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A Window on the World for the Blind


Bill Parker likes to keep his vocal chords lubed and ready to go as a volunteer reader at the Los Angeles Radio Reading Service, a radio station for the blind.

Twice a month, the actor--who lives in Lake Balboa--reads news and feature stories from local newspapers for those who cannot. Volunteers read every day in a program broadcast via a closed-circuit frequency through KCSN-FM (88.5), the public radio station at Cal State Northridge.

Listeners can tune specialized radios to the reading service.

"This is live radio, and that's enjoyable," said Parker, 58, who loves hamming it up for his listeners. "You have to be on your toes and thinking ahead."

Just minutes before a recent broadcast, Parker and his co-reader, Eileen Felbinger, 55, of Northridge, arrive at the radio station on the second floor of the Fallbrook Mall. Newspapers marked with highlighters are handed to them as they take their seats behind the microphones.

Hours earlier, volunteer Mark Hein, 55, of Woodland Hills had scoured the morning's papers looking for stories to be read, especially those that would not be covered by local radio and television stations.

Retired aerospace engineer Jim Veronica, 62, of Topanga volunteers nearly every day as the show's engineer. He watches the second hand on a large clock above his audio panel tick to 9 a.m. Then he cues the readers from behind a glass partition.

While Felbinger reads a front-page story, Parker sips from a thermos filled with coffee and skims stories he will read next.

Over the next two hours, the two will read news stories about the start of the new school year, the drought in Texas, even a graphic about California's ranking first in corn output.

After the heavy news, they will read the astrological forecast, sports, entertainment and business news--even the comics.

On a recent broadcast, Parker read a piece about a disabled man who has cheered on a high school football team for 30 years.

As a longtime thespian, it is the unfolding drama that Parker loves. He yells into the microphone at one point and later pauses dramatically at a pivotal turn.

When he reached the last paragraph, he spun his finger in the air to indicate he was wrapping up. Afterward, he took a long swig from a water bottle and sighed.

"That was a wonderful story," he said when the eight-minute reading was over.

The Los Angeles Radio Reading Service, one of about 100 similar stations around the country, was founded by a blind computer programmer, Jolie Mason.

Mason, 45, first heard about the service while living in Washington, D.C., and was stunned to discover that the greater Los Angeles area did not have one. She took it upon herself to learn the business, with an 18-month apprenticeship at a local public radio station.


The station began broadcasting two hours a day in 1995. Now it broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Volunteers read the newspaper Monday through Friday.

Other programming--taped in advance or provided by satellite from a supplying network--includes readings from Spanish-language newspapers, the New Yorker magazine, National Geographic, U.S. News and World Report, best-selling books, science fiction and mystery novels. There's even a show on parenting.

Mason estimates the audience at 700, which is the number of specialized radios the organization has donated to the blind or visually impaired.

The special receivers can be purchased for about $125 each from catalogs for the handicapped.

"There are hundreds of thousands of potential listeners out there," Mason said. "As everyone gets older, they have trouble with their eyesight."

The station is supported by volunteers, many of whom work in entertainment. Parker began reading for the radio station seven years ago at an agent's suggestion when he complained about a dearth of work and auditions.

"The work is done in a very good spirit," Parker said. "It's a chance for me to have some fun every few weeks, while others listening are getting something out of it."

Parker was a television director for the Armed Forces Korea Network in the late 1960s and made hundreds of television commercials in the 1970s and '80s while living in New York, where he took up theater.

He chuckles through some of the stories he reads and has cried while reading columnists' more poignant pieces. One of his favorites was written by a father chronicling his family's travels across the country.

"I can perform that," he said. "I can really get my teeth in that."

A program guide for the Los Angeles Radio Reading Service is available at The organization, funded through on-air appeals and donations, is seeking volunteers.

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