Filling The Void

By IGOR GURYASHKIN
Staff Writer

Amy Hatter still remembers receiving a call one day at the radio station from a grateful listener. The young woman had called not because the station had played a favorite song, or to contribute to a talk show, but rather to give thanks to Hatter and her colleagues for reading aloud the best deals in the stores close to her. The reason for the call? The young lady was visually impaired, and by hearing the deals, she was able to give a shopping list to her parents for things to buy. In being able to hear about deals most people skip over or throw in the trash, the young lady became one more person with a touch of independence they’d previously not had thanks to Hatter and her colleagues at Central Kentucky Radio Eye.

Executive Director Amy Hatter.

Executive Director Amy Hatter.

Radio Eye is a volunteer-based radio service broadcasting out of Lexington with the express aim of providing blind, visually-impaired listeners or anyone who has difficulty reading with 24/7 broadcasting of the written word across 27 counties for 9,500 listeners throughout Kentucky. Looking to catch up on local or international news? Check. Want to hear the local ads for your nearby stores? They have that, too. With 57 different programs broadcast each week, the station, under the guidance of  studio manager Hatter, tries to cater to every possible need.

Founded in 1990, the station is primarily funded through grants, but Hatter and her small team also receive donations to keep the station operational and are able to employ one part-time and two full-time staff members. Because of such limited resources, much of the work of Radio Eye is reliant on the goodwill and tireless work of close to 200 volunteers who donate up to 1,800 man-hours a year of their time in a swath of capacities.

Each day, Radio Eye volunteers take to the airwaves to read state, regional and national newspapers,  including the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Courier-Journal. Listeners can also hear locally produced programming of readings from a variety of magazines and health periodicals as well as occasional works of fiction. Aside from that, everyday necessities that most people would take for granted are also read out.

“We read job ads and employment articles,” says Hatter, who joined the station after graduating from Eastern Kentucky University and volunteering at the station as part of AmeriCorps. “How to write your resume, how to act in an interview. We find some that are disability-specific. We read a disability news program. It includes general news such as legislation that might be going on. We do read books but we focus more on current information.”

And all of is thanks to the volunteers, Hatter says.

“We’ve just been very lucky to get as much support as we get from the communities that we’re in,” she says. “Not all of our volunteers are readers. We have a volunteer sound engineer, while others help with things such as mailing or outreach. We’re always looking for volunteers because outreach is so important.”

Volunteer Missy Ward.

Volunteer Missy Ward.

One such volunteer is Missy Ward, a full-time real estate agent who has been around radio for two decades and involved with Radio Eye for five years, reading sports once a week every Thursday for the rabid sports fans around the area, an experience she’s found nothing but wholly rewarding.

“I’m giving my time and my energy to help somebody listen to the sports and keep up with the Cats or the Cardinals, or maybe high school games or horse racing, whatever it is,” she says. “There’s a huge reward and satisfaction to doing that.

“But Radio Eye is not just people who can’t see,” Ward says. “It’s for anyone they call ‘print-impaired,’  be it people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or who can’t hold a paper or see the print. There’s so many different people that can enjoy the radio through Radio Eye.”

According to Hatter, the process cannot be simpler. For those who qualify, a radio is sent and set up at home free of charge (there is a recommended one-time donation of $25.) After that, Radio Eye is available 24 hours a day. Aside from homes, the station is also broadcast in a multitude of locations – especially Louisville. Thirteen different hospitals, including Jewish and University of Louisville Hospital, receive Radio Eye in town. Radio Eye is available on a telephone service called the National Federation for the Blind Newsline, an on-demand service that uses a computer voice to broadcast Radio Eye’s online stream to 2,000 subscribers across Kentucky. The stream is also available at radioeye.org.

As for what’s on the horizon, the station’s future seems to be one of that will go from strength to strength. A recent partnership will more than double the number of counties in Kentucky the station reaches.

“We recently partnered with WEKU, Eastern Kentucky University’s radio station which means we’ll be expanding out to about 30 more counties in eastern Kentucky,” Hatter says. “We’re still in the process of setting everything up, but we recently got some new radios so we have some quality control before we roll it out to the public, but it’s very exciting.”

As the station expands throughout Kentuckiana, so will the demand for more publications in each local market, a list that will soon include The Voice-Tribune.

“We’re always looking for new publications to add so our listeners have  all their local news, so that it’s not just coming from one source or one point of view but from many different ones,” Hatter says.

For now, Hatter is just happy that the station and all of its volunteers are making a difference in thousands of lives throughout Kentuckiana, shining a light into countless otherwise dark lives with the simple comfort of hearing familiar and informative voices.

“I hear at least on a monthly basis from people who have lost their vision or lost their ability to read,” Ward says. “Through us, they get this sort of window to the world back.”

“It’s companionship,” adds Hatter as a final note. “At least that’s what a lot of our listeners call it.”

Those interested in volunteering for Radio Eye in any capacity may call 859.422.6390, email info@radioeye.org or visit www.radioeye.org.