The Talking Information Center is in its 40th year of broadcasting to 30,000 unique listeners each year who are blind or have severe visual impairments. The station broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with 250 programs provided almost exclusively by a team of 200 volunteers.
“Our goal is to give our listeners access to all the information they need to live independent, autonomous lives,” Executive Director Anna Dunbar said. “We want to give them access to all of the information you or I would have access too.”
Everyday the airwaves are filled with volunteers reading newspapers, sharing short stories, reading magazines and books, and reporting on conferences and resources for the visually impaired. The small studio space on Enterprise Drive in Marshfield has volunteers streaming in and out of its eight studios all day long, recording content that can be broadcast at anytime.
Much of the programming is prerecorded, but every morning at 8 a.m. the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and Boston Herald are read live and once a month the station does live radio theater.
The National Federation of the Blind says there are more than 129,000 people in Massachusetts who have severe vision impairments, or are completely blind. There are more and more resources becoming available for the vision impaired as technology advances, but for many the live voices of Talking Information Center volunteers are a “connection to the outside world,” Dunbar said.
“It was a whole world I frankly wasn’t aware of,” new volunteer Robert Eisenstein said. “It’s a great community. I had no concept of how big it all was.”
Eddie Holmes, a 19-year-old student in Abington High School’s life skills program, is working with the station to bring the story of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” to life on the radio. Holmes works with the center through North River Collaborative, a special needs organization, and has fallen in love with live radio theater.
“These people can’t see but they can still hear, and it’s a good opportunity to express yourself through your words,” Holmes said. “If I help them, they help me. It makes me feel good.”
The radio theater shows are broadcast live and performed in front of an audience in the studio. Holmes is currently working on adapting a show from the film “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” and previous shows include “Alice in Wonderland” and “Wizard of Oz.”
The nonprofit ran into trouble a few years ago when Paul Saner, then commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, announced he would be defunding the center over the course of three years, starting in 2016. Saner cited misuse of funds as his reason for stopping the $750,000 annually given by the state, but Dunbar says the station is on the rebound from what then-board chair Ron Bersani called a “death sentence.”
“The funds were being used appropriately on our end, they were, but I think Saner kind of viewed our service as obsolete,” Dunbar, who became director in September, said. “He was very technologically savvy and had a lot of support that provided him similar services to what we do, but most of our listeners are over the age of 65 and really appreciate us.”
With the help of advocates like former State Rep. Jim Cantwell and State Sen. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth), Dunbar said the center has worked closely with the commission and its new director, David D’Arcangelo, to save its funding. She said the center submitted monthly financial reports to the state for more than a year to get back in the commission’s good graces, and that the center seems to be in a good place.
“So far it’s looking good,” she said. “It was a tough battle for a few years.”
About 60 percent of the Talking Information Center’s budget comes from the state, and the other 40 percent comes from private donations, Dunbar said.
The Talking Information Center broadcast can be accessed through Amazon Alexa, over the phone at 425-585-1901, through a free smart phone app and at ticnetwork.org.