Importance of volunteers for NFRRS

Host: Welcome to Independent Perspective, a public affairs presentation of Western New York Independent Living (WNYIL). Our guest today is Mike Benzin, the executive director of Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service (NFRRS), and I'm your host, Ernie Churchwell. Welcome to the program, Mike. 

Guest: Thank you, Ernie. 

Host: And although this may seem bizarre, I suspect there is probably at least one person listening that is not familiar with radio reading service. Could you tell us whom you serve and how?  

Guest: OK, yes. And just to summarize real quick, the Radio Reading Service started about 35 years ago as a means to bring the power of print publications to people who are blind or have a print disability. Back then, there weren't very many alternatives for people that wanted to read the Buffalo News or a local paper, or a magazine, or even a best seller book. There weren't a lot of alternatives for buying people to be able to read that, so we have volunteers who come into our studios every day or every week or work from home and they read newspapers, magazines and books that we broadcast on air and online for people that are blind or or have a print disability.  

Host: And I believe you broadcast 24 hours a day. Although some of it, I imagine the night stuff is probably repeats of the day stuff to a certain extent, isn't it? 

Guest: Yes, overnight is, you know, we we've got some old time radio and some programs like that that we'll play. But largely between 6:00 in the morning and midnight every day, we're playing first run the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle,  USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, Business First, The Rochester Business Journal, Wayne County Times, all the local weekly papers, every magazine you can imagine and and any book that's is on the New York Times bestseller list. 

Host: And since your founding those years ago, you've actually expanded your reach, I believe. 

Guest: Yes. We recently started serving the Rochester area after the local radio reading service there closed down. So people that live in Rochester can access us through their favorite podcast channel and catch the Democrat and Chronicle every day. And along with a lot of the other local newspapers that serve Rochester or the Genesee Valley and the Finger Lakes area. And all of those are recorded by volunteers that live in Rochester. 

Host: Ah, and there you said the magic word. What makes Radio Reading Service function is a contingent of dedicated volunteers. How do you go about finding people that are willing to do that? 

Guest: Largely word of mouth. Everybody likes to read, or at least a lot of people like to read and the great thing about work volunteering for us is people get to read what they want. Read or re-read publications that they'd like to read. We don't make them read things that they're not comfortable reading. So if you're going to read a paper, or if you can read a best-selling book, if you're going to read a magazine, you might as well read it out loud and we could take that work and provide it to people who are blind or have apprentice ability. They can't read it. 

Host: And if someone is has a disability and wants to avail themselves of radio reading, how do they go about doing? 

Guest: Yes, if they can just call us 716-821-5555 and we'd be happy to walk them through all the different ways they can be a listener. We have radios that we can loan them for free where they can listen to us just by turning on the radio or if they have an Internet connection. 

We can show them the different alternatives to being able to download our digital signal and listen on the Internet and almost any device they have, whether it's a smartphone, a smart speaker, a tablet, a laptop, whatever. 

Host: And the fact that they're able to avail themselves of these services at no charge is probably quite terrific, considering that a lot of people with disabilities are not really gainfully employed. So this is very much a valuable service to the community. But I'm sure some people will have questions about what you've said. 

Guest: That's absolutely true. 

Host: Could you tell them how to get in touch with the person with the answers? 

Guest: If they want to talk to us about being a volunteer and what that entails, or if they'd like to donate to the organization and help support our cause, they can either send an email to us at or call us 716-821-5555 and we'd be happy to talk with them. 

Host: Thanks so much for being with us, Mike. 

Guest: Thank you, Ernie. 

Host: You've been listening to Independent Perspective, a public affairs presentation of WNYIL. Our guest today was Mike Benzin, executive director of NFRRS, and I've been your host, Ernie Churchwell.