It's time to shine the spotlight on Arnold Baldwin, one of our Vision Australia Radio (VAR) volunteers based in Perth.
If you've tuned into VAR, you'll probably be familiar with his voice but now it's time to find out about the man behind the microphone; his volunteer journey and why he loves his role!
How long have you volunteered for Vision Australia?
This is my 20th year of volunteering with VA Radio and its Perth predecessor Information Radio.
At both Adrian Street and the Rosslyn Street studios, I enjoyed sharing the accommodation with the Vision Australia dog trainers and their loveable, furry protégés.
How did you decide to start volunteering for Vision Australia?
One day in 2001, my wife Joan drew my attention to a call in the local newspaper for volunteers to read to blind and low vision and print disabled listeners.
Tell us about the role you volunteer in? What do you do?
I joined the early morning readers who presented The Australian and The West Australian in a two-and-a-half-hour program.
We may be volunteers but we work at delivering a professional program.
Have you always volunteered in the same roles or have these changed over time?
I became a Tuesday morning newsreader because of other commitments.
Vision Australia Radio Perth launched in 2015. I kept my regular Tuesday shift but also became the Panel Operator on Thursday mornings for the next 15 months. Panelling gave me an opportunity to ad-lib and to help train successors.
At our predecessor organisation, a fun challenge came when management asked Linda Attikiousel and me to create a format for presenting the Australian Financial Review.
This was in use until we became part of VAR who had its own version which was being broadcast from Melbourne.
What are some of the things you enjoy most in your volunteer roles?
It has to be the people we volunteer for who rely upon us being at our microphones in time to tell them the things that they could not hear otherwise. I've met and talked with some of our listeners at VA functions.
It's also the people we volunteer with – the former school teachers, office staff, accountants, lawyers, car dealers, petrol station operators, civil celebrants, naval officers, shop assistants, psychiatrists, psychologists, priests and public servants to name some of the professionals that I've teamed up with – who each brought their own individual, specialised knowledge and life experience to enhance the way we presented our programs. A shout out to Fran Wrixon and Ken Allister who shared the "Team Tuesday" adventure for the five years pre-Covid.
Also working with VA management themselves who provide us with the equipment and training, oversee our operations, look after our finances and ensure that we can enjoy working conditions the equal of the paid workforce (honourable mentions here to VARP's Brigid Barry and Amber Cunningham).
It may sound like a cliché to say that we are like a family but, as with any family, we have our share of "absent friends". Occasionally, we'll hear their voices again in, say, a station promo and exchange glances with the rest of the team. One such is 'gentleman' Jack Greenway.
I enjoy the challenge of presenting news and information in a way that is clear and meaningful.
Underlying all of what we do at VA Radio, is "print equity" – that is, people who have a vision impairment or a reading handicap are entitled to have access to the same material that the rest of us often take for granted.
How were your volunteer roles impacted by Covid? Were you able to keep volunteering remotely?
In 2020, we shut down our studio because of Covid and I remember thinking I'd probably have to hibernate for the winter.
VA decided to maintain some local programming from Western Australia and called for volunteers. Six of us took up the challenge to broadcast from home: Anthony Lau, Keith Faulkner, Vee McGuire, Maureen Tavani, Kerry Fasolo, and me.
My studio consisted of the living room table, a laptop, microphone, and an online subscription to The West Australian newspaper. Tuesday also happened to be my day for rubbish collection but the sound of recyclables rattling in to the rubbish truck was easy enough to edit out.
And so it came to pass that very early in the morning before the break of day, we would each arise, prep, and record a digest of stories from The West Australian and send the recorded file via the NBN to Bendigo for technical editing. Then, from Bendigo, it went to Kooyong for additional content and then was loaded into the system for a time-delayed relay by satellite back to Bickley for broadcasting to our Perth listeners in the early afternoon.
Plaudits must go to Dale Simpson for his patient and meticulous editing in real-time of my Tuesday efforts.
This program, West Coast News, went to air five days a week. Three months later, when Covid conditions had eased, we and the rest of the Perth volunteers – who had been locked down for the duration – were able to go back to regular studio broadcasting once again.
What is it that drives you to continue volunteering for VA?
The work itself is intellectually challenging, personally satisfying, and frequently lots of fun. There is always something new to master.
20 years ago, I was reading pages scissored from a newspaper. Now, in 2021, we still use printed material but there is access to continuously updating stories from the internet plus news headlines feeding in from our local ABC.
20 years ago, we relied upon sharing a copy of an ageing ABC pronunciation guide. Now we have at our fingertips all the resources of the internet, plus some of us carry smart phones with pronouncing apps (and, yes, Virginia, in a room full of microphones, all apps are always on silent mode).
What changes have you seen in the organisation over time?
20 years ago, when I joined Information Radio, it was broadcasting from an old converted house.
Today, our VARP studio is state of the art and Vision Australia Radio itself is a network with studios in mainland capital cities and regional centres. Perth is part of this network and we hope soon to be contributing more content to the national network.
What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering for Vision Australia?
If it's radio you are interested in, I'd say Go and tune your wireless to Vision Australia Radio (AM or digital, your choice). Listen for a bit and then ask yourself: Have I got the enthusiasm and the desire to meet a need in our community?
Then pick up the phone to your local VAR station (during office hours of course) and arrange to go and take a look at what goes on behind the scenes. Maybe even try an audition and learn some media skills.
The greater organisation delivers an extensive range of services and products to clients and their families (not overlooking the annual Carols by Candlelight). Have a look at the VA website and see the very many areas where volunteers are welcome – which includes people who can ride a bicycle!
No one expects you to stick around for twenty years like me.
Whatever it is that you find you can help out with, give it a go – it will be appreciated!
Contact Vision Australia Radio for more information about the station or volunteering