Anyone who attended the 1986 Worldcon, ConFederation, may recognize the writer of this next article as the host of that convention's innovative nightly closed circuit television production, WorldCon Tonight. Eve has been our friend for almost twenty years, ever since the 1980 Worldcon where we shared a room with her (and also the current DUFF representative, Janice Gelb). Eve has had much experience in communicating via the spoken word; she's the retired owner of radio station WNDT and has spent more than ten years in professional broadcasting. She also knows a good book when she reads one, and as we'll see, how to communicate that to an audience.
'Reading for Fun and Non-Profits' by Eve Ackerman; 
  illo by Julia Morgan-Scott
I'm involved in various charitable and volunteer activities. It's my husband's fault. He's big on public service and used to badger me to death to give back to the community my time as well as money. As usual, my marital moral compass was right and now I'm involved in everything from washing and laying out the dead to chairing our local Library Foundation (Our unofficial motto: "We want your money." Simple, no?).

 But my favorite volunteer activity is the one I do every week when I sit down in front of a microphone at the Radio Reading Service.

The RRS is a national group of radio stations that broadcast to the 'print disabled'. The Library of Congress estimates that 1.5 million Americans are print disabled (blind, visually impaired, learning disabled or physically disabled) and these are the people eligible to become RRS listeners. The reason you probably haven't heard a RRS program is because the RRS broadcasts on a subcarrier, or sideband channel of an FM radio station. Listeners must have a special pre-tuned receiver to pick up the broadcast. There are other methods of transmission, via television or telephone dial-in, but the radio method is the most common. We have a limited number of receivers which are issued free of charge and we're a non-profit.

The RRS motto is, "We read when you can't," and includes local and regional newspapers, books, magazines and special interest programs like Veterans Update. My RRS is through WUFT/WJUF FM, the public radio stations of the University of Florida in Gainesville. For over five years, since the first week they went on the air, I've spent my Tuesday mornings in front of a mike for about 90 minutes recording novels. Right now I'm reading Young Miles, the Lois McMaster Bujold collection that includes Warrior's Apprentice, "The Mountains of Mourning" and The Vor Game.

The books are read in one hour segments, verbatim, recorded on reel-to-reel tapes. Every word is included and if you make a mistake you have to stop, re-record and then go on. Illustrations are described. Before a book is aired a checker listens to it while reading the novel to make sure I didn't make mistakes and that there are no technical glitches. It can take months to do a single novel.

I have a lot of leeway over the books I record, hence the slant towards SF and Fantasy. I've been asked to do specific books in the past, primarily Florida-based work. For that particular assignment I chose Batfishing in the Rainforest, essays by outdoors writer Randy Wayne White. The director of the RRS is a black woman from Mississippi who had wanted me to read Florida Cracker Tales.

"If I do that, Gloria, I'm going to sound like exactly what I am -- a Minnesota girl trying to talk 'Southron' and failing miserably. I'm terrible on dialect."

So I did the White book `cause it didn't have dialect and agreed to record a collection of Shalom Aleichem stories after. That dialect I can do. Gloria said if I thought I'd sound bad reading Florida Cracker Tales, imagine how she'd sound reading Shalom Aleichem.

illo by Julia Morgan-Scott I've recorded the four book Merlin saga by Mary Stewart, Shards of Honor, also by Bujold, Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede, a collection of Asimov stories, and some romance novels. For a while I was recording so many romances that when they did my nameplate on the shelf that holds my tapes, it was done in a script made up of flowers and curlicues. Most of the romances I record are 'sweets' or Regencies. A 'sweet' is a novel without overt sexual activity. I once recorded Perfect Partners by Jayne Anne Krentz, a personal favorite, definitely not a 'sweet', and I heard afterwards the scenes of oral sex and extended descriptions of other sexual activity alarmed the powers that be. Especially since they keep the RRS on the intercom system at the radio station so anyone walking around the halls would have heard the novels. But our novels are on early in the evening, and you shouldn't think the service is run by a bunch of blue noses. An effort is made to give everybody what they want -- those who stay up late on Friday nights get to hear Playboy read aloud, with descriptions of pictures.

I try to keep the audience in mind when I'm choosing books to record. We have mixed demographics, but not surprisingly many of our listeners are older, quite a few are rural and for some of them this is their main link to the outside world. I recorded the romance novel Staying Cool by Catherine Todd and chose it for its entertainment value and for the protagonist in her mid `40s. Thought our audience might appreciate an older gal getting the guy.

Sometimes I fill in for our newspaper readers, most of whom are students. From 8 to 10 o'clock in the morning our readers go through The Gainesville Sun and the Ocala Star Banner, picking out articles from all the sections. Trying to describe the comics to an audience that can't see the pictures isn't easy, but they appreciate the effort. After we're done with the news, another reader comes on with grocery ads. We also do the weeklies and supplement with programming from the Minnesota Talking Book Network.

Some books, I've found, just don't do well read aloud. For instance, C.J. Cherryh's Cuckoo's Egg is a favorite of mine, but when I tried to read it aloud to my sons I found Cherryh's writing style didn't work as well as I'd hoped. Too many point of view shifts and introspection. Bujold's writing style, though, reads aloud very well.

Reading a book aloud gives me new insight into the story and the characters because I have to modify my voice to portray the different people. For Miles Naismith Vorkosigan I use my regular speaking voice. For Elena Bothari, it's pitched slightly higher and sentences tend to end on an interrogatory note -- if you listen to a young woman speaking, it can sound like she's ending every sentence as a question, a habit I had to break when I first started broadcasting. For Sgt. Bothari, I use a lower voice and deadpan tones. A scene with four or five characters can be draining, trying to remember what pitch I've used for which character. But reading, say, Sgt. Bothari's dialogue aloud makes the character come alive for me in a much more concrete manner than when I was silently reading the novel for pleasure.

The other thing that's draining is hitting emotional lows in the novel. I'm the kind of person who gets choked up over Hallmark card commercials. Trying to read a particular scene in Warrior's Apprentice where the death of a major character is foreshadowed took a lot longer than it should have because I'd have to stop the tape, blow my nose, clear my throat and start again. I know it's going to be worse when I get to the part where the character actually bites the big one, and I don't even want to think about what I went through recording Randy White's essay on having to put his elderly dog to sleep!

 We have a bulletin board where letters from listeners and their families are posted. The most common note reads like this: "I'm returning to you the receiver issued to my father, James Doe. Daddy died recently but for the past two years he'd listen every day to your broadcasts and it made his life a whole lot better."

I may never meet our listeners. I hear we've gotten calls from a few guys wondering what I look like (probably after I read the sex scenes in Perfect Partners). But I know the service is valuable and appreciated. When I have to juggle my schedule to try and fit my shift in, I keep a picture in my mind of an older man, a WWII vet, who may have gone blind from diabetes or a stroke. Everyday he listens to the RRS to find out what's going on in his community. He looks forward to the next installment of The Crystal Cave or Shards of Honor or a Regency Romance, though he'd never admit to enjoying that!

My own father, a WWII vet, went blind due to complications from diabetes and a stroke. I was looking into getting him a RRS receiver in his hometown when he died. He wasn't a science fiction fan, but I like to think that he would have enjoyed hearing me read aloud and so I keep at it for all the other people out there whose radios are their window to the world.

{{ed. (and author's) note: If you're interested in more information on the RRS, contact The National Association of Radio Reading Services at 800-280-5325, or call your local public radio station to see if they have a RRS channel. }}

All illustrations by Julia Morgan-Scott

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