Like many local organizations, West Valley Talking News has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it is in need of both volunteers and subscribers.
The program, with a studio at 9447 N. 99th Ave., benefits low vision and blind people in the community, providing — free to them — hours of recorded news and entertainment delivered weekly to their homes. The same program benefits the volunteers whose work gives them the opportunity to fill a unique need not otherwise met.
Today, there are roughly 22 active volunteers, though that number changes on any given week, and the current number of patrons/subscribers is 108, a drop from the 130 prior to the pandemic.
“We would love for our subscriber listener base to double, to triple,” states Sarah Shew, a Sun City volunteer who directs segments of the news as read by others. “The volunteers will rise to the occasion. What we provide is free to our subscribers, yet it costs about $35,000 a year to produce. Because we exist solely on donations, we are searching for those with financial resources to help.”
Ms. Shew says she doesn’t bring any special talent to the program, “just a little time and a lot of enthusiasm.”
“All 20-plus of our volunteers care about what we do, how we do it, and where it ends up,” she adds. “We know that what we do matters to our listeners. Sure, the people in our community who suffer with low vision or blindness listen to radio and to TV – yet it is not the same at all as what we provide through our weekly audio news magazine.”
West Valley Talking News began as Recorded Recreational Reading for the Blind Inc., started in 1971 by Sun City resident Jane Hilverkus and continued by Margaret Cepuder. The goal was to provide recordings of local news to community members who, because of visual or physical problems, were unable to read printed material. With the assistance of the Arizona Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (now the Arizona Talking Book Library), cassettes were mailed weekly to area subscribers. During the next few years, volunteers also began recording magazines and books for the Talking Book Library.
In August 1973, Recorded Recreational Reading for the Blind (RRRB) was chartered as a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation. The organization’s annual budget is still primarily derived from donations.
Until early 1974, recording was done in borrowed space; then, for seven years, the Del Webb Development Co. provided space in the Sun City Professional Building. The RRRB also acquired its first sound booth and professional-grade recording and cassette duplicating equipment, after which the number of subscribers began to increase.
In the decades that followed, the organization was headed by James Geer, who continued as president and operating director. After his passing in the 1990s, Rev. Douglas Wright became president and has led RRRB to the present day.
As the organization grew, additional space was needed. In 1976, Sam Higginbotham, of the Lions Club, spearheaded an effort to provide a building with studios to house both RRRB and the Sun City unit of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, a national organization that aids vision-impaired students.
Local Lions clubs helped underwrite the construction and Del Webb built the building at cost. The new facility was dedicated in early 1980.
The new studio was equipped with one recording station. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Sun City Talking News was produced on tape cassettes, and the recording of books and magazines for the Arizona Talking Book program, in conjunction with the National Library Service of the Library of Congress, also continued.
As the Sun City brand expanded to areas such as Sun City Grand and Sun City Festival, the RRRB decided to change the name of the weekly audio news offering to the Greater Sun City Talking News. It was soon recognized that potential patrons of the service lived outside Sun City, however, and the news format began adopting that of a news magazine with feature and entertainment sections. The name then changed to the West Valley Talking News.
In 2016, one more service was introduced: an online radio station — KRUV Radio Sun, with the call letters KRUV (Are You Volunteering).
Program Director John Schumacher has been with RRRB since 2001.
“I was with it in the days of tape-recorded cassettes and see the added flexibility that digital recording gives us and the ability to improve our product for our patrons,” he stated. “I’ve witnessed that by comments from the patrons themselves, about how much a part of their lives that the West Valley Talking News is each week. It’s my hope that our online radio station, KRUV Radio Sun, can spread the word about the value of this program as its listenership grows and about the value of volunteerism in general.”
Other significant changes in the following years included more recording stations and the integration of digital media for recordings, rather than tape cassettes.
Nicole Caliguiri, of Peoria, has since her first year as a volunteer been tasked with digitizing audio tapes from old time radio for use by the visually impaired of the West Valley — both for the Talking News and for radio station KRUV.
“My mother is visually impaired,” she noted, “it’s a great benefit for people who can’t read the newspaper or a book anymore. I find it gratifying in the extreme.”
The program includes a variety of music, local news, sports, science, entertainment, interviews and more. The studios also have increased the number of magazines, books and periodic journals recorded for the Arizona Talking Book Library. The news magazine is recorded digitally on cartridges that are compatible with the players provided by the Arizona Talking Book Library.
Paige Wilbur, a Sun City volunteer, has been recording at the studio for several years, both for the Talking News as well as books and periodicals for the State Library. Being a book lover, she says just reading and recording has been very satisfying on a personal level.
“Over those years I have had occasion to meet some of the subscribers and hear directly from them the impact this service has in their lives,” she stated. “This has had a profound impression on me of the value of what we do at RRRB. It helps people stay connected to the world when their vision begins to fail, and it helps people who have other vision problems that prevent them being able to read, something we take for granted. These are the things that cause me to be proud of the work we do, of the product we produce, and of all of the volunteers who give of their time and effort to make this happen.”
Magazine content is varied, with a local focus, and is between nine and 10 hours in length. The program is free to its patrons, and pre-qualified subscribers to the Federal Talking Book program are provided a free digital player as well as the regularly mailed cartridges.
Vision-impaired people in the Northwest Valley who would like to receive a weekly news magazine are invited to contact RRRB. And volunteers are always welcome.
“Giving of my time costs so little but provides so much,” stated Glendale resident Dan Zemke, who reads the financial section of the West Valley Talking News. “It gives me a good feeling.”
Call 623-933-0985 or visit recordingfortheblind.org for more information.