August 10, 2005.
Patriot Ledger, Boston MA.
MARSHFIELD - It's a lineup that rivals any news junkie's morning fix: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.
And if you're listening to them being read over the Talking Information Center radio program, that's all before noon. There's still plenty of time in the day for other Massachusetts papers like The Patriot Ledger and the MetroWest Daily News, as well as national publications like Time, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
For 27 years, Talking Information Center has been reading the news and hosting talk shows for blind and visually impaired listeners in Massachusetts. Based at radio station WATD in Marshfield, Talking Information Center broadcasts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with the help of 600 volunteers.
Ron Bersani, a 59-year-old Marshfield resident, was teaching high school English when he was recruited to supply basketball game color commentary for WATD. He volunteered to read novels on air as soon as he heard about the program and soon became its executive director in 1978.
Bersani knew there were only 10 listeners at the time because he helped distribute the 10 circuit radios they needed to hear the program; the programs weren't broadcast on a regular FM signal then.
But today Talking Information Center is heard by more than 20,000 people. Its six affiliates reach a large swath of the state. Some towns play it on public access cable channels and the station itself streams its programming online.
How have you helped TIC grow since it went on the air?
At the beginning, I was still teaching at Marshfield High School and was doing this on a purely volunteer basis. There was no money, there was no staff. I heard that the (Massachusetts) Commission for the Blind had some federal money. The purpose of the money was for new technology for the blind, and they were asking people to submit proposals.
I went to the library and got a book on how to write a grant, went home and decided to submit it to the commission just to see if we could get the program up and running.
Talking Information Center went on the air June 19, 1978. I submitted the grant, and I think it was around August when I heard from the commission that they loved the idea and they wanted to fund it. As part of the project, I'd asked them to buy 200 radios, which they did.
As news of the program began to spread to the blindness community, and as the Commission for the Blind really got behind the program, we began to expand.
Your web site mentions that only 5 percent of the blind can read Braille. Why is the number so low?
The average age of a newly blind person in Massachusetts is 70. What is happening is that we are living longer. As we live longer, our eyesight starts to go.
It's difficult at that point in time, 70, 75, maybe 80 years old, to be able to learn Braille. Many of them don't have the feeling in their fingers ... (or) they're legally blind. They have lost usable sight to the point that they can't read anymore.
Do you compete with other news radio programs such as those on National Public Radio?
We live in an information society. I've never seen so many magazines as there are right now. Fewer newspapers but more magazines. Trade journals. Enormous amounts of stuff on the Internet.
There's an incredible amount of information that's out there, and a lot of it is just plain closed to blind people. So I think that as many different vehicles that a disabled person can have to access information, they're all great.
I don't see (NPR) as competitors because we do something that nobody else does. Nobody else is reading the supermarket ads. ... You'll tune in to a sports station and you'll get what happened in the ballgame, but you won't get (Boston Globe writer) Dan Shaughnessy's column talking about what really happened. So we're much more in-depth than anybody else would be.
The schedule includes the Wall Street Journal, the Economist and BusinessWeek. Is business news something listeners express a lot of interest in?
They really do. An awful lot of our listeners are people who have lost their sight as they got older, so they've had careers. They may have had a career on Wall Street, or they may have had a career in Boston at a bank or financial institution, so they're interested in what's going on in the business community. We try to present as wide a range of publications as we possibly can.
What other publications or programs are popular?
The newspapers are extremely popular. ...Things like the supermarket ads, the department store ads, things that genuinely impact a person's everyday life. ... Every one of our call-in programs is hosted by a blind host, so people can call in and get a wealth of information about services that are taking place in the community. And they can feel connected.
Andrew LaVallee may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. South Shore Insider appears on Wednesdays.
Source URL: http://ledger.southofboston.com/articles/2005/08/10/news/news18.txt.
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