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Radiothons As Fundraisers

Nine local stations in my market are conducting a two-day radiothon benefiting the State’s largest homeless shelter... called the Road Home... yesterday and today. Their fundraising goal is $250,000.

This pales in comparison to the big dogs of radiothons, Children’s Miracle Network and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which generate tens of millions of dollars. But it’s an admirable effort nonetheless, none the least of which because it involves stations from two separate ownership groups and multiple radio formats!

After getting killed in the early days of the Great Recession the Radio Advertising Bureau reports that radio has grown in 2010, although more so at the national than local level. Still, how do you do ask a local radio station to do a radiothon at a time when stations can't afford to turn down even one ad?

Here’s how: most stations do change the way they format their programming during the radiothon, but the time spent talking about the cause comes out of the music rather than the ad ‘budget.’

So a sports talk radio station talks about the college football bowl games, the NBA and the NFL, but it also talks about the shelter. The hosts of the easy listening station that otherwise plays nothing but Christmas music this time of year, break in a little more often and play less music, but all the ads remain intact. A delicate balance has to be struck, but by this means radiothon stations don’t lose in any ad revenue.

One of the things the Road Home radiothon could do but doesn’t (so far as I can tell) is program ‘success stories.’ The Road Home is pretty progressive shelter and they work very hard at quickly getting people out of the Shelter and into permanent housing.

No doubt they’ve had success at this. They could do pre-produced ‘packages’ that tell the stories of people who are in a better place after their stay at the Shelter. They could do live interviews with Shelter alumni. They could certainly put out a fact sheet for on-air talent that explains not just the needs, which are considerable, but the triumphs.

Otherwise the Road Home risks ‘donor fatigue.’

One thing I appreciate about the Road Home radiothon is the way they pit the stations against each other in informal competition to see who can generate the most donations. That’s smart.
The Road Home also… astutely, I believe… encourages not just cash donations, but donations of clothing, bedding and the like as well as volunteer hours. Statistics demonstrate that volunteers are more generous donors than people who donate only money.


Steve Allan said…
Here is your biggest challenge - most radio stations will not do radiothons that aren't already grandfathered in because of the fear they have of what it will do to their ratings. And, in truth, radiothons are not 'tune in' events. They show a strong community commitment and benefit stations is perceptual ways. Unfortunately, most radio operators cannot see past that.
I am a big advocate of these - as I managed several over the years - but am afraid it is often not an option for non-profits because of radio's myopia.
Paul Jones said…
Hi Steve:

Thanks for your comments. You're exactly right on both counts.

Most radiothons get poor ratings.

And most require ownership that is exceptionally committed to have a chance.

I also think it's safe to say that most radiothons are also dramatically under-produced.

Better produced radiothons would do better ratings wise, I'm convinced.

But there's a certain Catch-22 element therein, since someone would have to spend a few shekels upfront to produce a better radiothon.

Finally, a radiothon is almost always going to be more likely to take place in the mid-sized (say Arbitron 25 on up) than in the top 15 markets. My market, Salt Lake, is #30 according to the current Arbitrons.

Again, thanks for your comments.

Warm regards,

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