In Australia the use of radio to meet the information needs of people who have a print disability dates back as far as community radio itself.
The 1970’s: Early Days From 1975 a community group in Melbourne were presenting a regular weekly news and information program on 3ZZ and then 3CR. Among those involved, there was knowledge of the radio reading services then developing in the United States.
Overtures were made to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications for access to the broadcasting spectrum for the provision of similar reading services within Australia. They were to become known as Radio for the Print Handicapped (RPH) services.
On 23 July 1978, Minister for Post and Telecommunications, the Hon. Tony Staley, announced:
“The establishment of a special radio communications service for the blind and other people with reading difficulties. [The Service will] present programs which are not provided in depth by existing stations. This would include readings of feature articles, and book serialisation, as well as the transmission of information of special relevance to print handicapped people.”
Minister for Post and Telecommunications Media Release 78/9: 23 July 1978
Initially, services in Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart were licensed to operate on Marine Band frequencies that were accessible through a minor tuning modification to most radio receivers.
1981: The International Year for Disabled Persons Commonwealth funding was first provided in the 1981/82 Federal Budget, as an initiative for the International Year for Disabled Persons. Minister for Communications, the Hon. Ian Sinclair, announced:
“…funding of $627,000 to establish the Australian Caption Centre; and $250,000 to support the establishment of radio services for the print handicapped.”
By 1984/85 RPH services were operating in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Hobart. A freeze on the issue of Marine Band Licences meant that RPH providers in Adelaide and Perth were restricted to use of purchased access time on local community stations.
1988: Part of the Metropolitan Radio Plan In 1986 the Department of Communications undertook a comprehensive review of RPH services. The review report contained eight recommendations which formed the basis for the RPH component of the Government’s Metropolitan Radio Plan announced by the Minister for Transport and Communications, Senator the Hon. Gareth Evans, on 9th August 1988. This plan and subsequent government support saw:
- the provision of primary band AM frequencies for all seven capital city RPH services
- re-licensing of the services as Public Radio (Special Interest – RPH) services, with full metropolitan area coverage
- free use and maintenance of Commonwealth owned, high power, transmission facilities for the five mainland capital city stations
- one-off capital grants to fund AM transmitters for the Canberra and Hobart services.
When announcing these arrangements Minister Evans again referenced the specific role and audience for RPH services:
“RPH programming which overwhelmingly depends on volunteers, includes readings from newspapers, periodicals and novels as well as information on topics ranging from local events and activities to travel, science, health and sport.
“RPH’s radio reading services provide a wide range of information, not only to the blind and visually impaired, but also to people such as quadriplegics, sufferers of cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, stoke victims, dyslexics, immigrants who understand spoken but not written English and the functionally illiterate.”
Minister for Transport and Communications Media Statement 83(d) / 88: 9 August 1988
1990: An Active Member of the Community Broadcasting Sector Public Broadcast licences were issued to all seven RPH services in 1990 and 1991 and, with Commonwealth support, the stations were then able to take up their primary band frequencies.
In the nine years from 1982 funding support for RPH services was provided directly through the Australian Council for Radio for the Print Handicapped (ACRPH, now RPH Australia).
In 1990 the Department of Communications proposed that RPH funding be processed as part of its allocation to Public Broadcasting, administered through the Public Broadcasting Foundation (now the Community Broadcasting Foundation).
ACRPH was pleased to take its place as an active member of the Public Broadcasting Foundation. RPH advocates continue to work hard to integrate RPH broadcasting into the broader Community Broadcasting Sector.