WRBH: Ethically serving the public’s ears

Photo by Jenna Sperling

WRBH (Photo by: Jenna Sperling)

When driving down Magazine, and dodging as many construction obstacles as possible, there is a sign hanging in front of a house. The letters WRBH are on it, and that is the Reading Radio for the Blind and Print Impaired. A few of us Tulane students set-up a visit to the studio to see the inner workings of the human service station for the visually impaired community and the general public. What were we investigating? The content. 

According to the station manager, Natalia Gonzalez, content selection is complex at WRBH, as it must serve numerous groups of individuals in a time when media content flow is heavy. “Although we try to stay true to our mission, which is providing current information to a disenfranchised population, its hard to do…information now is so readily available… were always trying to be creative,” says Gonzalez. WRBH employees take these responsibilities seriously.

They ensure their news and entertainment selections are relevant, but they also filter content that may be perceived as offensive to both individuals and groups of individuals. Gonzalez informed us that often times bestselling novels are eliminated if guest readers feel a sense of discomfort reading vulgar, explicit or graphic material, even if it is contextually appropriate. On top of that, WRBH works at retaining their credibility by holding a rigorous audition process for their volunteer readers.

Of course, our investigative minds were curious about this audition process and what it entails, so we dove into the standards set by WRBH.

When volunteers come in, they are greeted by the friendly staff, given documents to read, and asked to step into one of the five recording studios. The prospective volunteer could be asked to read multiple news articles, a piece of fiction, such as Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, and there is always a word pronunciation list consisting of 20 words. Being New Orleans, the pronunciation list is quite a fun one–Burgundy, Tchoupitoulas, Burthe, the street names alone could trip someone up. The volunteer must fluently read the required audition materials and pronounce 16 of the 20 words correctly, and the auditions are assessed by a group of WRBH board members. They are not only looking for proper pronunciation but also for well-read individuals who are warm, bright and engaged in what they are reading. It’s all about connecting with their audience, not only through what they read by how they read it.

Now when you’re driving down Magazine Street, still dodging all that construction, and you pass by WRBH, we’d also suggest that you tune in to 88.3 FM to hear the news, some great fiction, or one of the unique programs they run at WRBH. With the high stakes required by WRBH for their readers  and the selfless mission and commitment to bettering our local community, we know it’s something we’d like to listen to.