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Valley Eye Radio offers visually impaired a chance to remain connected to local news

  • Volunteer Eileen Richard reads selections from area newspapers at Springfield-based Valley Eye Radio, a station that broadcasts local news and information to reading impaired listeners throughout the Pioneer Valley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Volunteer Eileen Richard reads selections from area newspapers on air at Springfield-based Valley Eye Radio, a station that broadcasts local news and information to reading impaired listeners throughout the Pioneer Valley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Volunteer Eileen Richard reads excerpts on air from the available pets section of the Valley Advocate. She spends at least two hours before her shift each Friday searching for material from local newspapers to fill her slot. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Volunteer Eileen Richards reads selections from area newspapers on air at Springfield-based Valley Eye Radio, a station that broadcasts local news and information to reading impaired listeners throughout the Pioneer Valley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Volunteer Eileen Richard reads selections from area newspapers on air at Springfield-based Valley Eye Radio, a station that broadcasts local news and information to reading impaired listeners throughout the Pioneer Valley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Volunteer Eileen Richard reads selections from area newspapers on air at Springfield-based Valley Eye Radio, a station that broadcasts local news and information to reading impaired listeners throughout the Pioneer Valley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Larry Humphries, who has been blind for 20 years, listens to Valley Eye Radio at his apartment in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



For The Recorder
Friday, August 25, 2017

Eileen Richard holds a pile of newspaper clippings in her hands, reading aloud with a gentle tone, like a grandmother reading to a child. But she is speaking into a microphone to strangers who are listening to her on their radios. She is reading to many who are blind and others who, for other reasons, can’t read themselves.

One of dozens of volunteer readers at the Springfield-based nonprofit Valley Eye Radio station, she begins at 11 a.m. each Friday, and for one hour, reads news from all of the towns in Hampshire and Franklin counties.

“I love to read to people so it is an enjoyment for me,” she said after finishing a recent shift. “I try to read to them as if I am sitting in their room with them.”

Community connection

The station, which has operated for about 40 years, doesn’t have call letters like a typical radio station; it piggybacks on frequencies used by other stations. It is part of a network of six stations throughout Massachusetts that serves the blind under the umbrella organization the Talking Information Center in Marshfield.

No ordinary radio can pick up Valley Eye Radio’s broadcast, so those who are interested can call the station to have a special radio delivered to them. Some listeners who have computers can listen online. There is also a telephone number to call to hear the broadcast, which runs 24 hours a day.

Station director Barbara Loh says staff has handed out thousands of radios over the years, but the station doesn’t have a way to keep track of how many listeners it has.

The idea is to give the visually impaired and others who are disabled access to the news and information in their local newspapers so they can stay connected to their communities.

“People want to have as much accessible to them as possible to keep their independence,” says Loh, who is watching Richard read from behind glass in the control room. “That’s really important.”

Loh and two part-timers run the station with the help of 50 volunteers. Funded by the state along with grants and private donations, it is tucked inside the WGBY building in Springfield. The volunteers come in each day to read local newspapers from Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties — the three counties the station reaches. Some listeners are blind, others might have physical disabilities that prevent them from holding a newspaper, says Loh. For many who can’t leave their houses, the radio station, which uses live and pre-recorded material, provides a friendly human voice, a reliable source of comfort, she says.

Valley Eye Radio distributes the special devices for free to those who can’t afford to pay for them, but also asks people to consider making a contribution if they can. These devices are designed to pick up only the station’s band frequency. “It is very easy for anyone who has any kind of disability,” says Loh. “You just turn it on.”

An avid listener

Larry Humphries, 91, of Springfield, a former ballet dancer at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, who worked for years in the office of communications there, is one of the station’s dedicated listeners. Humphries, who has macular degeneration, a deterioration of the eyes, sees only silhouettes. Blind for nearly 20 years, he owns one of the station’s listening devices and says it is his primary news source.

“Valley Eye Radio is a blessing for the blind,” he says. “I just think it is so wonderful.”

Humphries started listening after someone at the Longmeadow Senior Center suggested he check it out, he says. Now, every morning, he sits down with a bowl of cereal, and, instead of opening the pages of a newspaper, turns the silver dial on his special radio.

The readers deliver stories, like crime accounts from the Springfield Republican and health stories from the Daily Hampshire Gazette. They also provide a weekly news roundup from the Greenfield Recorder.

Humphries listens to stories from his community, like school board meeting votes and traffic accidents. He catches up on activities, like theater performances. And he pays close attention to the obituaries.

“That’s how I find out who died and who didn’t, and when they don’t read my name, I say ‘Ahhhh, another day,’” he says with a smile. Though it’s sad to recognize names of those who have died, he says, most of the hours he spends listening to Valley Eye Radio make him happy. Especially Richard’s shift. He enjoys listening to her read the animal adoption column from the Valley Advocate, though he has never adopted one himself.

“She talks about all the different animals that are up for grabs,” he says. “She will even change her voice a bit, talking as if she is the dog or cat in the listing ... It is the cutest thing.”

For more information about the Valley Eye Radio Station, to become a volunteer reader or to get a radio, call the station at 747-7337. For a listing of scheduled programs or to listen online, visit: http://ticnetwork.org.