WRBH: The Challenges Faced by a Radio Station for the Blind

Yes, a blind person could listen to any given radio station and would easily be able to hear it, but WRBH caters specifically to the blind. The radio station WRBH has been providing radio to the blind in many ways, for example reading the newspaper on the airwaves every day, since 1975. However they’ve had to adapt as time has passed.

At first, their target audience was almost exclusively the blind population, because in the words of Natalia Gonzalez, the executive director of WRBH, “blind people were getting their information delayed.” For this reason, they used to have three hours of every day dedicated to just reading the newspaper out loud for their listeners. Radio historian Bill Kirkpatrick writes that when radio was invented, it was seen by shut-ins as “a heaven-sent device capable of taking individuals who had been bed-ridden for decades — with all the social isolation that implied — and transporting them to the symphony, the Army-Navy game, or even Dayton, Tennessee. Hundreds of letters to newspapers and stations attested to the joy many “shut-ins” found in listening to the radio.”

Today, there are many different ways to stay updated with what’s going on. “Back in 1975 the newspaper was much meatier than it is now,” Gonzalez said, essentially meaning that it was the main source of news information. “Even the blind population has many ways of accessing information,” she added. Because of this, the station has had to broaden their horizons a bit and cater not only to the blind.

Gonzalez said they have listeners who might not be blind, but are just shut off from a lot of other sources of information. Still, the main mission of WRBH is, and always has been, “providing current information to a disenfranchised population.”

In terms of challenges that WRBH faces, Gonzalez, as well as the assistant program director, David Bendetto, said that one of the largest challenges they face as a radio station revolves around funding.  When compared to other similar radio stations, their funding isn’t all that bad.  When asked about the specifics of their funding, Gonzalez said, “Funding has not really been an issue for us and we have a good development staff.”  However, she then went on to say, “We get no federal money. We get no state money. It’s grants and the kindness of our members.”

WRBH broadcasts Tulane baseball, which despite being not directly in their mission, offers support to their bottom line. “It’s been a wonderful relationship, said Gonzalez.  “What if we didn’t have that funding and we had to shut our doors?”

In comparison to the volatility of their funding and where it comes from, their other obstacles and challenges are fairly small.  Assuming they continue to receive funding from their current and possible future donors, WRBH should be around for quite a while.