Tom Norton once described “The Reading Train” as a “gentle giant of a show.”
Since 2000, Norton has been the station manager of WKTV, a community access station covering Wyoming, Kentwood and Gaines Township, and the show’s home station for more than two decades. “The Reading Train” had been on for a couple of years when he arrived and continued to be popular for many more during his tenure. But eventually, he said, after bringing more than 10,000 local school children into the studio, there weren’t really any schools around who hadn’t done the show and interest waned.
COVID-19, however, created an opportunity for reviving the program. Norton was able to talk original host Judy Bergsma back to the studio to spend some time in a big, comfy chair on a living room set, and share books with kids and kids-at-heart — now not just in West Michigan but around the world, thanks to WKTV’s YouTube channel.
Bergsma, who works in the counseling office at Kelloggsville High School, is thrilled to be back. She already has recorded nine new shows with another half dozen or so on the way.
“With the closing of schools, and kids needing constructive learning opportunities at home, we felt it was time to produce some new shows,” she said.
Adjustments Needed in 2020
COVID-19 has required some adjustments though.
In the old days, the show was recorded in front of a studio audience of local school kids (many of whom, Bergsma said with a smile, are now in their 20s and 30s). A trio of camera operators would follow Bergsma as she moved around the space and interacted with guests and props.
For the new episodes, because of COVID-19, the setup included two stationary cameras – one behind her to film the book on her lap, and one in front that she looks into. As a result, she is not able to move around but has to stay in her chair.
Still, she said, she can do many of the things she did before, including introducing a theme for the show, reading from some of her favorite books and suggesting fun activities for children to pursue.
And being back in the WKTV studio, she added, has brought back some familiar feelings.
“Although it is a little different, the stories and reading are still the focal point,” she said. “I’ve always loved to tell stories and as my children were growing up, I told stories to their grade school classrooms as well as children’s messages during Sunday morning worship. Storytelling is timeless.”
“’The Reading Train’ continues to be a program where the kids are immersed in the story,” he said. “Originally, kids came to the studio to listen as a school field trip, but now with the end of school and Stay Home, Judy can
read to them wherever they have a TV, smart phone, tablet or desktop computer.”
New and old episodes of the show are available anytime on demand by going to wktv.org, clicking On Demand under the tab labeled programming and then typing “Reading Train” into the search box or scrolling down to the program title. Airtime on Comcast Channel 25 in Wyoming and Kentwood is Mondays at 4 p.m., Fridays at 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 9:30 am.