Phil Gillam: News is the talk of the town
It was back in 1976 that the first talking newspapers were produced in Shropshire.
Blind and partially-sighted people had said they needed an audio news service, and a public appeal achieved both the necessary funds and the initial team of enthusiastic volunteers to produce and publish the recordings.
Portable players were provided to listeners on free loan and the service itself was - and still is - free of charge.
Of course things have changed a little since 1976 as far as technology goes.
For years the talking newspapers were on those (now fondly remembered by some) cassette tapes. I’m not entirely sure why they should be fondly remembered because so often the tapes would wobble and be fed into the teeth of the cassette machine, and you’d have one heck of a job trying to untangle it!
I recall getting very angry indeed when some of my favourite music compilations were chewed up by the tape machine and damaged beyond all hope.
Anyway. For some time now listeners in Shrewsbury and right across west Shropshire have been accessing their talking newspaper via the much more user-friendly memory stick.
And one of the charity’s volunteers, Alan Wilding (who’s actually been with the organisation since Day One) told me this week that the West Shropshire Talking Newspaper is now available not only on memory stick, and not only via the telephone, but also via Alexa.
Oh, you must know Alexa … she’s the virtual assistant developed by Amazon. You just say to her: Alexa - play the Talking Newspaper. And she does.
It’s some kind of magic. Don’t ask me to explain!
“It really is a wonderful innovation,” says Alan. “Of course you can still have the Talking Newspaper on a memory stick, that’s the way most people will receive it. And telephone is a nice way to listen as well.”
After more than 40 years of continuous operation, the production of each week’s West Shropshire Talking Newspaper (WSTN) follows a well tried and tested routine to publish a consistently high quality recording which arrives through listeners’ letterboxes on Fridays.
The 90-minute programme comprises news, information and features.
Each week a duty editor reads all the local news stories in the Shropshire Star and makes a selection for the recording.
“Of course there’s always plenty to talk about,” says Alan. “Be it council news, be it crime news, be it awards and achievements.”
A set of scripts and a running order is delivered by the duty editor and then the presenter reads through the stories to resolve any problems before the studio session.
A continuity script is drafted to help listeners (there are about 300 of them) find their way around the various sections.
Each recording concludes with – “And finally ….” - an amusing anecdote which aims to leave the listener with a smile.
The costs involved in running the Talking Newspaper are around £11,000 a year – chiefly made up of contributions towards heating and lighting and maintenance of equipment.
Alan says: “All our people are volunteers of course, but, yes, we do have costs that have to be met. And so this is done through fundraising and donations. We don’t get a council grant or anything like that.
“Each year we sell Christmas cards to make some money. In the spring and summer we do collections in the streets of Shrewsbury.
“But we are about to launch a Friends Group to raise additional funds so that should help.”
Alan, his wife Susan, and other volunteers including Mary Pascoe, Harriet Bisson, David Harris, Ian Musty, Steve Bristow and Kath Bristow keep the Talking Newspaper going – and it is a brilliant job that they do.
For more information on the Friends Group - or any other aspect of the West Shropshire Talking Newspaper, telephone 01743 364726 or visit the website - wstn.org.uk. There’s also a Facebook page facebook.co/westshropstn
To listen to the Talking Newspaper by telephone, call 01743 387487.