Radio Reading Service marks 35 years

March 20, 2022

An estimated 20,000 people in WNY are blind or have low vision.

volunteers reading at NFRRS

Ann Faltyn and Al Rasp prepare to read the morning paper ‘live’ on-air at the direction of Program Manager Nick Aldrich in the Control Room at Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service. 

When the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service first went on the air 35 years ago, the internet was very much a novelty and there was no such thing as, so books-on-tape came in binders of six cassettes for the average novel. And computers converting text to speech? That was the stuff of science fiction.

But beginning on that long-ago day, people who were blind, had low vision, or had other print disabilities were treated to something few had dreamed of – a consistent, reliable, and daily reading of their local newspapers, national magazines, and books. All of these were read by volunteers and broadcast over a private frequency to each listener’s own radio receiver. Before the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service came to be, they had to depend on friends and family to read for them.

Since March 19, 1987, tens of thousands in Western New York and Southern Ontario have had their lives enriched by the service – one page at a time.

They’ve kept up with critically important news, followed events in their community, and kept abreast of their favorite sports teams. They learned more about current and future elected leaders and were better informed when they voted.

Less than two years ago, when the Radio Reading Service began streaming its live feed online and making popular programs available through podcasts, thousands more had instant access through almost any Internet-connected device, including desktops, laptops, tablets, smart phones and smart speakers.

Studies have shown that radio reading listeners are more engaged in the community, as well as more open-minded and more creative. Radio reading programs not only inform and share news, but they also entertain. Their familiarity brings listeners a sense of companionship, as if the reader was next to them and reading just to them.

There are an estimated 20,000 people in WNY who are blind or have low vision and another 40,000 who have a physical or cognitive print disability that makes reading difficult or impossible.

The Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service reads the Buffalo News live six mornings a week and USA Today live at Noon five days a week. The station also airs the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, Niagara Gazette, Dunkirk Observer, weekly newspapers like the local Bees and Business First, a variety of magazines, and books curated from the NY Times Best Seller List.

The on-air broadcast is carried over a subcarrier frequency provided by Buffalo Toronto Public Media through WNED 94.5 FM.

The Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service is an affiliate of Western New York Independent Living, Inc., a community-based non-profit organization that serves more than 7,000 people with disabilities annually through/ peer counseling, support for independent living, transitional services, advocacy and information & referrals.

The Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service is primarily funded through philanthropic contributions and donations, grants, and special events.