed and doesn’t require any prescription or authorization. It’s as simple as making yourself known to the people at Audio Journal.
“It’s always been our goal to keep people from feeling alone,” Mr. Lombardi said. “If we can keep them tuning in, they will know what’s happening in their towns and cities, and if they know what’s happening, they feel like they are a part of it.”
For more information, call (508) 797-1117 or visit www.audiojournal.org.