Radio Talking Book (RTB) is a State Services for the Blind (SSB) service intended for the use of blind, visually-impaired and print-disabled persons. RTB shares a wide variety of print materials with its target audiences so that people can be well-informed, participate in their communities and continue to live independently. For many years, listeners accessed RTB through a proprietary radio receiver as well as online through our live stream and archive. Now, as we transition away from broadcasting over the radio, in addition to the stream, listeners can access RTB through our app for Apple and Android, and via our Alexa skill.
Beginning October 1, 2020, RTB will no longer be broadcast via radio. This means that to continue to listen to RTB programming, a person will need to access the content through the RTB app, or online via the web or using a digital assistant like a smart speaker. You can learn more about why we are making these changes by reading “Reasons Why We are Changing How RTB Comes to You” further below.
Here are the four ways you can access RTB:
RTB reads newspapers - both national and local, magazines - both print and online, and current books not recorded by National Library Service (NLS). It also carries some special programs of interest to its listeners, such as information on assistive technology.
Digital Assistants are devices that use artificial intelligence to complete everyday tasks for consumers. Most often, these devices are programmed to listen for a "wake up word." For instance, "Alexa" is the word that will activate devices from Amazon, like the Amazon Echo, or Amazon Echo Dot. A consumer can follow the "wake up word" with a specific request, such as, "Alexa, Play Radio Talking Book."
Digital Assistants are pre-programmed to respond to a wide variety of requests, such as "Tell me what the weather forecast is," or, "What time is it?" For Amazon devices, the requests that Alexa can perform are called "Skills." In addition to the long list of skills that are built in to Amazon devices, third parties have developed other options that you can add to the list of skills. To add a skill you have to “enable it” by using a specific phrase. Please see "How do I Listen to Radio Talking Book on my Alexa Device" for complete instructions on adding the "Play Radio Talking Book" skill to your device.
SSB is also working on creating an app for the Google digital assistant.
Yes, Alexa-enabled devices need Wi-Fi (a wireless internet connection) in order to do things like play Radio Talking Book. See, "What If I don’t Have a Reliable Internet Connection" for a link to resources on finding assistance for paying for Wi-Fi internet service.
The Minnesota RTB app is available from the Google Play Store for Android, and the App Store from Apple/iOS. The app is free. Just search for "Radio Talking Book or Minnesota RTB."
Smartphones are just one way to listen to RTB. You can listen via the Amazon Alexa Skill, or you can listen to the stream via a standard desktop or laptop computer. Later we plan on adding a Google Assistant Services App that works with devices like the Google Home.
Visit the Radio Talking Book
You might want to bookmark this page to return to it easily.
No, all broadcasts from the RTB are archived for one week. So, you can pick any day of the week, and any hour, and hear what was broadcast during that time by going to the listing.
Visit the Radio Talking Book and immediately after the button to play the live stream is a button to select the archive "Listen to Archived Programs". After you select "Listen to Archived Programs", you may then pick the day and hour of the week to listen to programming broadcast at that time. You can also listen to the archives using the Minnesota Radio Talking Book app. The process to reach archived programming is the same on the app as on the website.
No, we have eliminated the need for passwords. The Amazon Alexa Skill will ask you if you are blind or print-disabled; if this is true for you, just answer "yes."
Radio Talking Book is free for all eligible consumers. However, there may be associated costs, like the cost of internet service or phone data service that are necessary for playing Radio Talking Book programming. If you already use an Android or Apple smartphone, or you have access to the internet at your home, you will not need to pay any additional fees to listen to Radio Talking Book. There are some resources available to help consumers pay for internet and cell phone services.
If you do not have reliable internet service, but you do have a smartphone with data service, you can listen to the Minnesota RTB app. Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development, part of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, is working to bring access to reliable high speed internet to every corner of Minnesota. You can visit the Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development’s website for maps and information on current coverage. If there is reliable internet service in your area, but you cannot afford to pay for it, you may be eligible for financial assistance.
To access RTB in any of these four ways noted above, a person will need internet service, phone data service or access to Wi-Fi.
However, content for blind, visually-impaired and print-disabled people will still be available in other ways including:
The numbers of people listening to RTB via radio broadcast has decline significantly as other options for listening to news, books and other content have become available. Audio books, pod casts, screen-reader accessible news sites and more have lessened blind, visually-impaired and print-disabled people’s usage of RTB broadcast. In fact, we have seen an approximately 75% decline in usage in the past 25 years. The large decline and the availability of other resources, including ways to listen to RTB online, made the on-going expense too high to justify continuing the broadcast service. Here are some of the costs associated with operating the RTB radio broadcast:
The RTB first went on the air on January 2, 1969, broadcasting a few hours a day. Over the years, programming has been increased. Now programming fills 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
The RTB was created by C. Stanley Potter, who was Director of SSB for many years. He worked with Robert (Bob) Watson, a long-time acquaintance of his. Watson was an Engineer and did all the technical work on the early RTB. Others who were involved included Minnesota Public Radio and the Hamm Foundation.
While a precise number is hard to determine, about 2,000 listeners throughout Minnesota have our radio receivers. We also have listeners across the country and even internationally. In addition, our programming is frequently rebroadcast by other similar services in the US. Listeners around the country enjoy the books RTB records, which aren’t available via the NLS but are available through the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library in Faribault.
Good question! We are pleased to say that all the books we record for RTB get multiple uses. First, they are available from the Braille and Talking Book Library in Faribault. Secondly, we place many of the books we record on BARD, the Braille and Reading Download service from NLS. If you are not already signed up for Library service, call us at 1-800-652-9000.
RTB currently has six broadcast locations that switch to readings of local newspapers in their areas for one or two hours a day. These sites are in Duluth, Fergus Falls, Grand Rapids, Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud. We are currently exploring ways that we can continue to offer readings of local newspapers come October 1, 2020.
While most Minnesotans have smart phones and/or internet access on some other device, we know that people struggle with digital technology. SSB can help by providing training on how to use assistive technology. Additionally, our staff, may, in some cases, be able to provide an eligible person with a simple-to-use Amazon Echo Dot, which can play Radio Talking Book if there is Wi-Fi available.
We rely on the dedication of our talented volunteers, both at the Communication Center in St. Paul and across the state. We will continue to rely on volunteers to read news content, books and other information to provide via our Radio Talking Book programming, which continues after the radio broadcasts end as of October 1, 2020.
In particular, the recordings of local news from newspapers across Minnesota are a popular and valued part of the services we provide. We are exploring options for continuing this programming.
RTB programming is shared with similar services across the country. Some of them get our signal from our satellite downlink, and others grab it from the stream. While satellite distribution will be going away on October 1, the live stream will still be available for other radio reading services. RTB was the first service of its kind, and we continue to lead the way with innovations that other services utilize.
RTB is part of the Communication Center of State Services for the Blind. The Communication Center carries out the mission of making print accessible. The financial support of generous donors, and the time and talent of a dedicated team of volunteers, make this work possible. Your financial gift to the Communication Center helps support RTB programming, audio, braille and e-text transcriptions, library services and more. Learn more and make your donation through our page on GiveMN. You can also call our Development Director, Angela Bodensteiner, at 651-539-2274. Learn more about being a volunteer at the Communication Center on the volunteer information page of our website.
The best way to volunteer for RTB is to contact Roberta Kitlinski at the Communication Center. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and her phone number is 651-539-1423. Roberta will send out an application, and follow up with a conversation to determine how to best utilize your skills and commitment.
We are exploring options now. If you would like to return your old radio to SSB, please call 651-539-2363 or 1-800-652-9000.