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Reading Radio and the T-P

WRBH scrambles to replace daily newspaper readings

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  WRBH-FM, New Orleans' "Radio for the Blind and Print Handicapped," is preparing to adjust its programming when The Times-Picayune moves to a three-day-a-week publishing schedule.

  The station provides blind and visually impaired listeners with around-the-clock content ranging from national publications (monthly and weekly magazines) and best-selling nonfiction and fiction to news from the pages of The Times-Picayune. It also streams its content online.

  "We do headline news, local news, sports, and entertainment and columns. It's our intention to attempt the same format, but a lot of that depends exactly on what NOLA.com [the T-P's Internet partner] will give us," says executive director Natalia Gonzalez.

  Currently, WRBH volunteers read articles from the daily paper from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on weekends, with repeats at 6 p.m. (weekdays) and 1 a.m. (weekends). More than 11,600 listeners tune in throughout the week, with another 5,000 on weekends.

  With NOLA.com serving as the main source of its local news content, "this could mean big trouble for us," Gonzalez says. "So much our of listenership is devoted to the reading of The Times-Picayune. ... People have come to depend on us when we're commuting to work or coming home. ... We do want to assure everyone we are going to fight through this and make it happen."

  WRBH serves listeners across the country via the Internet, and is a go-to service for people who are literacy-challenged, the homebound and elderly, and listeners without access to printed materials or broadband connections. The station recently received a Selley Foundation grant and planned to provide its radio readers with iPads — which now will be doubly important on days when there is no printed newspaper.

  "This to me is a blow," Gonzalez says. "I know firsthand from visiting with people who are blind, or shut-in, what we provide them enriches their lives and makes them feel less marginalized. ... You know how difficult it is to have people come and read to you?

  "We have information at our fingertips all the time. If you can't read, whether it's physical or socioeconomic, whatever the reason might be, think how paralyzing that might be." — Alex Woodward

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