This Week in Hating
Things we love to hate: Radio pledge drives
Editors Note: This is the first in a series of columns dedicated to rants about stuff that drives us crazy. Over the coming months, it will include pretty much everything we find irritiating. Complaining can be cathartic — particularly on a Monday.
With the return of crisp fall weather and the successful launch of this new Web site, I should be in a good mood. But for much of the past two weeks, I’ve been exceedingly grumpy.
It’s pledge drive season.
Every morning I have clicked on the radio, only to be assaulted with desperate pleas for cash, check or credit card. It happens twice a year as public radio stations seek funds, but this season has been especially hard to take as my three favorite stations – KPFT-FM, KTSU-FM and KUHF-FM – scheduled overlapping marathon begging-for-money sessions.
The drives always start out in a friendly way as the cheery announcers soft pedal their need for funds. But as the days wear on, and the funds trickle in, they grow increasingly abusive and downright shrill.
“We need three people in the next six minutes,” a KUHF announcer barks, as if that would spur listeners todrop whatever they’re doing and race to the phones.
“We didn’t break into BBC News for the first half hour and we didn’t get a single call,” a KPFT broadcaster admonishes in a “you are a bad person” tone.
“If you’re one of the listeners who click us off, we don’t need that now,” another KUHF announcer growls.
Homeless people at Houston intersections have better donating-soliciting techniques.
And they probably achieve better results. Even a Psych 101 student knows you don’t get people involved by berating them.
I’m not totally unsympathetic to each station’s plight. Times are tough, fundraising is difficult and budgets are hard to balance. KUHF had a $1 million pledge drive goal for the first time in its history. The fall drive funds one-fourth of KPFT’s annual budget. More than two-thirds of KTSU’s annual budget comes from listener contributions.
And few listeners contribute.
Only one of every 11 listeners donates to the station, a KUHF announcer said. (Although one could argue since they take federal dollars, all tax payers are contributors.)
The nadir of my listening experience came during a mid-afternoon music show on KPFT when the announcer went on a 10-minute tirade telling listeners if they didn’t contribute then maybe they’d be better off with a Clear Channel station that plays “boom boom pow” music.
As the phones remained silent, the announcer begged listeners to call even if they didn’t contribute – just to show that someone cared.
After an interminable silence, a single ring pierced the background
Maybe the local hawkers could take a lesson from Amy Goodman, the host of the popular KPFT show, “Democracy Now.” She’s polite but persistent. She offers incentives, like a boxed set of Noam Chomsky’s speeches. And she transforms the act of giving into something much greater.
She makes you believe you are making the world a better place by contributing to her show. (It’s no coincidence she’s consistently the station’s top fundraiser.)
The stations say they are always looking at new ways to attract listeners without beating them up for funds. They conduct raffles for nice prizes (a trip to London), offer matching incentives, and conduct a “soft campaign” for funds before the pledge drive begins, promising to shorten the time of on-air hawking.
At various times in the past, the stations have tried a soft-sell pledge drive with a minimal amount of on-air hawking. It didn’t work, so they returned to their hardball techniques.
So it will likely continue. But at least I don't have to worry about it for another six months.