A Detailed History Of The Los Angeles Radio Reading Service
One determined individual’s dream becomes a reality for many
The service was founded in 1993 by Jolie Mason (pictured right), who had become blind as an adult and recognized the acute need for such a service in the L.A. area. Jolie understood that blind and print–impaired people can get news from many sources; what they cannot get is the newspaper, with all of its features, columns, editorials, and ads. Nor do they have access to current magazines, just published books, or information about the community, all of which a radio reading service provides.
Jolie was accepted as one of 8 out of 800 applicants to an internship program at KPFK FM to learn the fundamentals of radio, and funding non–profit radio stations. With a seed grant from the California Community Foundation and help and monetary contributions of her family, friends, and members of her church congregation, Jolie established the first LARRS “studio” in a radio/TV classroom at L.A. Valley College.
The signal was (and still is) transmitted on a subcarrier of KCSN Radio FM in Northridge. All of the work of producing, engineering, editing and broadcasting the programs was done by volunteers, who were recruited by using public service announcements on radio and by word of mouth. The operating budget was minuscule. Today, the great majority of the work is still done by volunteers.
After a few years, the college needed the space for its own purposes, so LARRS was forced to find new quarters. CBS came to the rescue by allowing the service to occupy a trailer on its lot in Studio City. That trailer was “home” for two more years, until CBS began to run out of space and needed their trailer. Once again, LARRS was on the search for a broadcast site. No free space could be found in the San Fernando Valley; so a unit in a commercial building in Encino became the next, not–so–permanent, location. The site was adequate and convenient to the freeway, but, when new ownership took over, the parking rules were changed, and once again LARRS was on the road.
All this time, volunteers came and went. A few, who joined Jolie at the inception, were still with the organization, including an engineer, Richard Blythe, without whom LARRS would probably have faded into obscurity. Also complimenting the group was seeing eye dog , Yuma, a dedicated worker and support solicitor par excellence. The next home for the reading service was a goldmine – a real radio station that had been left vacant in the Fallbrook Mall in West Hills. The mall management generously allowed LARRS to have the space for a minimal rent. Two happy years passed. Had it been up to LARRS that arrangement would have lasted forever, but the Fallbrook Mall was slated for a total demolition, which left LARRS searching for space again.
That search ended when the corporate owners of the Northridge Fashion Center, who also own the Fallbrook property, generously offered the reading service a space for their broadcasts and operations in Northridge.
Jolie was instrumental in bringing audio description to Los Angeles. In 1994, a small audience of 8 enjoyed the first audio description of the Pasadena Rose Parade. That audience has grown to 200 along the parade route, over 40 radio reading services across the country and to 1.8 million television viewers! The first training for audio describers was hosted by LARRS. These trained individuals now provide audio description to audiences at the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatres in Los Angeles.