After more than forty years, IN-SIGHT’s radio reading service signed off the air on December 31, 2022.
Since 1981, hundreds of volunteers brought the printed word to thousands of visually impaired and blind Rhode Islanders. However, technological advances significantly changed how people access news and information.
To be sure, the decision was bittersweet.
We have always had some of the most dedicated volunteers anywhere, and not having them here every day is a significant loss. We are so thankful to all the people who have generously given their time as readers, production assistants, engineers, and receiver repairers.
On the other hand, the reduced need for this program is a recognition that many people with visual impairments now have much better access to news and information, which is something to celebrate.
The Rhode Island Radio Reading Service started as an all-volunteer program in 1981. The service merged with the Rhode Island Association for the Blind, forming IN-SIGHT a few years later.
With newspapers being the primary source of information at the time, volunteers read them through a closed-circuit signal, providing critical access to information for people who could not access print.
Several years ago, a transition to digital technology strengthened our over-the-air signal and created the opportunity for listeners to access our programming through the IN-SIGHT website as well as Alexa-enabled devices.
Ironically, the same technological advances that have improved access to IN-SIGHT Radio’s signal have also led to its demise.
When our radio reading service began, local newspapers brimmed with the latest goings-on in the community. There was so much news on many days that our volunteers would struggle to choose which stories they had enough time to read and which would end up on the cutting room floor.
However, the growth of the internet, social media, streaming video, expanded television news channels, and other sources of information have led to a precipitous drop in the number of people reading newspapers. Subscriptions to the Providence Journal, for instance, have dropped more than 80% since 1990. The resulting loss of revenue has led to cost-saving cutbacks in content, making it a challenge on many days for our volunteers to find enough original local news to fill the allotted time slots.
The decline in people reading newspapers also meant less interest in our radio reading service. A survey found only a tiny handful of people who reported listening, and most of them only for a short time on some weekday mornings.
We have worked with these listeners to transition them to other free and easy-to-use options, including NFB Newsline, a telephone-based reading service, and the Talking Books program.
While this marks the end of a long and valued program, it also presents an opportunity for us to invest in new initiatives that will help people with visual impairments be more confident and independent. We look forward to announcing plans for expanded programming in other areas.