Veteran’s voice brings news and information to blind through radio

The service provides news and information for more than 10,000 visually-impaired Nebraskans.
A veteran's voice is bringing news and information to thousands of visually-impaired Nebraskans.
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 10:21 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - After serving 26 years in the Air Force, Dick Harrington was a little bored, so a friend told him about the Radio Talking Book Service.

Three decades later, he’s still bringing the words to some 10,000 blind and reading-impaired folks across the state.

“Our volunteers are 100% the heart of our organization,” said Bekah Jerde, the service’s executive director. “We couldn’t do what we do, literally, without them. They provide over 90 hours of programming a week for us, and then we have volunteers like Dick.”

“He reads the Norfolk paper,” said program director Ryan Osentowski. “His reading style is warm and friendly. He’s just a great guy all around, and he’s one of our best. He’s the reason we do what we do.”

Every now and then, Dick’s Boston accent slips out, but he’s okay with that. With all due respect to the smart speakers playing his readings, artificial intelligence voicing is just that: artificial.

“It’s not an artificial world that we live in,” Harrington said. “It’s a real world with mistakes and errors and comedy and accents and everything else associated with it.”

Dick’s colleagues wanted to make sure to point out that he was named Serve Nebraska’s Veterans Volunteer of the Year in 2020. But that’s not why he does this.

“It can and definitely does touch people and change lives and give people this sense of connection,” Harrington said. “There’s a connection to a voice, whether they’re talking about me reading and I always get into the middle here and I’ll find something humorous to see what’s in the Go Ahead and Smile section.”

Osentowski describes Harrington as the consummate American.

“I mean that in the most complimentary way possible,” he said. “He has a heart for service. He has a heart for helping others. He’s an honorable person that honors his word and his commitments, and that translates to what we do here.”

“We feel cared for by him, and that’s evident in all the areas in which he serves RTBS and our listeners,” Jerde said. “He’s a gem.”

RTBS programming is available in podcast form. Programs are also streamed live on its website.

RTBS provides radios and smart speakers to eligible Nebraskans and western Iowans at no cost. Apply for one on their website.