Trenton’s Caring Community: A Volunteer Broadcast News to the Blind for Thirty Years
Trentonians are giving people. That’s a first impression from a former New Yorker who has lived in this city for over two decades. And as a former manager of volunteers in the public sector, I have continually been impressed by the dedication and compassion of those who give their time to serve our community.
This article is the first of a series about some of the volunteers and organizations that make Trenton a caring community to live and work in.
“Alice,” a News Anchor for the Blind Community
Even several years after the broadcast department where she volunteered shut down for good, “Alice” (I have changed her name to protect her confidentiality) reminisces nostalgically about her three decades as a volunteer news reader for Trenton’s visually-impaired and print-challenged community. As Alice prepared to retire from the State unemployment department, a colleague told her about a volunteer program near her home that broadcast news, features, and announcements free of charge to the blind community in Trenton and throughout New Jersey.
Born and raised in Trenton, and having assisted the teachers at her church even while she was still working full time, Alice had always felt a responsibility to help others, and this volunteer opportunity would fit into her busy schedule.
“That’s part of life”, she told me on the phone recently. “If we help each other, we’re much better off. The pandemic has proven that.”
The radio reading broadcast met a critical need for the blind community at a time when there were few, if any, free sources for local news to meet the needs of the visually-impaired. Streaming services, DVDs, the Internet, special smartphone features and other adaptable services and digitalization were decades away from public accessibility.
Arriving early for her weekly morning “shift”, Alice chatted briefly with the Audio Engineer and Station Manager, got a cup of coffee, and entered her favorite recording booth, where she meticulously looked over her news copy before the cue from the control room to begin recording. First the highlights of the news, then the editorial, and finally, the obituaries. A “veteran” volunteer by now, Alice had her pick of local newspapers, choosing The Star Ledger, and the Asbury Park Press.
The audience quickly became accustomed to hearing her voice on the same day at the same time every week, like a good friend sharing the morning news with them over coffee.
In fact, on the rare occasions when she was out, listeners asked why and were relieved when she returned.
As a life-long Trenton resident, it was inevitable that over the years Alice would run into friends from the neighborhood, from church, and even the supermarket, whom she hadn’t realized were volunteers there too. They would go to lunch after their recording session, or simply catch up on what was going on in the community. She was a fixture in the broadcast department “family”, even as staff members, directors, and other volunteers retired and moved on. Alice noted the marriages, births, graduations, retirements, promotions, and even deaths of the volunteers and staff in the department. Indeed she was an ersatz historian as well, noting the technical changes in the recording process over the years. As part of the fabric of the radio reading broadcast and its service to the blind community, Alice dutifully and cheerfully volunteered until the week that the service was discontinued and the studio went dark forever. Since then, Alice sometimes runs into other volunteers and staff members from the organization while out shopping or downtown, and they share memories from those years.
One day as I wondered how the service actually impacted the community we served, I boarded a bus downtown and greeted the driver as I showed my bus pass. A voice behind dark wraparound sunglasses suddenly greeted me loudly by name! Startled momentarily, I wondered, “this woman is blind. How does she know who I am?” She told me she recognized my voice from hearing it on the radio broadcast on the occasions that I’d substituted for a news reader who was out for the day. She particularly missed my announcements of the weekly supermarket sales from four different local stores.
I was suddenly reminded that we really do connect in this city that we volunteer to serve.
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