The idea of producing audio material for people with sight loss is as old as the recording process itself. Thomas Edison foresaw this use for his phonograph but, as his wax cylinders had capacity of a few minutes only, the recordings on offer were largely confined to short poems and other edifying texts of four minutes or less.

Gramophone discs extented recording times, intially to twelve minutes or so, and vinyl records could play for over an hour. However, it was the invention of the magnetic audio tape that made the recording of much longer recordings of music and entire books practicable and the talking books service developed in the USA in the 1930s.

It was many years later that the idea of translating the printed news into audio form took hold. It came to the UK from Sweden via Ronald Sturt, who was a librarian at Aberystwyth University. In 1968, while visiting Vasteras, in northern Sweden, to study public library services for disabled people, he found a tape recording of the local newspaper made for blind people. With support from his local Round Table, he set up the first UK talking newspaper (TN) in Aberystwyth in 1970.

The UK now has approximately 500 regional talking newspapers, Gloucestershire alone has six TNs.


(Click here for more archive pictures of Five Valley Sounds.)

As with the Aberystwyth TN, Stroud's TN owes its inception to the local Round Table. It was not the first TN in Gloucestershire but, in 1980 when Brian Thacker became chairman of Round Table, they began to raise money. After two years there was enough to start. A competition was launched to give the proposed TN a name and a public meeting was held and the founding group was:

Brian Thacker - Chairman
James Meadows - Treasurer
Mike Vernon - Editor.

Five Valley Sounds was registered as Charity no: 900462 in 1982.

Mike Vernon recording with studentsMike Vernon was an English teacher at Archway School and he recruited 6th form students to do the reading. To start with copies were made in Cheltenham TN. When there was enough money to buy a copier, the group started doing its own duplicating. The early tapes were specific to one type of play-back machine (Clarke & Smith) which meant that listeners were limited to around 40 people who had this particular model.

Tapes were sent out monthly at first then at 3 weekly intervals and then 2 weekly.

Problems with recording set in when Mike became terminally ill. The children went on reading for a while without supervision but they started to lose interest and to do it badly so the whole thing stopped for about three months. Then Brian Thacker recruited a team of adult readers and started producing fortnightly recordings again.

A big fund raising push by Round Table in 1988 produced enough money to buy a Tascam recorder which produced C90 tapes. Many more people could play these so the old tapes were phased out and the TN went over to weekly tapes.

In recent years, Five Valley Sounds has changed from recording on cassette tapes to compact discs (CDs) and currently we're in the throes of converting to recording on USB memory sticks.