Blind radio broadcaster retires after successful career
With over 45 years of radio experience, Lou Kolb, an on-air personality at Backyard Broadcasting in Williamsport, is retiring after years of joy, entertainment and giving locals information in ways others cannot.
Kolb was born a few months prematurely in 1952, when the need for incubators for babies was at an all-time high. The lack of resources as well as accessibility to equipment for newborns and premature babies made nurses increase the amount of oxygen in incubators, creating further issues including blindness from a disease called retinopathy of prematurity. Kolb was one of the infants who became blind after receiving an increased supply of oxygen, and later, ROP.
As a shy, blind kid in Philadelphia, Kolb spent a lot of time listening to the radio. He had a special connection to it and knew that radio broadcasting was something that he wanted to do as he grew older.
“I listened to it constantly as a kid,” he said. “Blind people have an affinity for radio, it’s the one medium we can participate in fully. Radio is special, it’s a sound medium, we understand that and it’s where we live.”
He went to Penn State to study radio and worked the student-run radio station there. He worked in New York and eventually came to Williamsport to work for WILQ and Backyard Broadcasting.
“It’s something I have always wanted to do,” he said. “I think the best part about Backyard was the people, they put a high premium on radio and there isn’t that much now days because of the internet and what-not.”
With the excitement of retirement for Kolb comes sorrow from his coworkers, like Freddi Hammer, news director at Backyard.
“He really impressed me with all of his skills with radio broadcasting and he didn’t need to see,” she said. “Lou is a joy, he is funny and witty. I’m bummed that he’s not with us at Backyard anymore.”
His ability gave him an outlet to entertain and inform, though it didn’t come without challenges.
“I had to find ways to communicate with the sighted world,” he said. It’s (the studio) designed by and for people who can see — I had to find ways around that. I had to put braille labels on records and tapes and eventually I had to learn how to use computers. It was difficult, but I found ways to get around it.”
Kolb was able to put what some may see as a disability to use, as he paid close attention to certain things that the sighted may not have.
“I could entertain, I could inform them, you felt like you were doing something useful,” he said. “Sound is where I live; I knew how things were supposed to sound. I paid attention to pronunciation and I would pay attention to how somebody pronounced their name.”
With the new-found freedom of retirement to take on the world with his wife, Lou Kolb will always be remembered for his hard work and determination on the air at Backyard Broadcasting.
“I was very shy when I was younger,” Kolb said. “I found that I could be the person I was too shy to be on the air, I could talk to people through the microphone.”