History of Sun Sounds

History of Sun Sounds of Arizona


The late Dr. Frank Kells was the founder of Sun Sounds of Arizona.  He was an employee of Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) a unit of Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES).  He, and others, conducted surveys and explored the fledgling radio reading industry nationally.  Dr. Kells chaired a group in 1978 to form and launch the organization which became Sun Sounds of Arizona.  

October of 1979 - Sun Sounds debuted on the air  which is considered the start date for the organization.  It was located in 300 square feet of space provided by RSA just a couple of office doors away from Dr. Kell's office.  It was to be operated by KJZZ-FM and administered by Rio Salado College.  

The difference between Sun Sounds and other radio stations is that Sun Sounds of Arizona is heavily volunteer dependant.  There is a small administrative staff to coordinate activities, but all on-air talent and program producers are volunteer. Many office, fundraising and public contact functions are handled by volunteers also. From a tiny group at the beginning, Sun Sounds of Arizona now boasts 500 active volunteers working state wide.

Sun Sounds emulated its parent organization, Rio Salado College  by beginning to explore ways to deliver its important reading services beyond the immediate Maricopa County Area.  In 1985 it launched its first affiliate in Tucson. 

1988 - Sun Sounds held its very first beer tasting festival. That special event raised about $10,000.  Twenty-six years later, the three annual festivals held around the state collectively raise more than $250,000. 

1992 -  Sun Sounds was becoming known beyond Arizona as an exemplary human service organization demonstrated by its being awarded the 665th point of light by then President George Bush.  It is the only radio reading service to be recognized in this fashion.

1995 -  Sun Sounds once again expanded its reach and launched another affiliate in Flagstaff to serve northern Arizona.

1996 -  Sun Sounds won its first programming award from the International Association of Audio Information Services.  It has gone on to win more than 30 such awards.

1998 - Sun Sounds began delivering its network via satellite.  This made it possible for the affiliates to get a crystal-clear network feed to supplement the local materials each affiliate produced. 

With the help of Rio Salado College's Information Services, Sun Sounds became the very first radio reading service in the world, and one of the first radio stations of any kind in Arizona to provide programming using web streaming. People reported becoming web-listeners all over the US and as far away as Great Britain and Korea.

1998 - The Sun Sounds Foundation was founded. This 501(C)(3) not for profit organization has the sole purpose of supporting Sun Sounds financially and helping improve awareness.

2000 -  Sun Sounds launched its most experimental new service called Sun Dial.  Sun Dial enables a blind person to use the world wide web to "read" newspapers and other important information by simply calling a computer system using a household telephone.  Sun Dial was the first to allow a user the same type of access and facility a sighted person has using a computer and browser. 

2002 -  the Arizona Secretary of State and Clean Elections partnered with Sun Dial to provide for the first time in Arizona truly accessible voter information on candidates and initiatives.  They have committed to continuing this initiative during every major election since then.

2003 -  we made a complete transition of recording and broadcast software upgrading all computer equipment across all affiliates. Then, Sun Sounds opened its third affiliate in 2004 in Yuma in order to serve southwestern Arizona and southeastern California.  Partnering originally with the local cable service and KTTI-FM (unusual due to its commercial radio status) Sun Sounds's Yuma affiliate went from zero to a hundred registered listeners in a year.

2007 -  a major estate gift (more than $300,000) was received at Sun Sounds.  The funds were unrestricted and managers planned on establishing a "reserve fund".
This turned out to be a wise move.

2008  -  The economy went into a tailspin in and stayed in a depressed condition for several years.  That single estate gift kept a reduced Sun Sounds workforce in operation during the entire 2008 fiscal year.  It was at roughly this time that Sun Dial, our cutting edge telephone reader system became unreliable.  Having predicted that event, Sun Sounds had been developing a newer, more versatile version.  

2009 - Sun Dial II was hurried into service and publicly unveiled with voice-command and improved speech functionality.

2009 -  the staffing at Sun Sounds of Arizona underwent changes to better reflect the economic conditions.  The special events funding of our beer tasting festivals slowly recovered and foundations slowly began to be able to make gifts once more.

2011 -  plans were made to improve volunteer coordination and training, and more finely focus the duties of the programming team to create on-demand as well as on-air programs.  As grants and other incomes slowly improved, these plans were nurtured until 2013 when staffing levels stabilized. When the dust settled, we had a new Flagstaff Manager, a Volunteer Coordinator, and a new part-time position of Development Assistant.  Sun Sounds was, at last, poised to have explosive growth once more.

2013 to 2014  - A Sun Sounds which had embarked on a bold new approach to delivering newspapers - digitally.  The DNA Project, our acronym for "Digital Newspaper Access" was beginning to take shape in the Tempe network headquarters.  When completed, volunteers who read aloud on the air will be able to prepare newspaper readings from web-based files instead of printed, delivered papers.  Sun Sounds will improve its reach of papers which can be presented on air for the audience; volunteers will be able to prepare much more efficiently, and we'll be far more "green" than ever before.

Sun Sounds of Arizona has accomplished much.   None of the work, none of the innovation, none of the expansion of service would have been possible had it not been for the support of the Arizona communities where we live and offer our help.  Thank you, Arizona... we could not have done it without you.