Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Pledge Drive




The Spring Pledge Drive at the Public Radio Station didn’t go well. The Station was under attack at the Endowment of the Arts and politicians in Washington had promised to punish the non-profit organization for its audio documentaries on hazing in the military (decried as "unpatriotic") and gay marriage. Indeed, Congressman Pritchard, representing a largely rural section of the State, made a vehement speech threatening an investigation to withdraw the Station’s non-profit status under 501( c) (3) – "if they want to advocate along Democratic party lines," Representative Pritchard bellowed, then, they "should be taxed like any other political advocacy organization."

In past Pledge Drives, a whole bank of telephones were installed in the downtown studio and volunteers were recruited to man the phones and take incoming calls making pledges. But the paradigm was shifting: in the last pledge drive, half the phone operators had nothing to do, since more donations were pledged on-line than by phone. So during the this Spring Pledge Drive, only six phone operators were on-duty per shift. And, as it happened, this turned-out to be six too many.

Just after the Winter Pledge Drive, Addison "Whiskers" McGee, the avuncular long-time host of the Station’s most popular progam, Li’l Ole Opry of the North (abbreviated LOON) had been accused of serial sexual harassment amounting in some instances to attempted rape. LOON had been an anchor program for the station for more than 30 years – it was a kind of country-and-western variety show, Hee-Haw with Proust and Hemingway jokes. The show was broadcast live from the State Fair and traveled around the country and was a venerable, highly profitable institution. Addison "Whiskers" McGee was the public face of the Station and, so, when he was accused of misconduct, summarily fired, and, in fact, expunged from broadcast, re-runs of his vast library of shows also wholly forbidden and announcers admonished not to mention him by name, eyebrows were raised and many contributors, particularly corporate sponsors balked at making donations. "Whiskers" was replaced by an enthusiastic and, apparently, deeply sentimental mandolin player, Jeremy Benson, who began each show by leading the audience in singing Lutheran and Methodist hymns. The LOON show was re-named North Country Pickin’ and Grinnin’ and it also quickly ran into trouble – Benson was accused of beating his wife with a frying pan and he also had to be summarily discharged.

Callers offering donations to the Spring Pledge Drive fell into two parties: the "due process" camp denounced the Station for firing "Whiskers" and Jeremy on grounds of political correctness and without a thorough investigation of the allegations against the two hosts. But, in fact, the Station had conducted an independent investigation and concluded that "Whiskers" was well-known to all employees at LOON as an inveterate sexual harasser, a man who had once written on a white board in the Station’s conference room an elaborate and bawdy stanza in "Rime Royale" featuring no less than five rhymes on the word "ratio." The problem with the investigation, publicized to some extent just before the Pledge Drive, was that it showed that everyone was aware that "Whiskers" was prone to attempted rape and that, until his firing, management had done nothing. (And the allegations about Jeremy were a matter of public record, a public record that apparently no one had scrutinized before hiring him as "Whiskers" successor.) These factors explained the second category of callers – those who contacted the station to denounce it for failing to act with proper alacrity and forcefulness when it became aware of the crimes and misdemeanors committed by its on-air talent. This latter camp, the "cover-up" callers, were just as angry as the "due process" donors, indeed, enraged to a point approaching threats of physical violence.

And, then, in the midst of the Pledge Drive, management received a phone call from someone outraged that no one was manning the phone banks and that those hoping to donate by making their pledges to a volunteer were being wholly unheeded. The woman taking this call on the news tip line hurried down to the studio where the six volunteers were supposed to be stationed at their phones. The phones were lit-up and buzzing with calls but no one was there. The station manager saw that the corridor door was open and, further, that the door to parking lot was askew. She went outside and found the six volunteers engaged in a fist-fight – they had divided into "due process" and "cover-up" combatants, three on each side, and were hurling feeble punches and insults at one another. One of the lady volunteers, with her braided grey dreadlocks whirling, shrieked "Fascist!" while another woman, plump with prominent rosacea on her cheeks, dived at her knees, in an attempt to tackle her – "Sexist!" the plump lady cried.

A little later that day, Ian and Carrie were on-air. A local Indian casino had offered a challenge grant and the two broadcasters were trying to gin up pledges to match the grant money. Carrie received an email that Jennifer in Edina had made a 10 dollar a month pledge, thereby entitling her to a tote bag and public radio stocking cap. Jennifer’s pledge was registered on-line and, in the comment section, below her address and the pledge amount, she had typed: I am a news-slut. I am a whore for the Facts. Just call me a Truth Junkie. At a break, while they were broadcasting an abbreviated version (due to the ongoing Pledge Week) of Ira Flatow’s Science Friday, Carrie showed Ian the email. "We need to acknowledge her on-air," Carrie said. "But I don’t think we can read that." "No, no," Ian said. "We can’t read that."

After the break, Carrie said to listeners: "We want to thank Jennifer in Eden Prairie for her generous donation. Jennifer, you know who you are – she says she’s an addict for public radio news." Ian muted his microphone and mouthed to Carrie: "It’s Jennifer from Edina not Eden Prairie." Carrie mouthed back: "Same difference."

The story has a sequel. After the pledge drive, Ian looked up Jennifer from Edina on the internet. He found her Facebook page. The picture showed a pale vampirish woman with red lips. Jennifer, the news slut, was an intellectual property lawyer, and her mother was a well-known State representative. Ian was intrigued and sent her some flirtatious messages and she "friended" him. Later, they met, went on dates, and began a relationship. Ian and Jennifer, the news slut, married and, if I am not mistaken, have two children. Unless they are divorced, they are still together today.

No comments:

Post a Comment