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Listeners And Volunteers Both Pledge Their Support For KCRW

It’s Monday morning around 8:50 a.m. On the airwaves of 89.9 FM is NPR’s signature news program Morning Edition. The only difference is in between the latest news about the Beijing Olympics and the sudden death of singer Isaac Hayes, two local announcers are urging listeners to pick up the phone and make a pledge to support the public radio station.

Almost three hours into day four of KCRW’s pledge drive, $372,620 is posted on a large TV screen. It’s the amount supporters agreed to donate to help provide programs for them to tune into. The 11-day pledge kicked off on Friday. It runs during the weekdays from  6 a.m. to 11 p.m. On weekends, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Why not call in? Listeners are getting a bang for their buck with so called premiums: gift certificates ranging from CDs to concert tickets, to romantic dinners at wonderful restaurants to fun adventures and getaways, like a Harley Davidson Weekend for two.

“The majority of the time setting up for the drive is getting gift certificates,” said Laura Shumate, KCRW’s pledge drive manager.

Shumate and her assistant spend three and half months convincing businesses to donate. This year, hundreds of places including hotels and retails shops have joined forces to show support for the station.

“It’s a win, win for everyone,” she said.

If a listener hears an announcer talk about a helicopter tour over Los Angeles or a wine tour in Napa Valley or hang gliding lessons, they can call 800-600-KCRW and pledge the amount for the premium. In turn, it promotes the business.

David Kleinbart, the station’s development director and Sarah Spitz, publicity director, get behind the microphone to pitch.

“It’s a challenge to find the right words to get people to reach into their wallets and say yes I want to support,” said Spitz, who started volunteering at KCRW  in 1983.

Inside the station, a large room has been converted to the phone bank where dozens of listener volunteers are standing by waiting for their telephones to ring. KCRW has moved into a sophisticated setup. Everything is completely computerized.

Volunteers like Susan Price wear headsets to make their jobs easier when answering hundreds of calls a day.

“Even if I pledge, this is one more way for me to show support. It’s a fun and exciting way to contribute,” said Price.

Phone captain and volunteer Mark Gray said: “It’s a family of people. It’s amazing how many people you know and meet from the drive.”

Doctors, lawyers, writers and filmmakers come to volunteer. One person even met his wife while volunteering for a pledge drive.

During each pledge drive, the station has daily sweepstakes with giveaways from MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Also, Fly and Drive Sweeps with vacations to London and to Kyoto, Japan. On Sept. 2, the station will giveaway a new MINI Cooper convertible. In addition, KCRW has milestone giveaways. For example, caller 1,000 wins an IPOD touch.

Callers can donate any amount. To receive a KCRW guide, a monthly newsletter, listeners need to give at least $25. For $50, they become part of the fringe benefits program, entitling them to discounts around town.

Besides the unusual pledge drive, the station serves an unusual mix of eclectic music, intelligent news, and cultural programs serving communities throughout Southern California.

“We are able to be a voice. They turn to us for a lifestyle definition,” said Shumate.

The demographic for the station’s listening audience is affluent, educated and creative, the tastemakers of Los Angeles, Shumate explained. More than a half million people listen to KCRW, which takes in about 17,000 phone calls during a pledge drive.

Some of the callers are considered angels or archangels, folks who donate more than $1,000. The station said on Sunday actress Lucy Liu made a pledge. Tom Hanks and Will Ferrell are also KCRW supporters.

For the businesses, the staff creates a script and announcers read it live on the air and try to entice the audience to call in and make a generous donation. If listeners are shy, they can pledge online (kcrw.com) and get great goodies for their donations like  music packs compiled by the station’s well-known DJs.

Despite the economic slowdown, it doesn’t seem KCRW has been adversely affected. During January’s drive, the writer’s strike was underway.

“We had the biggest pledge drive ever (in January),” said Shumate. “Considering the way the economy is, we are doing good.”

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