Blind World Magazine

Jewish Guild for the Blind's "InTouch" radio network.

December 18, 2005.
New York Daily News.

Lynne Thompson and the folks at InTouch Networks know their audience.

On this day, a licensed social worker is in the broadcast studio to discuss how Christmas season stress can trigger the blues in people who are financially or physically unable to do everything they want for their loved ones.

That's followed by a piece on macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness, taken from the online edition of Science magazine.

Then there is a segment on panic attacks, taken from the Mayo Clinic newsletter, and another on the relationship between sleep deprivation and obesity (people who slept the least weighed more), and a study showing that human bladders do not shrink with age, that last taken from the Johns Hopkins Medical Center "Health After 50" newsletter.

Thompson, 41, delivers all of this information in measured, dulcet tones on "In Our World," the radio show she has hosted for the past six years on the Jewish Guild for the Blind's "InTouch" radio network.

Created in 1977, InTouch is a national, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, noncommercial radio service for the blind, visually impaired and disabled. Station manager Gail Starkey said InTouch generates eight hours of programming a day that is broadcast live once and rebroadcast twice each 24 hours. The best of the weekday shows are rebroadcast over the weekend.

Programs include daily readings of top newspaper stories and articles especially relevant to the sightless or otherwise impaired from just about any source.

"We've had many discussions about the new Medicare drug benefits because of all the confusion out there about them," Starkey said.

The network is heard over 70 FM stations from New York to San Diego, with live programming from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. In New York City, 3,000 have the service - a number that is expected to grow as the population ages - and it is in an estimated 100,000 homes nationally.

InTouch is also available in 15 New York City hospitals, with another 15 joining by Dec. 31.

Unlike many radio stations, Thompson's network knows almost exactly how many listeners it has. That's because InTouch can be heard mainly with a special receiver that has to be ordered from the station. Fees are based on a subscriber's ability to pay. InTouch also is available to some over the Internet for free.

"We know we have more boxes out there than we know," Starkey said. "Every once in a while we'll get one back with a note saying the person who sent it got it from someone who passed on and they just kept it."

Thompson, an actress who has done extensive work in voice-overs for commercials ("I'm the 'symptoms' voice, the one who tells you all the side effects of the medication," she grinned) is one of more than 100 volunteer readers at InTouch. It's not an easy gig - Starkey said 80% of the people who audition don't make it. Armed with a bottle of water and contact lenses, Thompson reads copy directly from the source - the Mayo and Johns Hopkins newsletters - with no enlarged type or notes on pronunciations.

"Sometimes I see the copy while we are putting the show together, but sometimes I read it for the first time over the air," she said. "Usually I chew some gum beforehand to keep my throat moist during the show."

Thompson loves that her show, with engineer Ken Stanley, has loyal listeners who tune in regularly.

"I get letters from people who say they recently lost their sight or they have arthritis so badly they can't pick up a paper and how much they look forward to the show," she said. "It's addictive. This is something I do because I love doing it."

"Lynne is one of those volunteers who is never allowed to leave," Starkey laughed. "They're all dedicated like that. When we were renovating the studios last year, we had to record at Columbia University. People were sitting on the floor putting their shows together. They are that dedicated."

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