The origins of the Radio for the Print Handicapped (RPH) movement can be traced to a couple of programs broadcast on Melbourne’s 3ZZ access radio station and 3CR public radio station in the 1970s. – inspired by the experience in the United States, where the first radio reading services had been established in the late 1960s.
“A Blind Affair” was one of the earliest programs for vision impaired people in Australia.
It was a half-hour weekly magazine program with two main aims; to provide information for people with a vision impairment, and to educate the broader public about their lifestyles by exploring issues ranging from employment to technology.
The program was largely conversations with people about their lives and how they dealt with physical limitations.
However, early presenter Stephen Jolley says the program also aimed, “to really educate the community and perhaps to inspire other people to realise that, though they had this setback of losing some of their vision, they could still have quite fulfilling lives if they wanted to.”
Moves were already afoot for dedicated RPH community radio stations when those earliest programs were broadcast on 3ZZ and 3CR.
In 1978, RPH interest groups met with Tony Staley, the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications in the Fraser Coalition Government.
On 23 July 1978 the Minister, announced: "The establishment of a special radio communications service for the blind and other people with reading difficulties."
"(The Service will) present programs, which are not provided in depth by existing stations. This would include readings of feature articles, and book serialisation, as well as the transmission of information of special relevance to print handicapped people."
Initially, services in Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart were licensed to operate on Marine Band frequencies that were accessible through a minor tuning modification to most radio receivers. By 1984, RPH services were also available in Canberra and Brisbane.
However, because of a freeze on the issue of Marine Band Licences, RPH providers in Adelaide and Perth were initially restricted to the use of purchased access time on local community stations.
Commonwealth funding was first provided for in the 1981/82 Federal Budget, as an initiative for the International Year for Disabled Persons.
In 1987, the Minister for Transport and Communications released the National Metropolitan Radio Plan (NMRP), which enabled the conversion of two AM radio stations in each mainland capital city to FM bands. Those free AM frequencies were given over to parliamentary broadcasting and RPH.
3RPH, which had begun a partnership with the Association for the Blind in 1983, took over 1179 AM, the frequency previously used by 3KZ.
A comprehensive review of RPH services, by the Department of Communications, resulted in eight recommendations which formed the basis for the RPH component of the Government’s Metropolitan Radio Plan announced by the Minister for Transport and Communications, Senator Gareth Evans, on 9th August 1988.
This plan and subsequent Government support saw:
- the provision of primary band AM frequencies for all seven capital city RPH services;
- re-licensing of the services as Public Radio (Special Interest – RPH) services, with full metropolitan area coverage
- free use and maintenance of Commonwealth owned, high power, transmission facilities for the five mainland capital city stations; and,
- one off capital grants to fund AM transmitters for the Canberra and Hobart services.
The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) was established in 1992 to deal with issues associated with radio and television.
The ABA was responsible for issuing broadcasting licences until 1 July 2005, when the ABA and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) merged to become the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) which regulates the way Australian radio stations behave and decides who qualifies for the various kinds of broadcasting licences.
In the nine years from 1982 funding support for RPH services was provided directly through the Australian Council for Radio for the Print Handicapped (ACRPH, now RPH Australia), however in 1990 the Department of Communications proposed that RPH funding be processed as part of its allocation to Public Broadcasting, administered through the Public Broadcasting Foundation (now the CBF – Community Broadcasting Foundation).
In 1990, the Association for the Blind, with the support of the founding co-operative, was granted the broadcast services licence to operate 3RPH.
The first regional station, in Mildura, began transmission in late 1997, followed by the introduction of other regional stations in Albury/Wodonga, Bendigo, Geelong, Shepparton, Warragul and Warrnambool.
In 2004 Australia’s first truly national blindness agency, Vision Australia was formed following the merger of the Royal Blind Society (RBS), the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB), Vision Australia Foundation (VAF), and the National Information Library Services (NILS) – and 3RPH and the 7 regional services subsequently became known as Vision Australia Radio.