alt=a younger woman reads aloud a newspaper into a microphone, while an older woman listens to it on the radio.

Lend Me Your Ears and I'll Read You The Newspaper

Why did I choose a part-time volunteer job that requires good eyesight when I have macular degeneration?

I ask myself this often, but I know the answer – I really enjoy it! Ironically, the job eventuated because of my mother’s own macular degeneration, and her inability to read.

Making newspaper articles more accessible

I had been searching for resources to help my mother, and I came across a radio station which broadcasts articles from daily newspapers read by volunteers. This service was designed to help anyone who couldn’t read a newspaper because of their vision problems. It also helped those who couldn’t hold a paper because of health conditions such as quadriplegia, muscular dystrophy, or Parkinson’s disease.

There is something more personal about hearing the newspapers read to you, rather than listening to the news on television or radio. I thought my Mum might enjoy listening to this because Dad spent at least an hour each morning reading his newspaper. Unfortunately, it turned out that the station’s broadcast range wasn’t far enough to reach my parents’ place, but I kept this in the back of my mind, thinking what a great service it was.

Deciding to apply for a position

When I retired from teaching, I decided to apply for a position as a reader with this station and I was asked to an audition. In the studio, I was on one side of a radio broadcasting console, with a senior person from the station on the other side. He showed me how to adjust my microphone and headphones and explained that I would be recorded. A panel of judges would later decide if my voice and reading style were appropriate.

The audition

A couple of recent newspaper articles were handed to me, plus a list of what seemed like the most often mispronounced words in the English language. Some of the words had their origins in French, so I blessed my high school language classes. One of the articles was about the king of Thailand who had just been married a few days ago. I wished he had left the wedding until after my audition because his name and his wife’s name were very difficult to pronounce under pressure! I was quietly hoping that the correct pronunciation might also be a mystery to the chap on the other side of the console and the judging panel.

In a couple of weeks, I was told that I had been successful and was asked to come in for training. I started reading and broadcasting on a regular shift soon afterward and loved the challenge it provided.

The logistics

When COVID-19 is not about, we have two readers and one announcer. The most important and interesting articles in the paper are divided between the readers and we may have a few minutes to glance through them. After my audition experience, I always hope no one with an unusual name has done anything newsworthy the day before!

I take a small arsenal of supplies into the studio with me to promote a clear, fresh voice. These include eye drops, nose drops, tissues, cough lollies and paracetamol (just in case). My drinking water is in whichever container I think I am least likely to knock over and ruin the electrical equipment. Most important are my reading glasses which I check at least three times before I leave home. I couldn’t read the papers without them.

Concerns about my MD progression

My concern is that, with my macular degeneration, reading the small newspaper print is starting to get more difficult. The lighting in the studio isn’t as strong as I have at home. I worry that I won’t be able to keep doing this work if my sight deteriorates.

The organisation knows about my eye issues, and I’m sure they would try to make reasonable adjustments for me if I asked. They’re a not-for-profit radio station though, so I think I will start by trying a few of my own solutions first. I’m planning to bring in my small, but bright desk lamp if there’s room for it on the studio desk beside my pharmaceutical paraphernalia. I’ve also bought some basic reading glasses from the pharmacy which seem to magnify print more than my prescription glasses. Choosing the chair by the studio window gives me a bit more light.

Hoping to do this for a while to come

I love to think of our listeners enjoying their daily news being read to them, and I get a lot of satisfaction and challenge from this job. We’ll probably transition to reading from digital newspapers in the future and then I’ll be able to zoom in and see more clearly. Until then, I’m hoping that the adjustments I make will enable me to keep broadcasting for quite a while to come.

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