Radio Reading moves to new downtown location

Kevin Durocher, left, and Peggy O'Donnell check out the equipment in the new control room. Reminder Publications photo by Sarah M. Corigliano
By Sarah M. Corigliano

Assistant Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD October was a month of firsts for Valley Radio Reading Services (VRRS), directed by Kevin Durocher.

Formerly under the auspices of Goodwill Industries and located at its Dorset Street facilities, in the last few weeks the service has moved to a new location, adopted a new name, and hosted its first fund-raiser.

Radio Reading is a free service offered to residents of the Pioneer Valley who are visually impaired. From the Connecticut border to the Vermont border, it broadcasts readings of local, regional and national publications so residents who are blind or who are adjusting to life without sight can still get the news from their local and national newspapers and magazines.

The service is now part of a state-wide network called The Talking Information Center, based in Marshfield. The service also has affiliation with six other Radio Reading services statewide.

The Talking Information Center funds a "small pot" for basic operations of VRRS, Durocher said, but it also provides regional and national news. VRRS is responsible for reading and airing stories and announcements from local newspapers, magazines and circulars, which fills about 45 hours of air time each week.

Durocher said the new affiliation allowed VRRS to move to a new, bright, more spacious facility at Springfield Technical Community College's Technology Park and that he has high hopes for Radio Reading's new home, and for the quality of programming it provides.

With the exception of him, the service is provided by volunteers who go to the studio and read for either a live broadcast or one that will be sent out over the airwaves later that day or week. The frequency, a "side band" provided by four local radio stations, is sent to special radio receivers provided by VRRS.

While its mission to serve the visually impaired community will remain the same, Durocher said he hopes the service will increasethe number of volunteers and fund-raising efforts as well as improve the atmosphere of its studio to make it more welcoming and comfortable to volunteers.

He also wants to ensure the quality of the content is always improving.

"If it stays 45 hours, but we do a better quality 45 hours, that's a huge thing and I think we can and should improve," he said. "We will continue our goal of serving the community of people who are blind or learning to live with blindness."

He said he'll also talk to Radio Reading listeners to find out where improvements can be made.

"I have about two dozen listeners who I frequently call to get their feedback," Durocher explained. Long term, he said he would like to make sure Radio Reading is keeping up with technological advances and utilizing the Internet to the best of its ability.

"As technology changes, we want to make sure we are serving younger blind people, too," he explained. "If someone now is 35-years-old and blind, they're probably more technologically savvy, and the Internet plays a major role in that."

Durocher has been director of the Radio Reading service for four years and, in his time at Goodwill Industries, he and volunteers worked through a few incidents of weather-caused flooding, dimly-lit studios and lack of name recognition. Prior to heading VRRS, he worked for other radio reading services and public radio.

Last Thursday The Reminder visited the new studios at Technology Park. While the space is bigger and everything is in place for operations, there is still a lot to be done, Durocher said.

"Moving a radio station is a bit different from moving a residence," he said. The recording rooms still need foam wall linings which will "deaden" volunteers' voices and not allow echos. He explained that it's too expensive to make the booths sound-proof, but that reducing the echo will make a big difference in the sound quality.

He also said he was very happy with the way the space was completed by the property administrators.

Now that the station is operating separately from Goodwill Industries, Durocher said it can do its own fund-raising and apply for grants, which will be a priority for him now that volunteer Peggy O'Donnell helps out extensively with the day-to-day operations.

Additional funding will allow him to replace old equipment and add amenities to the studios, such as better lighting or higher quality microphones.

"Radio Reading has been around for 25 years," Durocher said. "It has metamorphosized."

He explained that the service began at STCC in 1983 when Kathy Cirette, who was visually impaired, started it at the college's radio station.

It moved to West Springfield, then Indian Orchard, then became part of Goodwill's services in 1996, Durocher said.

The studios were located at Goodwill's facilities from about 1997 until last month.

On the ninth day of continuous rainfall at the end of October, Durocher said VRRS hosted its first fund-raiser -- a book sale at the Agawam Senior Center.

"It wasn't a failure, but it wasn't a raving success," he reflected. He said there were plenty of books, and the facility was great, but the weather kept many people away. "We'll get it right, we'll have another fund-raiser. For non-profits, resources are everything. For example, a new microphone can run $385 a piece."

He said he sees funding as the four legs of a table: government funding, charitable foundations, business contributions and individual donors/fund-raisers.

"I can't stress how much we need help from the communities we serve," Durocher said. "Some support will go a long way."

While he said the service has many "wonderful" volunteers, he said he is always looking for new people to join. New volunteers will be familiarized with the recording equipment and encouraged to serve at a level that fulfills their desires as a volunteer, Durocher said.

"The reason we're here is the listeners, but it's important that volunteers get out of it what they want," he explained. "Being so small allows us to be a little more nimble."

To donate, volunteer or find out how to obtain a radio receiver call 747-7337.

Reminder Publications, Inc. 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028 • Tel: 413.525.6661 • Fax 413.525.5882

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