Well, let’s face it: The past two years have been challenging, to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for almost a million deaths in the United States alone, and countless individuals have been affected by the pandemic, either through sickness, loss of life, loss of employment, etc. But we all know this. No need to go into detail.
I happen to be a “glass half-full” kind of guy. Whenever I find myself in a bad situation, I try my best to find something positive to take away from it. I blew a tire on the Beltway once, and it was one of those rare times when I wasn’t surrounded by drivers do 70 plus mph and was able to pull over without incident. I blew a tire but considered myself lucky.
So, in that light, is there anything positive we can get from this pandemic? A truly challenging question, and one that is best answered for specific individuals, organizations, and situations.
On the personal side, 3 weeks after getting my vaccination, I was feeling ill, saw the doctor, and found out I have COVID. Fortunately, it was a “mild” case, but I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Well, almost anybody, but I digress. It was awful, and it gave me a new appreciation for all the suffering I saw on the news every night and made me realize how lucky I truly was that I came into contact with someone AFTER getting my shot. It also taught me that I am of certain age where I am no longer invincible (as I was in my youth) and need to start paying closer attention to my health and the messages my body sends me. That paid dividends later, when I received a very different diagnosis, but, as we say in public radio, “That’s a whole other pledge drive.”
Speaking of pledge drives, the pandemic presented numerous challenges to your favorite radio station (just like every other business) that needed to be overcome. Looking back, our last “regular” fundraiser was in February 2021. We knew about COVID-19 but it had not been declared a pandemic yet. We had volunteers answering phones, food donors, and we were working together in the same studio. We did well (as we normally do—thanks to you), and shortly after that the “you know what” hit the fan. Suddenly, everyone is working from home, with the exception of the announcers, and only one in the studio at a time. You only took your mask off when you were doing your on-air shift, and when one announcer relieved another, it was like to ships passing in the night. Yvonne Allen and Diana Ross took turns coming in from time to time to make sure things like the mail was picked up and sent out, and other necessary administrative tasks. I would remind you that at this time, we had no General Manager, Business manager, or Development director. Many of us, particularly Jonathan, Yvonne, and Diana were doing double and triple duty to keep things going.
As May approached, the question was, “How do we do our Spring fundraiser?” At this point, having a room full of volunteers was out of the question, and even the idea of two announcers in the same studio made everyone a bit uncomfortable. The plan (for which Jonathan, Diana, and Yvonne can take the credit) was to conduct something we called a “Quiet” Drive. It actually lasted much longer than a standard pledge drive at WBJC but was not the “in your face” sort of fundraising that we have all come to love and enjoy. OK, I get it. Anyway, very little of our programming (if any) changed, and on rare occasions, two people would be on the air at the same time, but not in the same studio. Our engineers ensured that we could link the on-air studio to a production studio and were separated by walls of glass and a hallway (social distancing at its best). We had no idea how this might work, but, Lo! And behold—it worked! Once again, thanks to your efforts, we met our financial goals, and were good for the summer. It may have taken a bit longer, but it worked! We were all certain that by the fall, things would stabilize, and we could hold a “regular” fundraiser (see above).
Boy, did we get THAT one wrong. Things, as you know, did not get better, and in some ways, got worse. Here we are facing another quarter where we need to rise the funds to keep things going but can’t conduct the type of fundraiser we need. This time, it was something different. Our quiet drove focused on website pledges, as there was nobody to answer phones. In the fall, we were able to have staff come back (which really meant Yvonne and Diana) in addition to the announcers, so the decision was made to encourage website pledging, with the option of using our business phones for those without access to the internet. Since there are only a couple of lines, it resulted in longer wait times for callers, but you held on. Also, we were able to have two announcers in one studio, separated by a plexiglass screen, adding to the immediacy and the fun! Once again (and I never get tired of saying this), you came through, and we were very successful, reaching our overall goal, and able to work through the winter without financial worries. This time were SURE that come February, things would be different, and we could have our volunteers back (we love our volunteers, and really miss them), but, as you know that didn’t happen.
Instead, we did the next best thing. By this time, we had a new General Manager, Richard Miles, a new Business Manager, Kim Chase, a new Development Director, Jennifer LaFleur, and a new announcer in training, Abin Malhotra. We had People! The decision was made to use our standard pledge drive phones, often called the “contest lines” and set up a schedule for staff to answer phones from callers. I worked well, and interestingly, the mix of phone and website pledges was closer to 50-50 than any of us expected. I feel certain that many of the callers could have used the website, but chose to call, and I base that on the excitement in the voices of the people whose calls I had the pleasure of answering. There’s nothing like a little human contact. And, as it turned out, this recently completed drive was one of the most successful in our history. We finished almost 12 hours earlier than we expected. It was truly remarkable, and nothing short of inspirational.
So, what can we take away from all this? Well, like my Marine Corps friends would say, “We observed, adapted, and overcame.” We (and I mean you and me) were faced with myriad challenges of the past 2 years, and despite that, we succeeded, thanks to you, the best members any public radio station could ask for. I have said this before and will say it again. The money is truly important, as it keeps the physical operation of the radio station going, but there is another side to it, and that is the fact that you work hard for your money, and yet are willing to part with it to support what we do at WBJC. That is a vote of confidence that transcends dollars and cents, on an almost spiritual level, and that, my friends is the true silver lining.