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Delivering Information

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Arlene Patterson is Manager of Production at VoicePrint's Toronto headquarters

VoicePrint studio producers play a pivotal role in delivering the product of hundreds of volunteer readers to the print-restricted listeners who weekly, for more than a decade, have tuned into the national, round-the-clock audio news-and-information network. The role takes on a special significance when the producer also is a VoicePrint user.

And Bill Shackleton, who is blind, is a VoicePrint producer. At work, Bill marshals dozens of volunteers in and out of the recording studios. The schedule is tight so there is little time to waste. Bill manages one of two digital recording studios and ultimately what is broadcast nationally. During the recording session he monitors sound quality. Once the information is recorded on a computer, he looks after the editing, post-production and scheduling the program.

Simultaneously he looks after regional programs from Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa delivered to Toronto by phone, satellite or the Internet.

And during quite times he records and evaluates auditions of new volunteers.

Bill has been with VoicePrint since it began its coast-to-coast-to-coast broadcasts December 1, 1990.

"In the past I've worked as a telemarketer and as a piano tuner. But I prefer this career. I interact with the volunteers and I find myself in a position where I can give back to the community.

"I definitely enjoy the responsibilities placed upon me. It can be challenging, especially when things are not where they should be. Having things organized and in place are crucial when you cannot rely on your eyes."

Not surprisingly, from its launch VoicePrint has been committed to accessibility. It's more than just a slogan for the media charity. On a tour of the network production centre you'll find Braille labels on production facilities such as CD players, tape decks, mixing boards, schedules, manuals, cassettes and broadcast slates. Computer keyboards are equipped with tactile markers. Screen-reading facilities allow producers to schedule programming on an independent basis.

VoicePrint switched to digital technology four years ago, the costs being underwritten by a grant from Shaw Communications by way of a media benefits included in its application to acquire CUC Communications of Richmond Hill, On.

Operations Director John Stubbs said the move was dictated by higher quality standards and expectations.

"The analog process injects a significant amount of tape noise so recording digitally to a computer means better sound quality. The system we use is ideal for at least two reasons: It is DOS bases and much friendlier when using speech-to-text technology; and it was the only system we found that provided linear digital computerized recordings.

"In combination, this provided our studio producers greater independence and now they have more control over the finished product and no longer have to rely on a sighted person to produce a high quality broadcast."

Bill Shackleton agrees that despite having previous experience with DOS, Dbase and WordPerfect, learning the new system for a while was scary.

"At first, I didn't know what direction VoicePrint would take in moving to digital technology. Then, when we started testing systems, I wondered if we would find a system that truly was accessible."

Now that the system is in place, Bill and his fellow studio producers confirm the switch was positive.

"Now we are more involved with the technical end of producing the VoicePrint service. We are able and, more importantly, are allowed to do more."

At leisure, Bill listens to VoicePrint because it is informative, entertaining and keeps his abreast of what sighted Canadians are reading.

"You can listen to commercial radio and you can watch television. But that's not the same as listening to VoicePrint. Where else can I get full independent access to print? My favorite shows are readings from Maclean's Magazine for it's neat weekly wrap-up of all sorts of information and from the Beaver for its historical content.

"I'm also a fan of Old Time Radio and AudioCinema Playhouse."

For further information on VoicePrint 's local programming, or the Described Movie catalogue produced by AudioVision Canada, call NBRS toll-free at 1-800-567-6755.

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