As Lady GaGa and Anthony Weiner continue making headlines for different reasons, I want to tell you about something else pretty unique.
This past Saturday and Sunday was "Crusade Weekend" in the Louisville metro and region, which is pretty much how locals refer to the annual WHAS "Crusade For Children" event that benefits a wide range of children's charities throughout central Kentucky and southern Indiana. Though they haven't been co-owned for a quarter century, WHAS radio (840) and WHAS-TV continue to partner on this longest-running radiothon/telethon in America.
One hundred percent of the donations to "Crusade" go back out as grants. This isn't one of those big-bucks, huge donor fundraisers but depends on a big volunteer network and smaller donations collected by area fire fighters at busy intersections. Local fire departments actually compete against each other on WHAS radio and television throughout the weekend. This year's topped $5,300,000 and since it's inception in the '50s, Crusade has raised over $138 million for special needs kids. What's so cool about this event and why it's successful lies in the spirit of community it generates. If you're outside on Crusade Weekend and see a fire truck coming down your street, you know there's probably no fire but local firefighters roaming the neighborhoods as they compete for bragging rights.
It's live, local and with long-time WHAS personalities like Terry Meiners (along with a cast of many at Clear Channel-Louisville and WHAS-TV doing months of planning and coordination), it's done so much good for so long because of it's grass-roots nature and everyday people giving what they can to the firemen's boots, pickle jars in restaurants and hundreds of other fundraising events throughout the community. If you got to listen, you'd swear the entire community was involved. It's become such an institution that it's not unusual to have three generations of families involved in Crusade. Millions of children have been helped over the decades and their families, in turn, volunteer.
In a radio age of homogenization, force reduction and increased competition, "Crusade For Children" is more proof (as has been demonstrated in those communities devastated by recent tornadoes) that radio is the most personal of mediums. Radio can reach out and touch lives and communities in a way Pandora and satellite never will.
I'm not suggesting you try to copy "Crusade For Children" in your market, but rather ask what is your station doing to do good, to make a difference...to be something special and unique beyond format boundaries? It's easy to gripe about radio being downsized but it's important for all of us who love our craft to be important and positive in our communities so we can stay special and unique and not just another option that's not much different than satellite or internet radio.