1985 West Virginia Flood Relief Telethon

Charleston Daily Mail
December 9, 1985

Volunteers Make Telethon A Success

Behind The Scenes

By Don Surber
Of The Daily Mail Staff

Drema White sat a sardine's distance away, smiled and said it wouldn't be long.

"Some of the other people have already received telephone calls," Mrs. White assured me. "I haven't. But it won't be long now."

Mrs. White wore a headphone hook-up she brought from her office at C&P Telephone, where she works as a service representative.

"You'll see why I brought it," she said.

A drumroll sounded. The voice-over announcer introduced the show. From the blurry, wide- screen television set 100 feet away, I could make out the West Virginia University band as it played. One by one, each of 40 telephones rang.

"Telethon," I said into my telephone.

Onto the carbon sheets I scribbled name, address and pledge amount. No time for chit-chat. No sooner did I hang up, the phone rang. For every call I took, Mrs. White seemed to take two. Finally, I asked the 44th caller what time it was, thinking it might be 8:20.

"9:03," she said. "I called six times before I got in."

It was the fastest hour in my life. I gave up. Mrs. White and her colleagues at C&P are just too good. Leave the phone calls to the professionals, who could take a call in 45 seconds.

So it went behind the scenes at this weekend's West Virginia Recovery Foundation telethon. In every nook and cranny at the Cultural Center professionals did their 9-to-5 thing to raise money for flood relief.

By 2:30 a.m. Sunday, $791,000 had been pledged in the statewide broadcast, which was also carried in part of the Cable News Network, Marilyn Fletcher of the West Virginia Broadcasters Association said.

Organizers opened telephone lines for more pledges today until 5 p.m. in hopes of making the $1 million goal, she said. Money pledged during a four-hour period Sunday afternoon pushed the unaudited total to nearly $950,000, she said.

"I'm confident we'll reach the goal," Mrs. Fletcher said today.

During the broadcast, John Denver sang. Woody O'Hara interviewed people. The Mountaineer Sports Network team directed the cameras like it was a game against Pitt. Postal workers stuffed envelopes for mailing that night. Certified public accountants verified pledge totals. Organizers even had Paul Nuchims, an arts professor at West Virginia State College, write the name tags for the telephone workers.

"They asked me, so I came," Nuchims said.

It was an oft-repeated reply to the question of why one volunteered.

"They asked me and it's something I felt I should be doing," singer Richie Havens said. "Absolutely."

Andy Ridenour of West Virginia Public Radio said, "I can't think of anybody we went to who turned us down."

Larry Groce, host of the weekly "Mountain Stage" public radio show, came up with the idea, Ridenour said. So did the broadcasters group, he said.

"Before I knew it, they were going to do it and had the day picked," Ridenour said.

Garry Voorhees, executive vice president of WTRF in Wheeling, a station which stages the annual Jerry Lewis and Easter Seals telethons, said it takes a. year to put on a local part of the national telethons.

"It's amazing that we put it together in such a short period of time," he said.

He gave credit to executive producer Mike Kryah, also of WTRF.

"He's one of those really highly organized guys," Voorhees said.

Total Communication Systems of Pittsburgh offered satellite time at a reduced price. Technicians were pulled from most of the stations. Charleston promoter David Dodd and Ridenour and Groce contacted most of the talent.

"There are a lot of unsung heroes," Ridenour said. "Like Jack Catalano (of Central Distributing in Charleston). He found ways of covering what expense we had."

Catalano also headed the corporate sponsors committee, which raised about $250,000 from major donors before the broadcast hit the air, state finance and Administration Commissioner John McCuskey said. For the broadcast, the Cultural center was divided into three television studios.

The huge marble-walled entrance to the center was used to stage the pledge-appeal announcers, with telephone operators along three tier serving as a backdrop. The theater was used to stage the various acts - from soap opera stars to banjo pickers. In the library, Beth Voorhees of public radio sat wired to a chair ready to make brief introductions to pre-taped stories on the floods every half-hour.

