Radio for the blind and print-disabled
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History

Audio Reader went live on October 11, 1971 after a local Lawrence, KS, woman who had been reading to a friend in a nursing home was inspired to find a way to bring that reading to more people. Petey Cerf started a partnership with the University of Kansas and purchased a full-power FM transmitter so KANU could broadcast Audio-Reader on its subcarrier. This partnership with Kansas Public Radio continues today, and Audio-Reader now works with several public radio stations to transmit its signal across Kansas and parts of MIssouri.

Listed bellow are articles from program material, local newspapers and newsletters about the history of Audio-Reader.

A Short history of the Audio Reader Network

From the program material for the Baehr Audio-Reader Dedication Ceromony, 1988 (PDF file)

Broadcasting to the print-handicapped is a fairly recent innovation. In the mid-60s, Lawrence Philanthropist Petey Cerf commissioned a study on the feasibility of using FM radio subcarriers to read printed material. Utilizing this technology, the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network in 1969 became the first radio reading service to take to the airwaves. After a trip to Minnesota to see the facility, our sponsor set the stage for a local service based at the University of Kansas. Audio Reader began broadcasting October 11, 1971.

Programs included readings from Kansas City and Topeka newspapers, magazines, books, and short stories. About 250 radio receivers were distributed as Audio-Reader broadcast 80 hours a week with a very small staff and a handful of volunteers. (Seventeen years later, several of the original volunteers are still reading.) Programming expanded continuously until it reached 24 hours a day in 1985.

Audio-Reader has always been a leader in the field of radio reading services. It was one of the first to begin broadcasting around the clock, using an innovative low-cost automation system to operate the studio at night. Audio-Reader pioneered the use of cable television and microwave distribution, and established and operated the Tape Exchange, a program distribution system used by around 100 members of the Association of Radio Reading Services (ARRS). In fact, a high percentage of ARRS’s nationally-distributed programming is produced here in Lawrence. (Later, Audio-Reader Producer/Engineer Art Hadley created and managed an online program share and website that replaced the Tape Exchange.)  This year, Audio-Reader’s expanded studio space allows us to offer a personal taping service for print-handicapped individuals.

Today Audio-Reader reaches as many as 5,000 listeners in their homes, and in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and senior centers all across Kansas. The staff has grown to eight, with student assistants and over 150 volunteers. There is also an active advisory committee made up of community and business leaders.

While there is still must to be done, the Kansas Audio-Reader Network has come a long way in fulfilling the dream of its founder, providing print-handicapped citizens of Kansas the opportunity to live their lives with the greatest possible personal independence.

About the House

Topeka Capital Journal, 5/21/1980 (PDF file)

Researched and written around 1988 by Audio-Reader volunteer Trudy Travis

The Baehr Audio-Reader Center stands on land acquired in the early 1920s by Paul A. Dinsmore and his wife Mary. Mr. Dinsmore was a vice-president of the Lawrence Paper Company, and his wife was a daughter of one of the Bowersocks, who founded that business. It’s difficult to date precisely when the Dinsmores built their home, but a spokesman for the KU Endowment Association remembers seeing a blueprint for the landscaping dated 1929.

Mr. Dinsmore died in 1940, and shortly thereafter his widow sold the property to JL (Tommy) Constant and his wife Frances. Tommy Constant was a widely known builder in the community, as well as a member of the City Commission, a founder of the Lawrence National Bank, and a member of the KU Athletic Board and Endowment Association. Long before his death in 1973, the Constants moved away from the house at 1120 west 11th Street, which then later the home of the Phi Kappa fraternity (later known as Phi Kappa Theta). When the fraternity moved to larger quarters in 1968, the house was taken over by the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. When PKT disbanded its KU chapter there were several short-term owners who never occupied the property. By 1972 it had become a holding of the endowment association. It was considered as a location for a University Club but instead became a storage facility throughout the 70s and 80s.

Around 1980 a KU architectural student spent several months redesigning the house as a new facility for Audi-Reader for a class project. Several very different plans were worked up, and it was estimated that the remodeling costs would exceed $300,000. An Endowment Association spokesman remembers, “It looked as if they had given every fraternity member over the years a roll of Romex (electric wire) and a piece of wallboard and let him build his own cubbyhole. It was a mess.” Water pipes had frozen and burst, a fire had burned a hole in the roof, and  part of the second floor was on the verge of collapse from fire and rain damage. And nobody had yet discovered that the walls were filled with recently outlawed asbestos insulation.

