(By Mike McVay) It’s been a little over a year since the world acknowledged that the Coronavirus had reached pandemic status. Many Americans faced challenges that they’d never been faced with before. The image of the long line of SUV’s and cars, in line at a San Antonio food bank, hit me square between my eyes. People who had never had to wait in line for food were, for the first time in their lives and the lives of their children, waiting to receive donations of food. It was a time when radio activated it’s messaging and many in media harnessed their distribution platforms to help those in need.
The Independent Broadcasters of America, along with several of the larger radio companies, launched last years Radio Cares; Feeding America Radiothon and repeated the effort with their second annual radiothon this past week. They raised enough money to provide five million meals. Those donations will be distributed to more than 600 foodbanks and more than 2,000 food pantries in the United States.
There are many radio heroes who have stepped forward in years past, when their efforts to raise money for those in need, were already considered to be admirable. Continuing through a pandemic has been difficult, and the efforts of radio stepping up to continue to help, are herculean. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Children’s Miracle Network have long relied on radio to assist them in raising money for their causes.
St. Jude is known to have harnessed the strength of Country radio, with their Country Cares program, started thirty-years ago when the front-man for the country band Alabama, Randy Owen, stood in front of an audience of industry members at the annual Country Radio Seminar and asked his friends and colleagues for their help. Owen launched the Country Cares campaign to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and he hoped that the country music industry would join him in rallying behind the cause. That they did.
Since then, St. Jude has added additional formats, focusing on radio stations that attract Black Hispanic audiences and those that draw in Rock/Classic Rock audiences. The many stations that support St. Jude are among the heroes of radio.
Marie Osmond, John Schneider, Mick Shannon and Joseph G. Lake are the founders of what is known today as Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. They did that in 1983 by organizing a telethon that raised nearly $4.8 million for 22 children’s hospitals. Today, CMN Hospitals helps 10 million sick and injured kids who are treated at 170 member hospitals across North America. Radio supports them in everyone of those markets with radiothons, on-site events (virtual at the moment), and they enlist sponsors and advertisers to help them. Their focus is on locally raised money staying local.
There are a significant number of charities & programs that companies and local stations present. Syndicated radio programs are at the front of the line. Bert’s Big Adventure is the brainchild of Bert Weiss, host of The Bert Show from Westwood One, and originating locally at WWWQ/Atlanta. Established in 2002, Bert’s Big Adventure is a nonprofit organization that provides a magical, all-expenses-paid, five-day journey to Walt Disney World® for children with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families.
Kidd’s Kids, founded by Kidd Kraddick in 1991, with a dream to make a difference in the lives of children and their families who were dealing with life-altering or life-threatening conditions. Initially, the program began as a bus ride to Sea World in San Antonio, Texas. Thanks to the volunteer efforts from their partners, donors, and medical professionals, along with the Kidd Kraddick Morning Show listeners’ willingness to embrace the mission, Kidd’s Kids has grown at an exponential rate. Since 1991, the charity has sent over 1000 kids and their families on a trip of a lifetime to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The Kidd Kraddick Show, keeping its name as a tribute to Kidd who passed away in 2013, hosts a radiothon yearly. The yearly trip is hosted by show members Kellie Rasberry, Big Al Mack and Jose “J-Si” Chavez.
Another network show is Ace & TJ. Their Grin Kids was Established in 2000. Grin Kids is a nonprofit providing a magical, all-expense paid, 5-day experience at Walt Disney World for children between the ages of 5-12 who are terminally ill or chronically disabled and their immediate family.
Audacy is in the midst of their DEI work with Clark Atlanta University, launching fellowship programs later this year. Their markets are paired with local Urban League affiliates in executing local programs. Their commitment to Children’s Health has raised more than $11.5m for Children’s health inn the past year. Their participation in the Jimmy Fund children’s health fundraiser has helped more than $60m over the past twenty years.
Since the earliest days of the pandemic iHeart has focused on helping its communities and audiences celebrate virtually the occasions they could no longer celebrate in person. Over the last several months, the company has taken a leadership role in creating a slate of popular and widely-recognized virtual events that have reached and entertained millions of Americans; these have been so successful that iHeart plans to continue hosting virtual events post-pandemic. In fact, iHeartMedia, in partnership with Fox, was the first media company to create and broadcast a COVID-19 benefit special: “The iHeart Living Room Concert for America,” which paid tribute to the medical professionals and local heroes working on the many aspects of the pandemic while also raising over $15 million for hunger relief organizations.
Cumulus Media and VolunteerMatch have combined forces for Project Shine. Given that in the wake of Covid-19, America’s non-profits need financial support and volunteers. The campaign encourages individuals to donate their time and energy to help others by helping volunteer organizations through VolunteerMatch. Project Shine believes that everyone should have the chance to make a difference. That’s why Cumulus’ focus is to make it easy for good people and good causes to connect.
Local stations in smaller markets have also excelled. One example; WVVR/Clarksville, TN is a country station owned by Saga Communications. Every year they host an annual 2-day Radiothon to raise funds for Camp Rainbow in Clarksville. It’s a weeklong summer camp for kids with disabilities or severe-terminal health issues who can’t go to regular summer camp. They have teams of doctors and nurses on staff and one counselor per camper with some special needs children having two counselors.
Veterans Matter is a charity that I’ve been closely involved with since early 2019. They’re a non-profit organization that houses homeless veterans by raising money through radio station radiothons and community events. This past year they worked with stations in Washington, DC, Detroit, Indianapolis, Toledo and more. Hubbard Radio’s WUBE/B105 Cincinnati also focuses on veterans. The Big Dave Show presents One Pet; One Vet whereby they train a dog for a wounded veteran.
Broadcasters of America serve those of us in our own industry who are in need of help. I am personally aware of their assistance to broadcasters who lost their homes in the wake of hurricanes, lost their homes in forest fires, and who have suffered due to traumatic devastating events.
The mission of the Broadcasters Foundation of America is to improve the quality of life and maintain the personal dignity of men and women in the radio and television broadcast profession who find themselves in acute financial need due to a critical illness, accident, advanced age or other serious misfortune.
It is nearly impossible to track all of the good that radio companies, and their audiences, contributed during this extremely difficult in the recent past. I’m sure that I’ve missed many great efforts here. That oversight is only because of the abundance of good that radio is doing. These stations and companies are radio heroes. Most of radio has risen to the challenge to help their local communities.
The message that I want to deliver, to the world, is that radio has never shied away from helping those in need of help. Be it raising money for families left homeless from fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards. During the pandemic, helping those who need food, clothing and shelter. Serving the local community is a part of the requirement for one to hold a broadcast license. We may no longer have a need for completing an ascertainment report, but serving the community is what is expected of us. It’s why we’ve been given a license to begin with and why we’re supposed to be here.
Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]