A statewide news reading service serving people who are unable to read newspapers will suspend its program later this month.

The Maine Audio Information Reading Service, or Maine AIRS, has been run by the Iris Network for 12 years. It will end Sept. 30 because the organization is no longer able to fund it, said Jim Phipps, executive director of the Iris Network.

The last broadcast of news read by volunteers from daily and weekly newspapers is expected to be Sept. 26.

Maine AIRS currently is used by about 300 residents who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise unable to read a print publication. The news is read by about 80 volunteers.

The annual cost to run the program is about $125,000, of which $35,000 comes from the state’s Division of the Blind. The rest comes from philanthropy and underwriting, which can be difficult to secure because of the limited audience, Phipps said.

“The reality is that with the loss of access to television in 2009 due to television’s digital conversion, the Maine AIRS audience has declined by as much as 90 percent,” Phipps wrote in a letter to volunteer readers. “Despite this significant loss of listeners, the cost of keeping Maine AIRS operational actually increased due mainly to the increased cost of doing business and the fact that the Iris Network is now providing special radio receivers to many of the listeners.”

The network’s board of directors will meet Sept. 18 to act on the recommendation from its finance committee to suspend the service.

“The decision to do this is unavoidable. We just don’t have the resources to include this in the 2013 budget,” Phipps said.

The Iris Network hopes to resume the service in a different format using the Internet and digital radio, but will need to partner with another organization to do so, Phipps said. He believes the news reading service will be off the air for at least a year.

“This has been a decision that the finance committee and board are not taking lightly,” he said. “It’s the only decision we feel we have at this point.”

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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