Within a couple of years Audio-Reader director Rosie Hurwitz began to raise both funds and enthusiasm for the project. A very important step in solidifying the dream came from Chancellor Gene Budig, who made a 15 year commitment to support Audio-Reader and keep it on the air from its new studios.

Even though almost a decade had passed since the original price estimates, the renovation was completed for about the same amount. Funding has come from a large number of contributors, with about half of the cost covered by the Louis and Dolpha Baehr Foundation, of Paola, Kansas.

Remodeling took about a year, and included many unusual features to control sound and to accommodate the miles of wire required for an audio facility. Early in 1988, Audio-Reader moved its operation into the “new” house, and began the final stages of wiring for audio and control signals, and “fine tuning” the acoustically-controlled areas.

A Moving Story

The Kansas University Endowment Association purchased the former Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house in 1972 as a prospective site for a University Club, which was being considered at the time. When the club project was scrapped, however, the building became a storehouse.

More than ten years later, a program called Audio-Reader outgrew its facilities at Sudler House, and the Phi Kappa Tau building was selected as the new site. Audio-Reader will be moved to the old fraternity house in the spring of 1987.

Audio-Reader is part of a national network of individuals who read publications on the radio for persons who are visually or print handicapped.

New Audio Reader Facility

The Audio-Reader Network will have a new facility in the summer 1987 for its closed-circuit radio service for the blind and handicapped. The new quarters will have about 4,000 square feet of usable space, more than double Audio-Reader’s present facilities in Sudler House, which the services shares with the University Architectural Services. It also will provide easier access for the handicapped.

A $150,000 gift from the Louis and Dolpha Baehr Charitable Foundation and matching gifts from several other donors are providing $300,000 to renovate the former Phi Kappa Tau house, 1120 W. 11th near the KU campus. The Kansas University Endowment Association purchased the property in the early 1970s and recently raised funds for the project.

The new home for the Audio-Reader services, the largest in the United States and the country’s second oldest, will be called the Baehr Audio-Reader Center, honoring the principal donor.

Louis and Dolpha Baehr settled in Paola in the early 1900s and spent the rest of their lives there. They were active in the community. He was a businessman who started his career by owning a meat market. Dolpha Baehr began losing her sight during middle age and was totally blind for a number of years.

About 6,000 Audio-Reader closed-circuit receivers are in use in private homes, nursing homes, and hospitals. The Kansas Audio-Reader signal is received in a 35-mile radius of Concordia, a 70-mile radius of Pierceville, a 70-mile radius of Hutchinson, and around Lawrence and the Kansas City area. In addition, 13 Kansas cities receive the service by cable, and 12 low-power repeater stations extend it through most of western Kansas.

Audio-reader also handles the Association of Radio Reading Services National Tape Exchange Program, distributing around 20,000 hours of tape each year to individuals and to other radio reading services Thousands of taped programs are available through the KU exchange. More than 40 percent were produced at KU by Audio-Reader volunteers.

Work on the inside of the old fraternity house, which also once housed the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity, already has begun. Early this summer, the KU Endowment Association contracted to have the interior of the 76-year-old building gutted and the asbestos removed from it to prepare it for renovation.

Kurt von Achen, with the Kenneth O. von Achen architect’s office in Eudora, is preparing the final renovation drawings. Allen Wiechert, university director of facilities planning, said he expects bids for the renovation to be let sometime this fall.          

He said the reader service will occupy only the first two floors of the structure. The basement will be used for mechanical space, and , with modifications, may be used for expansion. The attic also will be reserved for expansion of the service.

The garage on the property was converted earlier into library space for Audio-Reader and the tape exchange program. The garage also houses the Audio-Reader engineering workshop.

“The survival of the program, really hinged on finding a better physical facility,” said Rosie Hurwitz, audio reader director. “ We’ve been hampered by lack of space since our earliest broadcast in 1971 from the lobby of KANU’s Broadcasting Hall.

In 1973 Audio-Reader moved into the 450-square foot space in Sudler House. Two years later, the services added a 50-foot-long mobile home fitted out with three recording studios, a live broadcast studio, and the control room and desk space for the operations manager and volunteer coordinator.

Hurwitz said the most serious problem with the trailer aside from obvious space limitations, is the lack of sound control. The new structure will be equipped with acoustically treated recording booths and special broadcasting equipment.

She pointed out that unlike regular radio stations, Audio-Reader produces about 95 percent of the 24-hour-a-day programming it broadcasts. It does so with 155 volunteers and student assistants.


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