Better Angels

By: Larry Rosin

I had the opportunity to deeply consider the role of radio broadcasters over this past weekend. That’s because I had the privilege to attend the annual “Country Cares” conference for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Each year, representatives of the radio stations which run the “Country Cares” Radiothon come together to learn about the work of St. Jude Hospital and to discuss best practices for raising money in this manner.

Edison’s involvement with St. Jude came when we were approached to perform research on listeners and radio managers about the Radiothon (and for what it’s worth – we performed this work pro bono). Since the advent of PPM, some stations had dropped the Radiothon when they saw that (naturally) their listening levels dropped during the days this effort ran. And on one level I get that – programmers are hired, fired, and bonused based on ratings, with no proviso for “two lower days while we help save the lives of kids with cancer.” And we know that the managers of today’s radio stations are under brutal pressure to produce based on ratings. Disturbingly, some stations in diary markets were considering dropping the Radiothon as well, even though any slippage is largely washed out and ‘unfindable’ in those markets.

Our research showed that while yes, listening dropped during those days, the levels recovered rapidly and in fact within a few days listening had pretty much reverted to the pre-Radiothon levels. And two weeks after the event, listening was actually a bit higher than before. So there is evidence of compensating goodwill that balances any lost listening for those two days.

But more to the point –if anyone actually were to go to Memphis, tour the hospital (which cares for all kids with no restrictions –and without accepting payment), learn about the research they are doing to find cures and how that ripples back to one’s own community, and chat with parents of these kids – it is nearly impossible to believe they would not immediately say “how can we not get involved?”

St. Jude is not the only worthy recipient of radio’s fund-raising time, of course. There are countless charitable causes who need and can use our help. But if one of the conclusions of PPM data is: “Taking any time from our broadcast year to help our communities and people in need is hurting my station”, then we need to come up with a new standard of interpretation. If radio can’t find even a few days a year to appeal to, as Lincoln described them “the better angels of our nature,” then we may as well turn the transmitters off. A business with no heart at all will eventually find that their customers will stop ‘hearting’ them back.

6 replies
  1. Nick Upton
    Nick Upton says:

    I certainly agree, Larry! Coming from a station that has hosted 25 St. Jude Radiothons over the years (and I’ve been there for them all), I can attest to the good will and audience respect that raising funds for the St. Jude organization brings — let alone the fact that you are actively saving the lives of kids around the world and in your own city. We saw PPM recover rapidly after our event, and not drop off that much during. It is possible to keep the Radiothon fresh and effective, while not deviating that much from the feel of the station.

  2. Mike Buxser
    Mike Buxser says:

    Larry is exactly right. Radio has thrived for generations because of the personal connection between the station and the listener. Having been fortunate enough to do an annual St Jude radiothon for the past several years, I know that the connection the listeners get by joining with their trusted radio personality too support the kids is something that benefits the station all year. Plus you can make money on the radiothon, a significant amount if you work at. It’s also the best team building exercise for the stations and all the employees.

  3. Kevin Lamb
    Kevin Lamb says:

    Radio’s commitment to Country Cares for St. Jude Kids should be a source of pride for the Broadcasting Industry. Since ALABAMA’s Randy Owen first asked Country Radio to embrace his dream of raising money for St. Jude 24 years ago, Radio has raised over $440MM for this institution whose researched protocols “ripples back to one’s own community” – thus making St. Jude America’s hospital. I am sure Rick Shadyac and the folks at St. Jude will tell you, the growth of the facility and research staff (and thus cure rates) is due in no small part to St. Jude’s partnership with Radio.

    Thank you for sharing a summary of Edison’s research as well as your thoughts in this public forum.

    And of course, on behalf of the thousands of children and families touched by St. Jude, thank you to Radio for their role in helping realize Danny’s dream that, “No child should die in the dawn of life.”

    Kevin Lamb
    Country Cares Radio/Industry Advisory Council

  4. Maria Brunner
    Maria Brunner says:

    AS one who works with all formats of radio and music artists of all types, I am continually in awe of country radio and their dedication to St. Judes. PPM? The public does not know what this is and if they did probaly would not care. What they DO care about is saving lives and securing the future for our children. BRAVO to the GM and PD that puts the “ego” of PPM on the back burner in order to do good for the very community they live in and that supports their stations.

    To country radio – I salute you for your constant caring and dedication to helping children. To Ed – that you for shining the light of day on this.

  5. Sharon Eaves
    Sharon Eaves says:

    Well said, Larry! Hats off to country radio for stepping up to the plate and helping/standing up for the kids at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital! Thank you for carrying the torch!


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