Tuning in to the true frequency of public service

Every not-for-profit organization not only has the task of doing good, but it must stay alive in order to do so. WAMC is often cited as an example of a successful organization. It depends on what one means by “success.” If you mean that we have the best news division anywhere or if you mean that we do more hours of locally produced and award-winning programming than pretty much any public radio station that also plays NPR, you’d be correct. Because people believe in the organization, it has raised just enough money to keep going.

As the station begins its June fund drive on Monday to raise $800,000 (we do this three times a year), there is (as usual) a knot in my stomach.

I really know how much each person’s participation means. In a democracy, the day that someone decides not to vote is the day that a lobbyist or a deep-pocketed campaign contributor gains power. Ditto for WAMC. It is no secret that WAMC presents a huge threat to certain people and organizations who thought they had control over the media. They hate what they hear on WAMC and on NPR.

The difference with WAMC is that we will never sell out to the big money people. That’s why the whole enterprise will end if we fail to meet our goal in just one fund drive. It’s that simple.

We know we have about 400,000 individual listeners every month. That’s what the Arbitron data tells us. It must kill the naysayers to see us hang together to keep this precious resource going. It’s so obvious that some of these folks are unhappy. When you try to find what their contributions to society have been, they seem non-existent.

There is always some desperately unhappy soul with a terrible, often psychotic, self-image, who can’t stand to see a true community form and thrive. In fact, I can’t go anywhere without someone telling me about one of Joe Donahue’s author interviews on The Roundtable or how something they heard on Medical Monday saved their life. The reason we have always made our goals is that people take individual responsibility for keeping it going. Every time we set yet another record or match a generous gift in an incredibly short time, we all experience the joy of achievement.

As long as it lasts, it is one of the few places where we can all get together and make something happen that we can be proud of. It’s really a sense of community at its best. We talk community a lot, but we don’t seem to see it all that much. In 1979, WAMC was broke. It was going off the air and we, together, were determined to save it. We did, too. Those were the days that a generous match of $500 or a $1,000 was seen as the end of the world. Now some people who can have given amounts that generate huge numbers of phone calls. I love that because it sends a message that everyone can do something to get us through. We have people who give a dollar and we have people who have given tens of thousands of dollars in challenges because each of us knows that this is something worth preserving.

Of course, there are those people who listen but do not contribute. They make up excuses like, “You get money from the government.” That’s true, we are talking about 10 percent of our budget and that 10 percent is always at risk. There are the people who say, “You were too nice to Israel,” or “You were too nice to the Palestinians,” or “As long as you have Herb London on the air, you don’t get anything from me.”

As my brother Lewis has always said, “There are 10,000 reasons not to give.” It all seems to come down to personality. The glass is either half full or half empty. The people who know how to build and share are my kind of people. Thankfully and hopefully, you will be among them and we will beat the odds one more time.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/5/10

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