Behind the Scenes at KCUR’s Spring Fund Drive

 What’s it like working the fund drive at KCUR?  It’s not like that old TV show, WKRP in Cincinatti…and it’s nothing  like the SNL skit “Schwetty Balls” that skewers NPR.  No, it’s a bit more like a G rated version of the movie Pirate Radio–no sex or drugs, but a with a rock and roll spirit.

Twice a year KCUR management lets the listeners take over the airwaves, asking the community for donations, to ‘become a member’ of the station.  I’ve been a volunteer for years, both in the phone room and on the air.  People always ask me “what’s it like?”.  First of all, it’s fun.  I used to be a deejay so for me, it’s easy to gab on the air, especially about something I love.  It’s like telling someone about a favorite book or  a new restaurant–you want them to catch your enthusiasm because you just know they are going to like it as much as you do.

Usually there are three ‘pitchers’ and one ‘anchor’, plus a producer and an announcer who handles the mechanics of going in and out of programming. The anchor is the first and last person you hear during the pitch break–it’s their job to guide the pitching segments, set the tone, make sure you ‘throw it back’ to the announcer at a very specific time so the programming stays on schedule.  And if someone gets lost in their comments or  doesn’t know what to say, the anchor must very quickly get the break back on track.  The producer works with the team, indicating how much time the group has to talk, giving hand signals when there are two minutes, one minute, thirty seconds left; brings in information about  special ‘matching contribution’ offers and generally encourages the team as they pitch, offering suggestions on what (and what not)  to emphasize during the break.  The trick of being on the air is this: concisely saying what you want to say with sincerity and enthusiasm while watching a producer flash notes on a white board about something else he wants you to mention, giving  the three other pitchers talk time, reading several thank-yous, watching the clock and hoping you aren’t going to bore the listener, talk too long or end up with forty-five seconds with nothing to say before going back to programming. As a listener, can you tell that’s what’s happening?   Breathe.

In the phone room, volunteers gather around large desks with phones.  It’ s very low tech–no computer entry here, all phone-in pledges are hand written.  Who volunteers?   Many retired folks, UMKC employees, stay-at-home moms, students–a real mix of people. Everyone welcome.  When the phones aren’t busy, it’s  easy to chat with others about hot topics of the day or the usual subjects of kids, weather, jobs.  Everyone is friendly and upbeat. I should have taken a picture of the food table…KCUR takes very  good care of their volunteers.  Fresh baked goods every morning, Roasterie coffee, lunch and dinner from local restaurants like Lidia’s, Blue Koi, Pizza 51, Californo’s.  It’s just like a small party, with all sorts of people and great food.  Every once in a while we’ll get some offbeat call:  someone complains about something, a crank call from a kid who wants to pledge ‘a million dollars’ , but that’s rare.

Two ‘supervisors’ keep track of all the pledge numbers, adding up each individual contribution.  Hourly goals and pledge totals are posted on a large white board at the front of the room. Some  hours you make the goal and  some hours you blow it away.  This membership drive focuses on gaining new members and halfway through the drive, we were over halfway to the goal of 893 new members. That’s a real testament to the power of the station in the community.

I support the station with monetary contributions but also contribute my time…not just because it’s fun but also because of the incredible dedication of the KCUR staff to the Kansas City community.  These are people who work very hard, for not much money, in  simple surroundings; who are  motivated and inspired to bring you excellent news and music programming every single day.  KCUR is always there for you. Don’t take it for granted!  You can pledge anytime, not just during fund drives, at  And if you are interested in volunteering, contact the station at 816 235 1551.  If you are a supporting member, THANK YOU.

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