Mind’s Eye Radio, which broadcasts to about 13,000 listeners in the St. Louis area, has an unusual list of programs. At noon each day, a volunteer’s voice reads out the text of the most recent issue of USA Today. Next up are more magazines: Consumer News, Vintage Design, and Outdoorsman on Wednesdays, for example, or Military Times, American History, and Living at Home on Thursdays.
Mind’s Eye is a radio station designed entirely for blind and visually impaired people. Each day, trained volunteers record themselves reading dozens of publications that are then broadcast across the region. Blind and visually impaired people listen on radios distributed by Mind’s Eye, on the livestream on its website, or on apps on their phones.
Jesuita Tabor has been listening to Mind’s Eye since 1986, after her ex-husband shot her in the head, immediately rendering her completely blind. When she filed for divorce, her ex-husband “did not like that, and shot me in my right temple,” Tabor said. “I went totally blind instantly, so I came back to Missouri to retool myself, and this was when I was introduced to Mind’s Eye.”
As Tabor was a schoolteacher before going blind, she said reading was the thing she most missed. Mind’s Eye, she learned, would read the newspaper for her.
“It has been a lifeline to me,” Tabor said. “It made me get connected to the world again. Seventy-five percent of my life came back through Mind’s Eye.”
Jason Frazier, president and CEO of Mind’s Eye, was drawn to the radio station because he believes his grandmother, who was blind, could have used a resource like it.
“We read all the printed materials straight from the source,” he said. “When you have your talk radio station or your music station, you’re basically getting entertainment. And some of the things we read are entertainment-based, like Rolling Stone, but we also read a lot of your daily newspapers.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Belleville News-Democrat and St. Louis American are all read on-air.
According to volunteer Trenetta Sanders, who is the primary Mind’s Eye reader for The American, about an hour of the paper is read each Thursday evening around 9 p.m. One section of the paper that she always reads, she said, is Hot Sheet.
“I love it,” Sanders said. “It’s a simple but necessary and genius concept to provide up-to-date information for those who are visually impaired.”
One crucial item for many listeners is the grocery-store sale information and coupon inserts that come with the newspapers, which Mind’s Eye reads on-air, too.
“If I’m looking for sales on stuff, I can just go into the store. I don’t even have to look ahead of time,” Frazier said. “But someone who’s blind or visually impaired doing their grocery shopping, how are they getting that information? So in addition to reading your print materials, we read something that’s essential for just keeping your independence.”
This is true for Tabor. When she found out that Mind’s Eye airs ads, she said, “I thought, ‘I’m back in business! I get to shop again.’”
Mind’s Eye’s listener base skews older, with an average listener age of 67. This is, however, significantly younger than the average age was a decade ago. According to Frazier, when he first arrived at Mind’s Eye in 2012, the average listener age was 74.
So, while adapting to the internet age with apps and internet-only programming has been useful, Frazier said the station needs to remain accessible to listeners who may have less familiarity with newer technologies.
“We kind of keep our foot in both doors – keeping up with the technology, but also making sure we can serve our listeners,” he said.
Mind’s Eye has increasingly been moving into live event narration for sports events, theatre productions, and even events such as the solar eclipse of two summers ago.
“We’re doing a lot of different things, and it’s really revolutionized our organization,” Frazier said. “Up until 2016 we were only a radio reading service. And that was great, but we saw another need in the community.”
Audio description for films and theatre was an increasingly common project in the U.S. at the time, but Mind’s Eye has been one of the first groups to bring live play-by-play commentary to sports.
“We’re kind of the first ones to step out of the box and do sporting events,” Frazier said. “We’re the guinea pig for everybody else.”
Tabor has now been listening to Mind’s Eye for 34 years. In that time, she has become deeply involved in advocacy and community-building among the blind in St. Louis. She leads the Service Club for the Blind, which provides groceries to “about a hundred” blind people each month, as well as shopping trips with personal shoppers at Macy’s and monthly social events, such as bingo. She reads and writes braille, has remarried, and works with the Missouri Council for the Blind.
Though she can read braille, she still gets her newspapers through Mind’s Eye. “Even reading and writing braille didn’t help me with the newspaper,” she said. “I love me some Mind’s Eye! They have been so many people’s eyes.”