PEORIA, Ill. — Marge Von Boeckman is a faithful fan of the Journal Star even though she's blind.
Like hundreds of others in the Peoria area, Von Boeckman listens to Radio Information Service, a separate channel provided by WCBU-FM 89.9, Peoria's public radio station.
Formed in September 1981, the service involves 31 volunteer readers organized by Louise Grawey, 93, the Peoria resident who's been handling volunteers for RIS for the past 30 years.
"We try to put something on the air that people are interested in. Everyone is interested in the Journal Star," said Grawey.
All kinds of things are read to RIS listeners, with local material featured from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every weekday, said Lee Wenger, who has directed the service for WCBU since 1999.
"RIS is a national service that's on the air the rest of the time 24-7," he said.
It takes a special radio, a subcarrier receiver, to pick up the RIS signal, said Wenger. "(WCBU) buys them in bulk. The cost now is about $25 apiece, but we provide them free of charge to anyone that requests one. I come out and set it up at no cost," he said.
Wenger estimated there were about 600 in the community using the service. But that's probably only a fraction of the number that might qualify, he said.
"It's not restricted to those with visual problems. If you're print-handicapped - that is, for whatever reason, if you're not able to hold a book or turn pages - you're also eligible," said Wenger, noting that as many as 14,000 central Illinois residents could make use of the service, "if you go by the formula used by the National Foundation of the Blind (on the number of visually-impaired in the general population)."
The service relies on grants from the Illinois State Library, a division of the Secretary of State's office, as well as private donations, said Wenger. "We also have great support from the (Peoriarea Blind People's Center) and West Peoria Lions Club," he said.
"Our biggest problem is reaching people - to tell them we exist," said Wenger.
The service was originally located at the Peoria Public Library in Downtown Peoria, with Margaret Sutherland serving as the original RIS manager, he said.
"In 1989, the service moved to the basement of the Bradley University library. In 2004, they moved next door (to WCBU) at Jobst Hall on the Bradley University campus," said Wenger.
Volunteers such as John Meyers of Morton, Ginger Adams of Bartonville, Shirley Eschmeyer of Pekin, Bonnie White of Peoria and Dolores Schoolman of Metamora are just some of those who come to the RIS studio each week to read local publications.
"I read on Wednesday and Friday. I read the newspaper grocery ads - especially the produce items - along with papers such as Senior News & Views, Healthy Cells and Numero," said Schoolman, adding that her devotion to RIS for the past five years stemmed from a family connection.
"My aunt was 96 percent blind. She used the service for the blind. After she died, I thought (reading) would be a good thing for me to do," she said.
Wenger pointed out that an important aspect of RIS was its ability to enpower individuals in the community. "The service works so that people aren't housebound. The service keeps them independent," he said.
"When people find out what's going on in their community, they're able to maintain as much independence as possible," said Wenger.
For Marge Von Boeckman, 71, it's a service she takes full advantage of.
"The radio is simple to use with an FM band for other stations. I take my radio with me wherever I am in the house," she said.
"I don't know what I'd do without it," said Von Boeckman.
Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com