On The Same Wavelength Families’ Stories Help Push Children’s Miracle Network Radiothon To New Heights

Dave James says it isn’t easy to put together the interviews that have become the centerpiece of the WMAS Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) radiothon.


The questions are tough, said James, the lead morning personality on the Springfield station, and it is often difficult for both those asking and answering them to keep their emotions in check. “We have to keep our game faces on … and often, it’s hard.”

But it is these interviews, put to music and later played repeatedly during the three-day radiothon, that inspire listeners to call in donations to the CMN. And this year, the third for the event, the radiothon raised a record $158,000, with donations still coming in.

James told The Healthcare News that the station, working closely with the staff at Baystate Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital, taped several new interviews for this year’s radiothon and updated others recorded in the past. The stories, which tell of the work that goes at the children’s hospital and the experiences of families that come to visit it, are often heart-wrenching, he said. Many involve the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, where babies born weeks and even months premature fight to survive.

“The stories successfully portray the courage of the children and their families, and also the dedication of the staff,” said James, who added that the interviews obviously resonated with listeners, who responded with donations of all sizes.

Most of those gifts came in the form of what is known as a 12-by-12. That’s a $144 donation charged to one’s credit card over the course of 12 months — hence the name. Michelle Graci, coordinator of fundraising events for Baystate, told The Healthcare News that there were 468 new contributors this year, and more than 600 12-by-12s received.

These donations were supported by larger contributions, many of them from area businesses, said Graci, who singled out Health New England, which made a $10,000 matching pledge. The radiothon has become a key component in the overall CMN fundraising strategy, which culminates in the annual telethon, seen on Channel 22, in June.

Last year, more than $600,000 was raised through the various fundraising events, said Graci, adding that all the money stays local and is dispersed by a committee that receives dozens of requests each year to fund specific programs and pieces of equipment.

The radiothon was created to replace a long-time CMN fundraising event known as the Luck Duck Race. Thousands of ducks, each bearing the number of a contributor, would be dropped off the Memorial Bridge, and prizes would be awarded to the ducks that ventured the farthest downstream. High water levels in the river and other logistical problems made the race difficult to continue, said Gracie, and the hospital set about looking for another fundraising vehicle.

James told The Healthcare News that Children’s Miracle Network had some success in other markets with radiothons, which are still an emerging fundraising strategy nationally, and suggested that one might work in the Springfield market.

Officials at WMAS, long a supporter of the children’s hospital and its programs, and Baystate got together and agreed to try the format in the spring of 2002.
That first radiothon raised about $60,000, two or three times what the duck races generated, said James, adding that the event has been tweaked and expanded in an effort to make it still more successful.

For starters, the radiothon was lengthened from two days to three for its second year, during which donations skyrocketed to more than $140,000, and the 12-by-12 was introduced to give contributors more flexibility with their gifts.

One constant through the years has been the interviews with families and staff members, said James, noting that the stories bring a very personal element to the event. In addition to the taped interviews, live talks were conducted with children and their parents at the pediatric unit’s playdeck.

“A number of families came by during the three days to be there and be part of the event,” said Graci. “Their stories inspired a number of contributions.”

The stories are designed to provide listeners with insight into the full range of services provided at the Children’s Hospital, from the work at the NICU to the care given older children with cancer and other life-threatening afflictions. Many of the children who are profiled are still receiving care and have many challenges ahead of them.

And this can lead to some difficult, but necessary, questions.

“It’s hard to ask someone, ‘so, are you afraid your child is going to die?’ or ‘are you afraid of losing your child?’” he said. “It’s a hard question, but everyone understands the impact of that question, and it helps people come out of their shell. And if you don’t ask that question, the interview doesn’t have as much impact.”

James told The Healthcare News that while the radiothon itself runs three days, the process of putting together the interviews and preparing for the event is a year-round proposition.

“We just wrapped up the radiothon last week, but I’m going back to the hospital today to meet some families and make some connections,” he said. “And we do that all year long.”
And by doing so, James, the other personalities at the station, and the staff at the children’s hospital make more and better connections with the community