by Jean Braithwaite
From the Editor: Ed McDonald is a former member of the National Federation of the Blind National Board of Directors and was a long-time president of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia. Ed and his wife Karen bless many of us with an annual Christmas letter, and this wonderful family represents Federationism at its best. Ed has had a long-time love of radio, and as the article below will reveal, he is making his dreams come true and helping his community in the bargain. This article first appeared in the Mineral Daily News-Tribune on August 15, 2017, and it is reprinted here with their permission.
Three individuals and four businesses were honored during the 2017 Business and Community Awards dinner held Friday evening at the Davis Center, Potomac State College. The names of two of the recipients to be recognized remained unannounced throughout the evening until the time their recognition was given.
The first of these was the 2017 Rotary Service Above Self Award, and Ed McDonald was given this tribute. On behalf of the Rotary Club of Keyser, Dinah Courrier presented the award for the "tireless effort" that McDonald spent in bringing a radio station to the community, in addition to his work with the Mineral County Historical Society, the Federation of the Blind, and many additional endeavors.
A graduate of Bethany College and Ohio University with a degree in broadcast journalism, McDonald taught communications at Bethany and worked at radio stations in Kanawha and Putnam counties, as well as in Kentucky. He has been a member of the Mineral County Historical Society for almost 25 years and was instrumental in launching WKYW, Mountain Streams Radio. Earlier in the program, he gave information on the Mountain Streams radio station, saying, "At age seven was the first time I was in a radio station," and now he proclaims to be a lifelong radio addict.
He said that the process began in 2013 for the local radio station, when a construction permit was applied for, followed by a testing process, and finally in late February, "regular broadcasting began." Mentioning the station is at 102.9 on the dial, McDonald said it is licensed through the Mineral County Historical Society, with the transmitting antenna being located at Catamount Place, a residence hall at PSC.
"There is a unique music format," he said, involving the sounds of West Virginia and the Appalachian area that features "old time string, bluegrass, and gospel," all presented with acoustic instruments. McDonald said in the future improvements will be made at the Keyser radio station, as adding more music and having a real studio, where now everything is produced in the basement of his home. He is also planning to expand the air time to include "all of Mineral County," develop an advisory group, and make welcome volunteers and ideas for the radio station.
That was the article, and here are remarks Ed sent to his friends after it appeared:
Thanks to all of you for your congratulations and kind words over the past week in response to the recognition and the subsequent newspaper story, and thanks to my dear wife for being such a good unpaid publicity agent. (Many of us who are close to such stories know that reporters do not always get every little detail correct, but for the most part it was accurate.)
The whole experience has triggered a variety of observations and reflections, and so I hope you will forgive (or delete) this bit of self-indulgence: As blind people, I am sure all of us have struggled at times with being accepted and trying to find a role for ourselves in our communities. A plaque from a small-town Rotary club may seem insignificant to some, but being recognized in this small town by the people with whom I live and work every day was indeed significant to me. Perhaps it was notable that the newspaper story did not take the all-too-common approach of focusing upon how "amazing" it is that this blind guy does the things he does. The only mention of blindness per se was the passing reference to my involvement in the "Federation of the Blind."
I might also note that in order to insure my presence at the awards dinner, the director of the Chamber of Commerce asked me in advance to make a ten-minute presentation concerning the radio station, without telling me about any award. When it came time for me to speak, she virtually dragged me by the arm up to the front of the room, while recounting the story of once having run me into a tree during an outdoor event some years ago. I tried to break her grip and make the ten-foot walk from my table to the podium with a bit more grace and independence, but she was determined to hold on tight.
All of that suggests that even in our finest moments, we blind folks can sometimes encounter a slightly embarrassing situation. I hope, however, that I was able to rise above it. I did not consciously plan my remarks to be a teaching opportunity about blindness, but I had my cane in my hand and read my notes from a BrailleNote. There was thus a room full of people—including legislators and other community leaders—who observed those "tools of blindness" being used.
Apart from the blindness aspects of the experience, however, it's no exaggeration to say that getting this radio station started is indeed the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. When I was a kid, my answer to the question, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" was always, "I want to build a radio station." I am sure there are those who would suggest that I have not yet managed to grow up. Otherwise, I would not still be pursuing such a misguided dream. Nevertheless, I am gratified that it is indeed on the air, that people in the community are listening and saying nice things about it, and that it is playing in the background as I write this. It is true—for whatever it's worth—that the dinner occurred just three days after the sixtieth anniversary of my first visit to a radio station. It was also just two days after our twenty-first wedding anniversary, and Karen has certainly played an important part in all of this.
Ironically, it is also true that just this week the public radio station at Northern Kentucky University where I worked for four years left the air because the university chose to sell the station and get out of the radio business. I was part of the original staff when WNKU went on the air back in 1985, calling itself "Kentucky Folk Radio." Thus, as one station fades into history, I find myself building a similar station in the town—in fact, in the very building—where I was born. (The station is housed in a Potomac State College residence hall, which was once Potomac Valley Hospital.)
So, whether it's a story about "living the lives we want" as blind people or coming "full circle" in small-town West Virginia, it's also a story about being truly blessed.