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Reading to the Blind

by Clare Coppa

Try to say this fast: ornithologists saw rare Peking ducks in the Maine regions of Passadumkeag, Penobscot and Piscataquis, on Mattamiscontis and Wassataquoik mountains, and in Meddybemps Grove. After reading on the air for nine months, Bill Childs can say these tongue-twisters fast as a cat snatching leftover lobster.

An award-winning member of ASTM Committee A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel, and Related Alloys, Childs is a materials engineer who reads excerpts from local newspapers on Maine AIRS, a broadcast of The Iris Network for the blind. “There’s a lot of fun articles to read,” says Childs, whose steady, calming voice sounds like Dick York’s Darrin on Bewitched. Maine’s state motto is “I Lead,” and Childs likes to read articles that describe local character. “I look for local color and believe me, in Maine, there’s a lot of local color,” he says. “Every once in awhile I’ll run into something about word usage and pronunciation.” For example, natives of Maine’s rugged terrain call non-Mainers “flatlanders,” says Childs, a near-lifetime resident of Wellsville, N.Y.

Maine AIRS broadcasts an audio-only program of store sales, community news, and books over a sub-channel of Maine PBS-TV (Public Broadcasting Service). Station manager Les Myers says a lot can happen when volunteers provide program content. Among the plethora of volunteers filling the 56-hour/week broadcast, a city councilman leaned back in his chair during a taping session, hit the surge protector and erased two hours of programming.

Totally blind in both eyes, Bill West of ASTM Committee E33 on Environmental Acoustics, values oral information services. “Time is a factor,” says West, a U.S. Library of Congress engineer involved in architectural acoustics, audio-electronics, and psycho-linguistics. “I only have so much time for reading and acquiring information simply because it must be auditory. It takes longer for me to acquire the same information that you can pick up in a manner of seconds by simply visually scanning a page. I have to have it read to me.”

To promote Childs’ on-air reading of Neil Rolde’s history of Maine, The Interrupted Forest, Childs and family members made unsolicited promos that the station hasn’t used but which they enjoyed recording at home. Childs and his wife Kathy, who also reads on Maine AIRS, made a lead-in for Childs’ reading of the book’s lumber stories. “Bangor, where I live, was once the lumber capital of the world,” he says. “You used to be able to walk across the river on the decks of sailing ships that came in to haul the lumber off.”

The family previewed the book’s prehistoric section that mentions mastodons. “My son [Chris] went on the Internet and got some elephants roaring,” says Childs, “and we did a promo for The Interrupted Forest where elephants in the background pretend to crush the station manager’s car.” To reproduce a crushing sound-effect, they threw a metal dog dish on the floor. That’s fodder for flatlanders, some no-nonsense Mainers might say.

Maine AIRS is accessible on TVs equipped with secondary audio channels, on special receivers.

Copyright 2003, ASTM