When he couldn’t find a job in radio, Tony Lopez tried doing it for free.
In 1993, Lopez heard about Radio Talking Book, a state-run program that provides audio programming for the visually impaired. Lopez had tried his hand in broadcasting at Knox College in Illinois and thought a volunteer gig might open some doors in the local scene.
Over the next few years, while he volunteered for Radio Talking Book, Lopez was in and out of other paying jobs. Eventually he landed a promotions and on-air job at the alternative FM station REV 105. Then in 1997, after the station was bought by Disney/ABC, nearly everyone on staff was fired.
Later that year, a part-time job opened at Radio Talking Book. That grew into a full-time gig, with Lopez reading newspapers, magazines, books, and other published works for the station, which broadcasts 24 hours a day and is available only to people with a special radio provided by the state.
Lopez got another chance on mainstream radio in 2005, this time as a host on a new Minnesota Public Radio station called the Current. As one of its original DJs, Lopez—who continued his full-time job at Radio Talking Book—hosted a four-hour weekly show that ran on Saturday afternoons. He played a lot of global music, especially Latin rhythms, and interviewed artists he liked.
But getting his own radio show, something Lopez thought he’d always wanted, meant he spent less time at home with his wife and daughter. He had two choices: a stable position as a public employee with a tiny audience, or a part-time crack at his dream job.
Lopez quit the Current.
“Some nights, when I’m laying in bed, it’s something I grapple with,” Lopez says. “There’s part of me that, yeah, I’d still love to be on regular radio, or playing music. At the same time, I’ve made a life here, and can’t think of doing anything else.”
Since 2011, that life has him not only reading on-air, but coordinating the voiceover assignments of more than 100 volunteers. A few are professional actors or broadcasters looking to keep their “instrument in tune.” Others just mean well, and Lopez says some have been volunteering for 20 or more years.
In addition to the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, and New York Times, Lopez scours the internet and local stores for new publications to add to the mix. Once a week, listeners are even subjected to a reading of City Pages. Other content covers science, entertainment, LGBTQ issues, health and wellness, criminal justice, and more. Lopez and his volunteers read the New Yorker, the National Enquirer, and everything in between.
“It’s about a sense of connectedness,” says Lopez. “I’ve heard the term ‘lifeline’ used by listeners before. It’s important to not view the blind and visually impaired as people stuck on the couch, not able to connect with the world.”
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