Monday, June 04, 2012

CRIS Radio

The IAAIS (International Association of Audio Information Services) estimates that over one million Americans over the age of 40 are blind and another 2.4 million are visually impaired. For them, radio reading services are crucial. But for the rest of us these networks are invisible. So when I heard about CRIS Radio, I reached out to their Operations Director, Scott Baecker who was very helpful with some technical questions.

The first CRIS program was broadcast in 1979. That day volunteers Alan Sagal, Jim MacPherson and Ron Milligan read a series of articles from periodicals including the Hartford Courant. The program was just two-hour broadcast that was aired only on a sub-carrier frequency of WJMJ. But by 1981 CRIS was on air 8 hours a day Monday through Friday, and by 1982 it was 7-days a week.

In 1983 they began broadcasting on a subcarrier of WPKN down in Bridgeport, and beefed up their hours of operation to 14 hours a day, Three years later it was officially a 24/7 operation. In 1989 and 1990 they were added to the COX and Charter Cable systems. That substantially improved their coverage of the Hartford suburbs, and eastern Connecticut. The addition of WHUS in 1988 redoubled that. Today their programming is carried on WJMJ, WPKN, WHUS, WNHU, WDAQ and WCNI. That's coverage comparable to the NPR network.  It's worth noting that they archive their programs on their website and operate a toll-free TeleReader service so listeners can call up and and listen to the program of their choice. More here.

As an avid reader I can't imagine losing the ability to read which is why reading services always catch my attention. Too many of these kinds of radio services operate under the radar so to speak. Despite their specialization, some of these stations produce quality programming that would work outside their intended market.I can't help but to compare them to HD sub-channels, who also need "special" radios to listen. I suspect that presently, reading services have more listeners than HD stations.