$1.2m Quest At 12 Operators Are Standing By Again

Posted: March 09, 1988

A couple of years ago while planning a Channel 12 (WHYY-TV) fund-raising telethon, Mike Quattrone, the station's director of TV programming, got a little surprise.

"One of the people here at the station came up with a picture of me in the 1960s, long hair and all. It was pretty embarrassing, but we figured it would make for a clever spot," said Quattrone.

Quattrone, who puts together the thrice-yearly telethons for Channel 12, waited until the movie "Woodstock" was on the schedule and had a camera do a close-up on the old photo to begin a solicitation break.

"We played a recording of Stephen Stills singing something like, 'I shoulda cut my hair,' and then we panned up to me," said Quattrone, who now sports an '80s-style close-cropped cut. "The phones started ringing. We clearly had appealed to a whole group of people."

While it's true that regular Channel 12 viewers get a bit bothered by what cynics refer to as "beg-a-thons," they are absolutely essential to any public station's continued operation. For this month's "marathon," which lasts through March 20, Channel 12 hopes to get $1.2 million in pledges. Some of the 10-minute spots in search of that cash from your wallet will be as goofily pleasant as Quattrone's hair gimmick. But most will be pretty straightforward.

"Viewers know what we're up to. We don't have to fool them," said Quattrone. "It's not the most pleasant thing we do here, but if we act as natural as possible and are straight with the viewers, we do better."

One thing viewers do get during the fund-raising periods is the tops in public television. At 9:05 tonight, for instance, you'll be able to see a widely acclaimed tribute to Humphrey Bogart, put together and narrated by

Lauren Bacall. Over the next two weeks, you'll get such treats as Luciano Pavarotti on "Great Performances" (9 p.m. Friday), a six-hour marathon of the entire "Fawlty Towers" series (beginning at 10 p.m. Saturday), a new documentary on Grace Kelly's life (9 p.m. Sunday) and a repeat of ''Impressions of Judy Garland," a series of clips of the late entertainer (9 p.m. Monday).

"We try to match our programs to the market," said Quattrone. "Being a native Philadelphian, I think I have a good idea of what goes over well here. Pavarotti is always a big hit. The 'Fawlty Towers' marathon comes from viewer response. And 'Woodstock' did well here when no other station wanted it."

Most of the shows you see during the fund-raising period are produced by the Public Broadcasting System, with space left for local fund-raising pitches. At Channel 12, the pitches usually last 10 minutes every half-hour or so and are done entirely by station staff.

"We used to bring in professional talent, folks like Wee Willie Webber and Gene Crane, long-time entertainers here. Now with just our own folks, we're doing twice, three times as well," said Patrick Stoner, the station's film critic, before taking his turn in front of the cameras during Monday night's Jimmy Stewart retrospective.

"I guess people out there feel like we are part of the product, that we love what we're doing and what we show. Their appreciation is shown when they call up and pledge more than they ever did," said Stoner.

When you call during one of those pledge breaks, your call is answered by volunteers from the community. Companies and other organizations are actually on waiting lists to answer phones for several hours in return for coffee and soda and the hearty thanks of WHYY staffers.

Monday night, the local Sierra Club chapter brought about 30 people out to answer phones. Among them was Drake Bryant, a city planner and one of a group of about 40 volunteers who helped bring public broadcasting to the Delaware Valley.

"I was president of something called the Educational Television Council back in 1963 and we saw a need for better television on the VHF dial in Philadelphia," said Bryant. "Well, now it's here, and I'm glad to be back answering phones. People seem to know what to do when I answer. It's clear we're getting more and more repeat subscribers."

Of course, some of those subscribers have to be induced by a give-away for their pledge. Monday night, the Silo stores donated those little Sony Watchman TVs for anyone making a $250 donation.

"We also use the fund-raising time to see what people really like," said Quattrone. "If they like a program, chances are they will donate during that time to keep it on."

And Channel 12 pledges to you that if you meet its pledge goal, it will stop dunning you for money.

"In December, we got to our 15-day goal in eight days," said Quattrone. ''We put on extra programming, and people loved it. We need the money - it makes up half our budget. But we also need viewers and, frankly, no one wants these pitches to go on any longer than they have to."

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