The author is the board secretary of the International Association of Audio Information Services (IAAIS) and coordinator of volunteers for the Audio-Reader Network in Lawrence, Kan. IAAIS commentaries are featured regularly at radioworld.com.
Bill Pasco never intended to work for an audio information service. In fact, when he graduated from Ohio University with a degree in radio and television, he had no idea such a thing existed. More than 40 years later, he is retiring from Sun Sounds of Arizona as an industry pioneer.
Pasco stumbled on his life’s work in 1975 while hunting for a broadcast management and production position. “Though my classmates found work quickly, I could not. My blindness seemed to be a problem for commercial radio stations, even though I had been working at WOUB(AM/FM), a respected public radio station in Athens, Ohio,” he recalls. “I heard through a friend of a new kind of radio station opening up at the Cleveland Sight Center and applied because I needed work.”
Pasco landed a job as a production operations engineer for what would soon become the Cleveland Radio Reading Service (CRRS). “This was only six years after the launch of the first AIS [Minnesota Radio Talking Book, 1969] and we were all still feeling our way for the most part.” Pasco was particularly frustrated by the number of social workers involved. “They had no broadcast experience, and production standards and on-air professionalism were poor.”
Pasco considered the position a stepping stone on the way to a “real” radio job. Then, he heard something that would change his mind. “I heard a full newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, for the first time ever. I was stunned by how much information was in a major daily newspaper. I tumbled to the realization that I had been missing a tremendous amount of information everyone else took for granted.” He decided to stay, though the path forward was full of frustration. “Like most AIS stations, it was underfunded and staffed with amateurs. They didn’t understand radio, and they didn’t really understand the needs and wants of blind people. They were like most social agencies, doing what they believed was best, not seeking guidance from we who use the service.”
After two years, Pasco heard about an opening at the service in Pittsburgh, which was actually run by blind people. He was hired as program director and volunteer coordinator. Pittsburgh was just the environment he needed to thrive. “I had the freedom and organizational support to develop many of the concepts which, over time, were adopted by AIS stations nationwide.”
In 1996, Pasco took the executive director position at Sun Sounds of Arizona, a network of three stations serving the entire state. Unlike his previous employers, this AIS was part of a college, Maricopa County Community College, well-funded compared to other services and considered an asset by college administrators. With funding and support, Pasco was able to innovate, leading Sun Sounds to become the first AIS to stream on the Internet in 1998.
Under his leadership, Sun Sounds also developed an innovative telephone dial-up and Web browsing system, Sun Dial, and became the first AIS to broadcast on HD Radio. “Sun Sounds has great talent among its readers, and was constantly striving to improve both infrastructure and service platforms,” he says. “It was a blast. We were having fun, working hard, pushing the art, and best of all, I, as a listener, got to use these cool services as they were developed.”
Pasco got involved in the International Association of Audio Information Services early on, attending all but two conferences between 1978 and 2015. He served on the board of directors from 1986–1998 in various positions, including four years as president. During that time, he helped bridge differences between traditional radio reading services and dial-up services, assisted in creating the association’s first Guidelines for Good Practice, developed programming and public awareness awards for member services and worked with the FCC to help keep reading services viable amid revisions to the Communications Act and copyright laws.
After leaving the board he remained active on several committees and helped author radio accessibility standards. His work earned him the C. Stanley Potter Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and the Arizona Disability Advocacy Award in 2008. “I am very proud of what we have all accomplished over these many years,” he notes. “Being honored by colleagues within my own field was an even bigger thrill.”
Pasco says once again, the audio information service industry is at a crossroads. “We advance, evolve and improve the means of delivering services and improve those services, or we will fade into history,” he predicts. “The bottom line is we must use whatever means we can to provide the local and current information people want and need. It doesn’t matter if it’s radio or some other means, just so it is widely available and usable by all of those who need information services.” Pasco says to remain relevant, audio information services have to not only maintain their local programming, but continue to keep the end-user involved.
Pasco retired as director of Sun Sounds on Jan. 11. Reflecting back, he says, “I have the satisfaction to know I have made a difference for thousands of blind and vision-impaired people who use AIS as well as raise the bar in my professional field. This work has been an honor.”