Chamber Award Shouts Up Radio Talking Book Service 3/22/17 03/22/17 10:25:33 AM
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Station Manager Paul M. Stebbins, who is blind, takes the helm at the console of Radio Talking Book Services.
Chamber Award Shouts Up
Radio Talking Book Service
By Dan McCann
The Daily Record
It is an others-focused and ever-evolving non-profit endeavor that touches everything from information to entertainment. Radio Talking Book Service (RTBS), the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Small Business of the Month for March, is Nebraska’s only radio reading service and one of the oldest services of its kind in the country.
“Initially, the focus of our service was for the blind and visually-impaired, but we have discovered our potential audience is much larger,” said Jane Nielsen, RTBS executive director. “Individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities that prevent them from reading also benefit from RTBS.”
With its staff of five and a corps of almost 100 volunteers, RTBS works to inform, entertain and enhance the lives of its listeners through two key programs: Radio Talking Book Network, a statewide radio reading service; and Listening Link, an educational reading program.
Radio Talking Book Network (RTBN)
RTBN features “volunteer voices” reading 11 local and regional newspapers, 75 periodicals and magazines, and books. RTBN’s weekly program schedule includes a live reading of the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal Star seven days a week. The network also features entertainment and special interest programming. Eligible listeners can apply for a free radio receiver. Content can also be accessed online at rtbs.org and via two mobile phone apps: TuneIn Radio or Sero(iBlink).
“This is allowing us to expand our reach and increase accessibility of our service to the individuals we serve. With the implementation of new internet receivers, we are able to provide service in areas where our traditional FM frequencies fell short,” Nielsen said.
During last year’s election season, RTBN took special steps to ensure its listeners were fully engaged.
“Prior to the election, volunteers recorded the League of Women voting guide to inform our listeners on the candidates and issues. We also brought in multiple candidates, of both parties, to share their views with our listeners,” Nielsen explained.
In addition, the network hosted the Douglas and Sarpy Election Commissioners who discussed polling place technology designed to assist the blind or impaired “so everyone has that accessibility.”
In a recent survey, the National Federation of the Blind reported that 26.7 percent of students with visual impairments will not receive diplomas. For those seeking higher education, only 11.9 percent achieve a bachelor’s degree or higher.
RTBS’s Listening Link program, launched in 1992, aims to up those percentages by providing recorded textbooks and course material to blind, visually-impaired and learning-disabled college students. Listening Link collaborates with area schools, including Wayne State College and Creighton University, and plans to grow its reach this year.
That meshes with RTBS’s history of continually looking for new opportunities and audiences to serve.
“We seek change out,” said Linda Dueling, former RTBS promotions director. “Our staff is always encouraged to question what we are doing and how we do it. We shy away from the ‘this is how it has always been done’-view and encourage ‘how can we embrace change and continue growth?’”
RTBS recently began working with the Blinded Vets of America and the VA hospital in Omaha to offer its services facility-wide. It has enhanced programming by adding a “Veteran’s Hour” and by “bringing our listeners’ community to life with the addition of a live interview program, Community Conversations,” Nielsen said.
RTBS, which works in partnership with KIOS-FM in Omaha and NET radio and television statewide, debuted in 1974. Nielsen said the biggest changes over the years involve technology, including the move from analog to digital a few years ago.
“With grant funds, we are able to utilize the latest in technology to improve our programming and how it is delivered,” she said.
The most rewarding part, Nielsen added, is “hearing the comments from our listeners and their families about how important RTBS is in their daily lives. I have seen people get teary-eyed after having a broken radio replaced.”
She described the RTBS team as “professional, hard-working, dedicated and so passionate.” They dote on their volunteers: “We couldn’t do what we do without them.”
Nielsen said the entire organization is “excited and humbled” to be recognized for its impact by the Chamber.
“This is an opportunity to tell our story to a greater number of people. We are striving to increase our visibility and to receive an award like this will enable us to reach so many potential listeners and their families.”
Plans for the future include even more impact – and innovation.
“We plan to continue to improve the service we provide, develop additional partnerships and collaborations to better serve our audience, and expand our reach by getting into more care facilities and by adding podcasts and call-in capabilities,” Nielsen said.
United Republic Bank sponsors the Chamber’s Small Business of the Month award. To nominate a small business online, visit www.omahachamber.org. Nominees must be current Chamber members with 50 employees or less.