After nearly 50 years on the air, Lou Kolb is ready to retire. Kolb, who works for Backyard Broadcasting in Williamsport, PA, is ready to settle down with his wife and dig into a few good books. Quite an accomplishment, being on the air for so many years in such a competitive field, with fewer of those on-air jobs available. Oh, and one more thing, Lou has been blind since birth.
Radio Ink: Can you explain what happened when you were born that lead to you losing your eyesight?
Lou Kolb: I was born a couple of months premature. There were many premature births at that time (1952), so to compensate for shorter incubator times, they turned up the oxygen, little knowing that it was also damaging the eyes, in some cases, destroying the child’s eyesight completely. Most of the blind kids I went to grade school with suffered from the same condition. Nowadays, it’s called retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP.
Radio Ink: When and why did you get into radio?
Lou Kolb: People who are blind have an affinity for radio because it’s strictly a sound medium and sound is where we live. I grew up in Philly, where there was a lot of really good radio to listen to. I listened mostly to WIBG and WFIL, but I was aware of everything else on the dial, as well. I remember listening to a Phils game on FIL before they went rock. There was a rain delay, and they threw it back to the station, where a DJ filled with music. I thought, Now that’s cool! I’d love to be the guy doing that!
Radio Ink: How did you wind up at WILQ and how long have you been there?
Lou Kolb: I was actually at WBZD, which is now in the same cluster as ILQ, but let’s back up. I came to WLYC Williamsport, which was then WILQ’s AM in 1974, not long after leaving Penn State where I had gone expressly to get into radio. At the time, my dream was to work my way up to Philly and end up at Dean Tyler’s WIP, which was then an awesome full-service station. That dream never came true but, as they say, life is what happens while you’re making other plans. I spent the next 45 years in the Williamsport area and have no regrets about that. The house is paid for. After getting laid off from Clear Channel in 2011, I signed on with Backyard Broadcasting doing weekends and fill-in, and just retired from there in August.
Radio Ink: How were you able to adjust to working the board and using the equipment?
Lou Kolb: I’ve been kind of a geek all my life. At 16, I got my ham radio license, a hobby in which I’m still very active today. Call sign: WA3MIX. I’ve used Braille labels where necessary, but mostly it’s just been muscle memory.
Radio Ink: Did your listeners ever know that you were blind?
Lou Kolb: Many did, as I was on the air here for 45 years. I never tried to hide it but neither did I mention it much. Most of the time, it was irrelevant.
Radio Ink: You are answering these questions by e-mail today. How are you doing that?
Lou Kolb: People who are blind access computers with what’s called a screen reader, software that takes the text on the screen and turns it into synthesized speech or electronic Braille. When it works, it’s great. However, many third-party apps, and most studio automation programs, don’t work well with screen readers unless money is spent to modify them. At Clear Channel, now iHeart, they had the money to do things like that and I had the numbers to make it worth their while. It usually costs a few grand or so. Smaller companies are less likely to do it.
Radio Ink: What has it been like working in radio? What have you enjoyed the most?
Lou Kolb: When I was an adolescent, I was extremely shy, probably because of my blindness. One of the reasons I got into radio was that I sensed that, on the air, I could talk to people in ways I was too shy to in person. Largely, it worked out that way and, fortunately, I mostly outgrew that shyness. I’ve always enjoyed talking to people on the radio. I know it sounds basic, but my number one rule has always been talk TO them, not AT them. I think you can do that better in radio than in any other medium.
Radio Ink: Why are you retiring?
Lou Kolb: Having done this for 47 years, I think that’s enough. Also, it gets a bit tiring, always having to be the one who adapts and adjusts. Mind you, I’m not the least bit bitter, but, to be honest, it’s a sighted world. It’s a world that’s primarily designed and built, by and for people, who can see. After more than 45 years of finding ways around barriers, it’s time to relax with a good book!
Radio Ink: What are you planning to do next?
Lou Kolb: For one thing, take care of my wife, Kathy, who has been chronically ill for nearly 35 years. We’re also considering moving to be closer to my family, some of whom are congregating at the New Jersey shore.
Congratulate Lou on a long and successful radio career at [email protected]