Last week, San Diego State University's KPBS broadcasting operation quietly put an end to providing local content on its Radio Reading Service, a special radio subchannel featuring volunteers reading newspaper and periodical content for those who can't read.
"People think of us as a service for the blind," explained Amy Bosler, a longtime volunteer for the service who served as programming coordinator from 2015 to 2017. "But a lot of listeners are elderly people who just can't read the small print in a newspaper, or they might be amputees who have difficulty turning pages."
While the station will continue to carry readings of national interest from sources such as the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, the station's roughly 100 volunteer readers were told last month that their services would no longer be needed after June 29.
"It was a very impersonal email that basically stated that because KPBS listeners are turning more toward internet and digital devices for listening that it seemed there wasn't a need for live readings any more," Bosler recounts. "They did say they appreciated our service, but I've been doing this for 25 years and there are people who have been involved longer than I have. Volunteers have been reading material to the community for over 40 years, because they felt like they were filling a need. And the cost to KPBS was really minimal – all they had to cover was parking for the volunteers while they were on site at SDSU reading."
Over the years, Bosler says KPBS has allowed the service to shrink through attrition, eliminating or simply not filling open staff positions until a single part-time staffer, released at the end of June, was left coordinating local content.
"You can listen to newscasts on radio or TV, but you're not getting the in-depth coverage that you'd get from reading a paper," she says in defense of the service. "We'd read the Union-Tribune, selections from the Reader and North County Times, Voice of San Diego, a broad range. Around election time we'd try to read the election pamphlets."