For more than three decades, WCNY-FM has been serving the blind and visually-impaired residents of Central New York with a special radio service called READ-OUT.
Free to anyone who can receive a signal from WCNY-FM in Syracuse, WUNY-FM in Utica or WJNY-FM in Watertown, the service provides the latest in information and entertainment from sundry newspapers, including the Syracuse Post-Standard, Rome Daily Sentinel, Utica Observer-Dispatch and USA Today; magazines, such as Reader’s Digest, Alaska Magazine and Yankee Magazine, as well as best-selling books. It also offers local weekly grocery listings — all through a special fixed-frequency radio.
“The radio frequency, known as a subcarrier, piggy backs on the back of our regular FM signal,” said READ-OUT coordinator Marie Lamb. “To hear READ-OUT, you use these special receivers that pick up the subcarrier.”
About 2,000 people currently use the READ-OUT service, and Lamb said listenership remains stable.
“There is still a certain demand for it,” she said. “We do get applications for it all the time.”
Content includes local, state and national news as well as sports, obituaries, weather, lottery listings, horoscopes and T.V. guides. “The Grocery Shopper” is a weekly hour-long program where volunteers read off the specials from area supermarkets. Lamb said people very much rely on these programs.
“If some of our regular material is missing, say if anything happened with the [Post-Standard] or with the grocery listings … we hear about [it] right away,” she said. “The only time you’re going to hear about an obituary is if a celebrity dies, on regular broadcast. Here, you’ll be able to hear the obituaries.
“You’ll hear lots of other local stories that you don’t necessarily hear on commercial TV or radio where there’s only so much time,” she added.
It takes many voices, however, to keep this service alive, and Lamb, who now has 25 volunteers, said she can always use more.
“Especially for things like recording books,” which aren’t aired until all the sections are ready, she said.
Volunteers who read the local daily newspaper aloud typically arrive in the morning and prepare themselves by first clipping and organizing articles for a seamless soundtrack. Two chairs and two microphones pair up individuals in one studio booth for longer recordings.
“We prefer to have two people [read the paper] just so one person’s voice doesn’t get tired reading for two hours,” Lamb said.
At one time, the initial recording was broadcast live, but taped for slots later in the day. Now, everything is pre-recorded since the station moved to its new location on West Fayette Street in Syracuse.
Local programming runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the weekly schedule is available online at WCNY.org.
Overnight, the service streams content from its national affiliation with the Radio Talking Book Network, which brings the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, the New Yorker, National Geographic and other publications.
“We’re available 24 hours thanks to that,” Lamb said.
Those interested in accessing READ-OUT can borrow receivers by contacting WCNY at 453-2424 or by emailing email@example.com. Custom-built receivers are also available for purchase by request; they are not sold in stores.
Would you like to volunteer? Contact volunteer coordinator Charlie Manro at 453-2424 or email him at Charlie.Manro@wcny.org.