"They have to unplug me when I use the ladies room," she said.

Six cameras caught the sound and sights of the show, with 20,000 feet of cable connecting it behind the center to a truck trailer loaded with electronic gizmos. From there, MSN's producer, director and operators chose what signal to send to the satellite dish, which bounced signals off a satellite 22,000 miles away to most of the 14 commercial and public TV stations in the state which broadcast the show.

Director Nick Smith barked orders from the truck into the camera workers' headsets, while producer Mike Parsons set up the next shot. A script typed out earlier in the day was followed - sort of.

"You've got to be flexible," Allen Hercules, the crew's graphics operator, said.

Hercules tapped figures into a computer for the electronic "tote board," just like he would the score of a game. Smith and Parsons provided the entertainment as they worked the show. A lot of give and take was heard.

"Oh, I blew it." Smith said as he looked at the shot camera four had, after calling for a pick up of camera three.

The show moved quickly. Just when it seemed they weren't watching, Smith and Parsons laughed at John McKuen's line.

"Let's hear it for the band," McKuen said.

"Go back, go back," Smith told three.

The camera zoomed back to show McKuen alone on stage. McKuen made a few more cracks about his solo effort.

"I have friends," he said. "I have friends I haven't even used yet."

The banjo player was running longer than the script called for. Changes were made. As the song went on, Smith ordered an immediate cut to Mrs. Voorhees as soon as the song faded.

A monitor showed the filmed segment Mrs. Voorhees would introduce was ready. Each segment was numbered and on a roll of about 40 segments of news coverage of the floods from the.telethon stations.

After her bit, back to the marble hall and singer Kathy Mattea of Cross Lanes and Jim Reader, a former TV newsman now with Charles Ryan Associates. It was Miss Mattea's first time on live TV.

"Kathy did a remarkable job," Reader said.

Over at the theater, Kyle Ashworth, a retired Union Carbide worker, and others from the Usher Service seated the audience in the 486-seat theater. Most have years experience, ushering people at ball games and civic events. The telethon was just another show, just service.

"We like people," Ashworth said. "We like society. We like the city of Charleston." What atout the show? "If you're a good usher, you wouldn't be seeing the show," he said. "A good usher is watching the people."

In the library, workers stuffed envelopes near Mrs. Voorhees. All conversation stopped when they heard stage manager Andrea Nowowiejski shout, "Standby!"

"It's a great job," Ms. Nowowiejski said. "It's the power."

Dora Conley, whose husband Art is a postal worker, said she volunteered to help mail the pledge cards out that night after visiting Parsons - where they worked as volunteers fora week instead of making an annual hunting trip.

"We were in the flood of '61," Mrs. Conley said. "We know what having volunteers help is like."

Behind her, CPAs from the Charleston firm of Arnett & Foster tabulated the results as they came in. Jerry Black of the firm explained the computer program they developed for the telethon.

"We're trying to reach a proper balance between speed and accuracy," Black said.

In the green room, where the entertainers waited to go on stage, Susan Osborne of the Department of Culture made coffee and took autographs. She was treated to an impromptu duet by "Guiding Light" stars Kim Zimmer and Krista Tesreau, who sang "Sisters, Sisters" and took turns bumping one another off the chair to punctuate the line: "And Lord help the sister/who comes between me and my man."

The entertainers warmed patiently for the final 10 minutes, when they would take the stage with Denver, Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff to sing their song, "Country Roads."

After the final credits rolled, Groce said he was amazed at what went on.

"I didn't know it would be a show of this magnitude," Groce said.

Steve Young, who had worked a telethon camera all night went back to work at 1:10 a.m., setting up to record Denver's press conference for WSAZ.

Denver said, "I thought it was wonderful. Very, very well organized...I hope it helped. I was really happy to be here."


West Virginia Archives and History