Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Helen Keller and the Radio

Radio is a friend to the sightless. At least, I was told that far too many years ago when I was a teenaged disc jockey by a man with severe vision troubles who occasionally called the station to chat while listening to the all-night show. I thought of that when I spotted this remarkable picture leafing through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of May 12, 1929.

Here’s the accompanying story, with no byline.

A. Atwater Kent and R.C.A. Thanked by Helen Keller For Radios for Sightless
In response to an appeal from Helen Keller, 250 blind people will receive radios through the generosity of A. Atwater Kent and the Radio Corporation of America.
During the past few years, the American Foundation for the Blind of 125 E. 46th st., New York, has been distributing radios to sightless people in the United States. When its last consignment of radios was exhausted, 250 names remained on the waiting list of the Foundation.
Some of these requests gave pathetic glimpses into lives cut away from all contacts with the world outside their isolated communities. They came from rural districts barren of any form of entertainment and from those who must spend their bleak evenings alone in great cities.
“My aunt is old and blind, and enforced idleness and inactivity keep her too much alone,” one-letter read. “We are starved for what a radio brings.” When Helen Keller learned that no more radios were available, she realized the poignancy of the disappointment of those who were awaiting a reply to their requests.
In behalf of her fellow blind, she wrote to Atwater Kent asking that these sightless hundreds be provided with radios.
The response was prompt. Two hundred and fifty electric radios were made available for distribution through the American Foundation for the Blind, for which the Radio Corporation of America will contribute tubes. In acknowledgement, Miss Keller wrote:
Dear Mr. Atwater Kent:
Your response to my request for radios for the blind is wonderful. I am all a-tremble with excitement. My heart sings out its joy and gratitude to you. It is just as it should be that you are a Philadelphian, your beautiful deed images the great and generous heart of your city—a city which pours out its wealth in comfort and help to others.
I seek for words to express the warmth of my appreciation of your kindness; but words are only painted fire, and vanish when once spoken. But the feeling remains forever a bright flame in the dark. May your reward be in the thought that through you blindness has lost its brooding—and the heart of sorrow has been lightened and consoled by magical sounds from the world’s brimming orchestra.
Gratefully and sincerely yours,
Although Helen Keller is both blind and deaf, the laws of vibration permit her to listen to a radio by placing her hand on the cabinet. In the same way she catches the rhythm of the music from the case of a violin when the bow is drawn across the strings and from a light touch upon a piano. In her home in Forest Hills, Long Island, she can enjoy the strains of music caught from the air and transmitted not to her ears but to her finger-tips.
Her face reflects her pleasure as she catches the beauty of composition and interpretation.
Distribution of radios to blind people was commenced by the American Foundation for the Blind four years ago, when a fund was raised for distribution of 2,500 radios. Power Crosley Jr. [sic] has since contributed 1,000 sets, for which the Radio Corporation of America donated tubes.

There is a kind and unassuming man named Jim Robson who had a fine and lengthy career on radio announcing play-by-play hockey and baseball. During a pause in the action, he would give a special and sincere hello to various people who could only enjoy the game on radio, including the blind. A few people thought it was hokey. People who have trouble seeing did not. They were right.

No comments:

Post a Comment