Despite its near forty year history, Vision Australia Radio maintains its revolutionary roots. An innovative service when it first hit the airwaves, today Vision Australia Radio continues to deliver news and current affairs alongside specialised programming to hundreds of thousands of listeners.

Tune your radio dial to 1197AM on a Monday morning in Melbourne and you’ll hear readings from The Age and The Herald Sun on The Morning Paper Round. Then swing back at 1pm for Afternoon Live and two hours of ‘light, bright and entertaining readings’. And if you’re looking for something a little more serious, try The Conversation at 5pm, a current affairs and news show that features readings from The Conversation website. These programs can be found on Vision Australia Radio, a radio service for people with a print disability with a monthly audience of more than 700,000 people.

Five million Australians have a print disability. From learning and literacy disabilities like dyslexia to physical disabilities including arthritis, spinal disability, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy to vision impairments, the audience for radio services like Vision Australia Radio is as diverse as it is large.

A Blind Affair

The origins of today’s Vision Australia Radio services can be found in programs broadcast on radio stations in the 1970s in Melbourne. One of those shows was ‘A Blind Affair’. With a dual goal of providing information and resources for people with vision impairments as well as educating the wider public about the lived experience of people with a vision impairment, ‘A Blind Affair’ was the precursor to the establishment of specialised radio services for people with a print disability in 1978.

Image is of a young man seated at a desk in front of a desktop computer. He wears headphones and a microphone is positioned in front of him.

For Conrad Browne, the manager of Vision Australia Radio, the revolutionary roots of the radio services broadcast by Vision Australia in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia are matched by their contemporary innovation.

‘It was a quite an interesting way of using the community radio network to deliver this service publicly. In a way, it was really revolutionary, because you were using something that reaches a lot of people in a way that was truly accessible. Everyone had a radio in their home,’ he said.

‘As time has gone on, a lot of changes have occurred within the space. But still, to this day, we primarily deliver readings of newspapers, books, and magazines alongside specialist programming,’ Conrad said.

‘It’s a really interesting format for radio as well. It literally is relaying information. There’s no editorializing, there’s no commentary. It’s a skill. And it’s a really interesting way of delivering that information. But using radio to do it just makes a lot of sense,’ Conrad said.

Traditional community radio

Vision Australia Radio broadcasts shows covering news and current affairs alongside specialist programming about topics as wide-ranging as film, finance, health, gardening, politics, pop culture and sport. More recently, the organisation has worked to engage people within the blind, low vision and print disability community to share their stories and lived experience, shifting them from the audience and into the studio. 

In a way, it was really revolutionary, because you were using something that reaches a lot of people in a way that was truly accessible. Everyone had a radio in their home.

‘We’re branching out into what I think of as really traditional community radio, which is having more programming being delivered by our community of interest,’ Conrad said. 

Vision Australia Radio has more than 800 volunteers across the country and an audience of more than 700,000 monthly listeners. The Vision Australia Radio network includes 15 AM radio services in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, seven services in regional Victoria and five digital radio services available online or on digital radio.

You can support the work of Vision Australia Radio at www.varadio.org

Revolutionary Radio originally appeared in Issue 28 of Inform Magazine.

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