NPR To Receive Award From Stevie Wonder

webnewserCES_12.30.jpgOur newest blog WebNewser is headed to Las Vegas today to cover the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show — so you’ll know what electronics to buy next Christmas.

This year at CES, National Public Radio, along with Apple and Google will receive the Vision Free Award, presented by Stevie Wonder. The award is for NPR’s work making digital radio and broadcast services accessible for the 650-million people worldwide who are sensory impaired. Wonder will host the Vision Free Awards reception on Friday night. WebNewser is trying to score a ticket.

The press release is after the jump. And be sure to keep an eye on WebNewser over the next few days for more stories from CES…




LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2008 – NPR is moving the accessible media industry forward by introducing Captioned, Braille, and Blackboard Radios, as well as a new Radio Reading Service receiver, to electronics manufacturers. The new technologies come after years of extensive research by NPR Labs, America’s only not for profit broadcast technology research and development center. NPR Labs is seeking partnerships with manufacturers to develop the receivers that would serve millions of deaf, hard of hearing and blind people worldwide, as well as people who are located in remote communities needing access to schools. NPR plans to award funds for research and development prototyping that would bring these cutting edge radios into production and into the hands of the consumers within two to five years.

At the Consumer Electronics Show, NPR (along with Apple, Google, Ibiquity and others) will receive a Vision Free Award, presented by Stevie Wonder, for its work in accessible digital radio and broadcast services for the sensory impaired. Wonder will host the Vision Free Awards reception on Friday, January 9.

“There are 650 million people worldwide who are sensory impaired and whose quality of lives could be greatly improved by use of new digital radio technologies. Captioned, Blackboard, and Braille Radios and digital Radio Reading Services break down sound, sight and location barriers for these underserved populations. We’re continuously developing the technology through these initiatives and now seek the collaboration of manufacturers to put these special radios into the hands of disabled audiences,” said Mike Starling, NPR’s Chief Technology Officer and NPR Labs Executive Director.

NPR will introduce the following four accessible radio innovations – Captioned, Braille, Radio Reading Service, and Blackboard — to manufacturers at CES:

Captioned Radio leverages HD Radio technology and uses a built in screen display on specially equipped receivers to allow deaf and hard of hearing audiences to “see” live radio content simultaneously with the broadcast. Last year at CES, NPR, Harris Corporation and Towson University announced a new initiative to make radio more accessible to the millions of deaf and hard of hearing people around the world, and demonstrated the first over-the-air transmission of accessible radio technology by broadcasting NPR’s Morning Edition. On November 4, 2008 NPR, Harris Corporation and Towson University demonstrated the first nationwide captioned radio broadcast to groups of deaf and hard of hearing people at NPR stations across the country and around the world via More than three quarters of those surveyed at the live election night events said that they would be interested in purchasing a captioned radio when it becomes available. Now NPR is positioned to bring captioned radios to the consumer marketplace with help from electronics manufacturers interested in reaching this audience of over seven million in the United States alone.

Braille Radio opens up the live radio experience to people who are cannot see or hear. It builds upon captioned radio technology by taking the speech to text information and translating it into Braille through an add-on electronic Braille device that looks like a small keyboard. The device utilizes rows of pins that move up and down to create Braille characters and are designed to plug into the radio. NPR is partnering with the Helen Keller National Center to further advance the features of this new radio technology, breaking down barriers for those without sight or hearing.

Radio Reading Services are special radio sidechannels that offer spoken text from hundreds of daily print publications, such as magazines and newspapers, through specially designated radio channels. The new design will use an HD Radio format that provides better sound quality and user-friendly features like voice prompts and audio cues that make it easier for the visually disabled to activate the service once they’ve purchased a new generation of HD Radio. One prototype exists currently designed by Dice Electronics that may be available as early as 2009.

Blackboard Radio relies on a Radio Data System (“RDS”) transmission, a small digital subcarrier that is added to an FM station and can carry artist, title and other information, even graphics. Auto manufacturers use this technology today in car dashboards, allowing drivers and passengers to view more detailed information on their audio program selections. Blackboard Radio is an educational initiative that will connect classrooms with students who are located in remote regions without access to schools. It will also assist students who are not able to leave their environment to attend class. These “electronic chalkboards”, now gaining popularity in American schools, would be configured to interconnect with the Blackboard Radio and transmit the screen display in real time. The Blackboard Radio display design is expected to mirror a digital photo frame in size, look and feel. This would allow for the student to see on their display screen what the teacher is writing on the electronic chalkboard in the classroom. The teacher’s spoken voice is heard simultaneously via a radio subcarrier.

NPR’s HD Radio Initiative
HD Radio provides a closed-captioning transcript of live broadcasts for the deaf and hard of hearing. This technology enables station operators to split their broadcasts up into multiple channels, providing several CD-quality channels for their audiences. NPR’s HD Radio initiative expects to leverage advanced speech-to-text translation software applications that will greatly facilitate expansion of captioning across the radio dial. Specially equipped HD Radio receivers will provide the visually impaired audience with better access to broadcasts, such as audio prompts that notify which direction the tuner is going, what channel the radio is on, and larger, easier-to-read text on the radios.

More than 1,500 radio stations are currently broadcasting in HD Radio in the United States including over 475 public radio stations, most of them members of NPR. Over half of the CPB-qualified stations have been awarded HD Radio conversion grants by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

More information on the initiative can be found at

About NPR Labs
NPR Labs’ mission is to identify, evaluate, and advance the application of innovative technologies in support of the public service mission of NPR and our member stations. A unit within NPR, NPR Labs is the nation’s only not-for-profit broadcast technology research and development center. The unit works daily on technical research projects supporting the interests of public radio stations across the country. For more information,