Requiem for a pledge drive

WYPR's has ended, which begs the question: How will we live without it?


May 19, 2002|By Lisa Pollak | By Lisa Pollak,Sun Staff

All good things must come to an end and, alas, so must the public radio spring pledge drive. At 5:50 on Tuesday evening, when Andy Bienstock of Baltimore's WYPR made the disheartening yet inevitable announcement -- only 40 more minutes of on-air fund raising left to go -- we couldn't help but feel a pang of regret. After all, it seemed like just yesterday that we were hearing, for the first time, the rapturous description of the five-color WYPR T-shirt; the engrossing explanation of the station's debts and expenses; the poignant testimonials from prescient community leaders who know we love public radio as much as they do.

It was hard to believe it was almost over. How would we live without it? With no time to waste, we switched on our tape recorder, determined to capture the conclusion of the spring pledge drive in all its glory. Much to our delight, those final minutes included everything we'd come to love about the fund-raiser: the uproarious banter between station staff members, the fascinating recitation of new contributors' names, the ever-helpful repetition of the station's phone number and Web address.

But even more important were the burning questions that we count on the pledge drive to answer. All year long, for example, we wonder what our favorite local public radio personalities think about public radio. Do they actually like it? And, if so, just what about it do they like? Consider the NPR "radio expedition" retracing the journey of Lewis and Clark, which prompted this revealing exchange between pledge-drive hosts Marc Steiner and Bienstock.

Bienstock: "I was looking at you, Marc."

Marc Steiner: (Chuckles.)

Bienstock: "Marc Steiner, if you're just used to hearing him on the radio and not seeing him, he's a guy who, what he's thinking at that particular moment is quite often reflected in his face. And listening to him -- watching him, rather -- listen to that last thing with Robert Siegel and the audio of the re-creation of the Lewis and Clark expedition, I could see that you were on that mountainside with the horses falling in the mud. I mean, you were right there, and that's amazing. It's just amazing what news reporting like this can do. It's better than watching it on TV. It's like the old theater of the mind, only it's reality. It's not suspense or Inner Sanctum or make-believe. It's reality. But you're actually seeing it through audio. It's quite amazing."

Steiner: "To me radio is more akin to reading a book. When you read a book and read the words on the page, you start imagining what you're reading about, and you paint this whole picture in your head. It's the same way you listen to public radio, which is why people love public radio."

Well put. Another pressing question, of course, is "How much should I contribute to the pledge drive?" Fortunately, the station staff was always more than willing to weigh in with their thoughts on the various pledge levels and corresponding gifts.

Steiner: "If you can make a pledge at the $120 level this hour -- my favorite level this drive, because of what you get -- we will send you in return, for pledging on your credit card, the WYPR T-shirt, which says, 'Wherever you are, think WYPR,' but it's in the middle of a gorgeous picture drawn by Bonnie Matthews of a Baltimore street scene, five colors, just fantastic ... "

Bienstock: "And I must say, I was dubious ... "

Steiner: "You were dubious, I remember that."

Bienstock: "That's a lot of color for a little T-shirt. I mean, is that gonna work? And boy, it worked."

Steiner: "It really worked."

You might think that the stress of begging for money, hour after hour, day after day, would take its toll on station employees, resulting in a loss of dignity and a lowering of professional standards. But perhaps the most admirable aspect of the recent pledge drive was the staff's unflagging display of mutual respect and teamwork.

Bienstock: "I'm Andy Bienstock, and if I'm talking too fast that means Marc Steiner must be in the studio with me."

Steiner: "Ooooooh man."

(Raucous laughter.)

Steiner: "First he talks about my face lighting up the place and now he's talking about -- "

Bienstock: "I said you light up a room. What's wrong with that? I thought it was a compliment."

Steiner: "I'll take it as a compliment."

Bienstock: "We've got a minute right here, Marc, to remind people how much we want their support."

Steiner: "Very badly."

Minutes later, as the guffaws and chuckles subsided and the fund-raiser drew to a close, we felt grateful to have captured on tape the final, inspirational moments of the WYPR spring pledge drive. No doubt we will listen to them often in the long, hot, pledge-free months to come.

Steiner: "I, just from the bottom of my heart, want to thank all of you for your support for 88.1 WYPR, your public radio. And it's always a pleasure to work with my man Andy."

Bienstock: "Oh, it's always fun, Marc. We should do this more often, except that means too many more membership drives."

Steiner: "Heh-heh-heh."

Bienstock: "Who needs that!"

Steiner: "Who needs that!"

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