Reading Over the Airwaves

Minnesota Radio Talking Book has been bringing news and literature to Minnesotans since 1969

Minnesota Radio Talking Book (RTB) is a closed circuit, radio broadcasting network. The network is designed to offer blind, visually impaired and physically impaired people a wide selection of reading material in an audio format. Some refer to the station as a radio reading service.

Although it’s described as a radio service, listeners must have a special receiver in order to get the signal. To receive a RTB receiver, a person would need to submit an application certifying their need for this service. Anyone who is unable to read written material due to a physical or visual impairment qualifies. There is no cost for the service. The application must be signed by a certifying authority, such as a doctor, nurse, activity director, home health aid, librarian or administrator.

When Radio Talking Book went on the air in 1969, no other radio reading service existed. Since then RTB has become a model for similar programs in many other countries and communities across the United States.

Variety is the key word in programming. The broadcasting schedule at RTB reflects the biggest possible range of current information that is available to persons without a visual or physical disability. A random sample of programming may include readings of magazines, best selling novels (in serial form), sports news, hobby periodicals, and texts on a range of topics from politics and history to fashion, finance and philosophy. There are even programs that convey information to encourage vocational rehabilitation. Programs may include panel discussions or interviews. Other shows draw on readings that offer advice on household repairs, mechanical skills, cooking and personal health care.

Top-of-the-line readers make the difference. Written material is read by RTB’s professional broadcasting team and by volunteers. A listener will hear broadcasters reading newspapers, magazine articles, conducting interviews and providing updates on news and weather. The broadcasters also provide periodic programming reminders. Volunteers are given reading assignments and record their materials on to tape to be broadcast at the appropriate time. All of RTB’s professional and volunteer readers have been thoroughly screened and are constantly monitored for quality. As a result, listeners can expect a very high quality product. Subscribers may even recognize some of the more prominent readers’ names listed in their monthly newsletter.

Radio Talking Book is housed within the Communication Center, which is a department within State Services for the Blind. The agency offers programs for blind and visually impaired individuals that include rehabilitation counseling, job training, braille transcription, taped textbook transcription, technology assistance and independent living services for seniors. It is funded by a mix of public and private sources.

Ed Lecher is Senior Outreach Coordinator at the State Services for the Blind. Contact him at 651-642-0883. Inquiries about using the Radio Talking Book service may be directed to Chris Schmiesser at 651-642-0885.