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 www.radioworld.com.
Jack Wilson of Lawrence, KS, settles himself in front of a microphone each Tuesday afternoon, a stack of small town newspapers before him. Over the course of the next two hours, he and his reading partner will alternate every 15 to 20 minutes, broadcasting small town news to visually-impaired listeners via the Audio-Reader Network, an Audio Information Service and member station of the International Association of Audio Information Services (IAAIS). Like all AIS volunteers, Wilson has to maneuver through several potential pitfalls, including difficult names, page jumps, run-on sentences and even the occasional laughing fit. But unlike most AIS volunteers, Wilson has a career in broadcasting to bolster his volunteer efforts.
Wilson’s interest in broadcasting started at an early age. “I always knew I wanted to be in broadcasting, at least from the age of 10,” he recalls. “I was born in Buffalo, NY, and I would find the remote truck for WKBW (no longer the call letters) and take the jocks coffee and stand in the cold outside the glass and watch them work.” Wilson went on to work for his college radio station, WGLS, and even dabbled in basketball play-by-play. After graduation, he was drafted into the Army and worked for a military TV station in Baltimore prior to being sent overseas. “Following my discharge, I got my first ‘real’ radio job as the all night man at WIOQ FM (formerly WFIL-FM) in Philadelphia.” From there, he went to Chicago and public television station WTTW. He worked his way from associate producer to Vice President of Marketing and Development, winning Emmy awards along the way. He left WTTW to start his own TV production/publishing company, JWA/Video, which produced 11 national PBS specials and more than 70 training programs for off-the-shelf purchase.
Wilson eventually moved to Lawrence, where he started a lavender farm and discovered Audio-Reader. “Making the decision to try out for Audio-Reader was easy. It was an opportunity to give back in an area that I liked, and one that I hoped I had some skill,” he says. “The scary part was, could I pass the reading test, and would they want me?” He passed the audition in June 2010, and like he did in his professional broadcast career, Wilson progressed through the ranks. He started reading the Topeka Capital-Journal for Audio-Reader’s Telephone Reader service, a dial in newspaper that allows listeners to access newspaper recordings on-demand. It wasn’t long before staff recruited him for his current assignment, a live broadcast of newspapers from eastern Kansas. “Giving back has always been extremely important to me in both good times and bad,” says Wilson. “The Audio-Reader folks thank me for doing it, and I can’t thank them enough for allowing me to do it!”
Wilson says he approaches every Audio-Reader broadcast as he would in his professional life. “There is no difference between volunteer broadcasting and professional broadcasting. The rush is still the same, the skill set translates, and the results are that you are passing on hopefully valuable information to an audience that otherwise would not have access to it. You really are providing valuable and timely information to the sight-impaired community whether through reading a book, magazine or newspaper. Recorded or live, it doesn’t matter as the end result is hopefully the same: a well-informed and entertained listener.” And although broadcast experience is not necessary to become a volunteer reader for an AIS, Wilson notes it is certainly a good use of the skills broadcasters have spent years honing. “If one is good with tools and wants to give back, they may decide to build homes. Audio Information Services need former or current broadcasters to volunteer their time and expertise to present information to a very specific and knowledgeable audience.”
To find out about volunteer broadcast opportunities in your area, call the IAAIS at 1-800-280-5325.