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KS95 Saves Lives, Corners The Market On Localness

KS95-Minneapolis OM/PD Leighton PeckIn an age of radio where “localness” is being de-emphasized, one example of a station stepping up and serving its community, and a stellar example at that, is KS95 (KSTP/FM)-Minneapolis’s Third Annual “KS95 for Kids Radiothon.”

Held last month at the Twin Cities’ Mall of America and hosted by KS95 morning duo Van Patrick & Cheryl Kaye, the 84-hour (!) event helped raise an astounding $1.54 million, breaking the national record for a fundraiser of this type. Amazingly enough, the record the Hot A/C broke was their own, set at last year’s Radiothon. What’s even more amazing is that the proceeds earned come directly from KS95’s listeners with no corporate underwriting whatsoever, and that the incredible chunk of change stays right in the Minneapolis-St. Paul community. The money is equally divided between two local children’s charities, the Children’s Cancer Research Fund (in connection with the Children’s Miracle Network) and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.

OM/PD Leighton Peck enthuses, “This is the best thing that we do at KS95, and every year is more amazing than the last. KS95 listeners are very generous.” The Radiothon began in 1999 in connection with Van & Cheryl celebrating their show’s anniversary and their wish to be able to give back to the community.

Peck says of the Radiothon’s genesis, “Todd Fisher [Then PD, now GM] had worked previously at Capitol Broadcasting for Bob Lind, who was the pioneer of the concept for the Children’s Miracle Network, which was something Todd wanted to employ here after arriving at the station in 1996. Plus, [parent company] Hubbard Broadcasting is the only locally owned radio operator in the Twin Cities and it’s an important part of our corporate philosophy to give back to the community. No other station here would do something like this.”

When addressing the logistics of staging the Radiothon and how interested stations might do something similar, Peck advises, “Be sure you’re doing it because you want to help find a cure for a terrible disease. If you’re just looking for a promotion, give away cars. To do this right you need to have personalities who aren’t afraid of letting their emotions come through on the radio. Also, don’t set any dollar goals, whatever you raise helps immensely. And remember your listeners, they will still have expectations of the radio station and you have to continue to deliver as much of that as possible, which means, if you’re a music station, playing music. Have your talent listen to the stories of the families and kids as they tell about what they have to go through with treatments or losing a child. If you’re fortunate enough to have a highly skilled production director who can frame these stories so they move listeners, you’ll be ahead of the game.”

I listened to some of the audio vignettes produced by Production Director Jym Geraci. Many were emotionally charged and tugged at my heartstrings. There’s the story of Greg as told by his father Fred and set to the music of Mark Schultz’s “He’s My Son.” Greg was “an energetic teenage kid” who was diagnosed with cancer at age 14 and succumbed three years later. And there was the more positive story of Sydney, who at the age of nine months was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer. As her mother told KS95 with Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” in the background, “We were the success story…and I’ve never taken that for granted.”

Morning man Van Patrick says he shared many emotions with these families and with his listeners. “It’s a scary thing to do as a personality-revealing yourself and your emotions,” he says. “So many of us are taught to be funny all the time, and that’s too bad. Allowing yourself the freedom to cry and show emotions in front of your listeners is very freeing.”

Patrick says this single event is the one he’s most proud of in his on-air career. “Cheryl and I have helped raise over $3 million for this cause in the three years we’ve been at KS95,” he says. “The families we help mean a lot to us and there’s nothing better than the feeling we get in helping them.” According to OM/PD Peck, Van and Cheryl are involved all year long with the kids, their families, and the two charity organizations.

So where exactly does all this money go? Director of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota Cancer Center Dr. Les Robison says, “The dollars raised from the Radiothon support our immune-based therapy program; a project researching the mechanisms on how to target the body’s own immune system to fight childhood cancer. Partnerships like ours with KS95 and Hubbard Broadcasting allow us to continually fund new, innovative research that will make a real impact on the treatment and lives of kids with cancer.”

John Barrett, Media Relations Director for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare (the other Radiothon beneficiary) says, “The money provides funding for research and offsets the cost of caring for children whose insurance does not provide adequate coverage. Perhaps most important, it allows us to venture into new programs and areas of care that could not be funded without Radiothon money. It becomes our financial security blanket and ensures that we can provide the best care for the children.”

When all is said and done, it all boils down to being “local,” in touch with listeners, and serving the community. “It’s a great feeling to be at a station and working for a company that allows you to do something that has such an impact on people,” says Peck. “All the time we spend talking about the next big hit and who’s doing the next wacky thing seems very insignificant when you compare it to helping a family save the life of their child. To me, this is what radio does best and why we have a signal at all…to serve.”

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