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"Reading fine print for the blind,
the literary and the visionary."

The Impartial Messenger

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It’s ten pm, the dinner dishes are done, and you’ve just settled down with a bowl of ice cream to watch the evening news.  Angela Hill looks radiant wearing her rose blouse behind the desk (stay with me here–yes, I know she has retired, but don’t you WISH you could still have her to read the news to you while you dig into some Haagen Daas  French vanilla?) and she begins to relay a human interest story on a set of quintuplets born at Touro hospital earlier in the day.  The video shows five tiny, wailing little bundles all in a row, with their happy (and exhausted) parents looking proud but overwhelmed.  As Angela’s sweet voice describes the length of the labor, the weight of each infant, and the names the parents have chosen, you settle into a comfortable lull of contentment as you spoon up the silky ice cream from the bowl.  The video ends, and as the camera returns to Angela and Mike Hoss at the anchor desk, you suddenly sputter and choke on your chocolate sauce, because you just heard Ms. Hill turn to Mike and say, ” Wow, those sure were five ugly babies!”  In response, Mike snorts and says, “And what stupid names they gave those kids!”  Then they both laugh heartily and agree that the name “Brianna” should certainly be the last choice of any new parent on the planet, particularly when the infant is as homely as that one.

Now, we all know this would never happen on WWL (and it especially would never have come out of the wonderful and professional Mike Hoss or Angela Hill’s mouths.)   It’s inappropriate, it’s uncalled for,  it’s unpleasant to hear, and such mean spirited remarks would surely have the public calling for the quick firing of the newscasters responsible for them. Yet, over the years we’ve actually had to ask a few volunteers to leave because they’ve broken the golden rule of our readers: don’t editorialize.

In the last blog post, we talked about how expression, warmth, fluency (and the ability to pronounce words correctly) were vital assets when auditioning to be a reader for WRBH.  This post deals with the second part of the audition: what NEVER  to do.   There are two pages to the application form potential volunteers fill out when auditioning at the station– the top sheet collects the basic information we need to know about the future reader, like email, address, phone number and availability, and the second sheet is a waiver that states a warning and a promise that possible volunteers must adhere to.  The warning reminds readers that our mission is an altruistic one, to make sure the blind members of our community (or those who cannot read for whatever reason) can be every bit as well informed as their sighted peers, and that WRBH is not a talent agency or stepping stone to a career in voice over work.  The promise asks that readers do their best to read material that they may strongly disagree with in an impartial and objective way, and that they will not attempt to interject, through voice expression or editorializing, their own views on the listener.  The warning is pretty straightforward and easy to understand, and tends to disappoint applicants who were hoping to use WRBH to pad a resume or acquire a few audio CDs of their readings and then disappear (the station is a lot like that old fashioned girl who wants a meaningful commitment and a declaration of love before she offers too much of herself–who wants to be used and then dumped like the proverbial cow who gave the milk for free?) and if they balk at signing because of the warning we know they weren’t really going to be reading for the blind but to benefit themselves.  The promise, on the other hand, sometimes flummoxes well meaning potential volunteers who think we are asking that they read like robots, with no expression or warmth in their voices.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We want warm, we want expressive, we don’t want inappropriate.

Let me clarify what that means: it’s okay to feel (and sound) sad when you’re reading a tragic news story or book.  It’s hard to conceal the joy and amusement in your voice when you’re reading a terrifically funny piece of writing.  Where trouble occurs is when anger or disgust is apparent in your reading, because you personally disagree with the sincere opinion or viewpoint of the material you’ve been assigned.  Now, if you are actually reading an editorial that is expressing the author’s disgust or anger, you’ll know it and you’ll be doing the right thing.  However, anytime a reader decides to add sentences that convey their own opinions because they just can’t help sharing what they REALLY think is a cardinal sin–after all, we, the volunteers, are asked to serve an important and sacred duty: to be the eyes of the blind.  Not their brains.  Their brains work very well, and they are perfectly able to decide on their own how they feel about what you are reading to them.

So spread the joy in the joyful, the sadness in the tragedy, but keep your own opinions to yourself.  That includes sarcasm, sighs of annoyance, snorts of aggravation, and anything you decide to share that isn’t on the page.  It’s your duty to the ones who are listening, and they’re counting on you.

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WRBH 88.3 FM, Radio for the Blind and Print Handicapped, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is the only full-time reading service on the FM dial in the United States. At WRBH, our mission is to turn the printed word into the spoken word so that the blind and print handicapped receive the same ease of access to current information as their sighted peers.

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