Over the years I have been involved with many fundraising efforts at our radio stations. As far back as the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. We raised a thousand dollars in change and turned Main Street Oneonta into one large collection bucket.
Downtown Oneonta became our rallying place. Students from Center Street School sang John Lennon's "Imagine" to the crowd. Sen. Jim Seward and I stood there like a couple of knuckleheads, with tears in our eyes.
Sept. 11, 2001. Hurricane Katrina. The 2006 flood. Surely, this is part of what a radio station does. And a newspaper. The Daily Star and other media outlets have all responded when the clarion call for help rang out. It is what we do.
But I've never seen anything like what happened Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2011.
On Monday, our general manager, George Wells called a meeting of our staff and said, "Delaware County is hurting. They are our listening area. They are our neighbors. They need our help. Let's do what we do best."
On Tuesday morning, we would simulcast our Oneonta stations, along with our Walton and Delhi sister stations, and hold a "radioathon" for the United Way of Otsego & Delaware Counties.
Our goal was $10,000 by noon Tuesday.
Terry Capuano, the dynamic chief professional officer of our area's United Way, arrived at the station with her staff of volunteers at 6:30 a.m. At 7 a.m. I joined Leslie Ann from WZOZ and Miss Tracie from WSRK in the main studio. We put on our headphones and held our breath. At 7 a.m. I opened my microphone and, in my most subtle homage to Robin Williams, shouted "Goooood Morning, Delaware County!"
The day unfolded quickly. The phones started ringing immediately. George Wells oversaw the whole operation. Carla Balnis, our business manager and one of our area's greatest forces for good, ran the treadmill between the studios and the phone bank until the carpet was worn thin. Requests, important phone numbers, challenges between businesses, pledge forms and more all kept pouring into our studio at breakneck speed.
We had $5,000 in by 8 a.m.
Miss Tracie, WSRK's beloved "Girl with the Golden Hair," kept up a steady patter on the air, relating emergency information to our greatly expanded audience. Leslie Ann, a 20-year favorite at WZOZ, coordinated the music and the interviews. Me? I just sat there and talked.
By 9:30 a.m. we had $10,000 in.
Usually, having done so many of these things, the steam starts to go out of our efforts about mid-morning. Not this day. We had all sails full at 10 a.m. A coffee burst, a little nosh, 100 percent phones and strong desire to push this thing to the limit.
A big jump came at 10 a.m. "Guys, we just hit $20,000," George announced to us all.
People walked in with cash, including kids with pennies. Matching challenges were aired. The Daily Star kicked in with a sizable check plus the contribution of several much-needed computer monitors for those washed downriver.
Billie Baldwin, our able receptionist, went upstairs to answer phones. We never saw her again. Nate March, fully into his third week as our news director, got up to speed quickly and professionally.
10:30 a.m. and we hit $25,000, all in call-in donations. The horses were running without reins now. Miss Tracie and Leslie Ann continued to massage their audiences for a "little more," just "a little more."
Me? I just kept talking.
When George came in at 11 a.m. to tell us we were at $30,000, there was silence in the studio. We all looked at each other. George, Leslie Ann, me and "The Girl with the Golden Hair." Close to 100 years of broadcasting combined. We were stunned.
Back to the phones. Noon was fast approaching and we were merely guiding our listeners along now. They were in the driver's seat. Racing to the finish.
$34,500 at noon. Whew.
As of today we have well more than $50,000 in total from our drive. The phones continued to ring all day.
As the crankiness of old age seeps into my bones and I actually sometimes hear myself shouting, "Get off my lawn!" it's always good to go back to the well. It is reaffirming. "City of the Hills?" Yes. "Life Enjoyed?" Sure, why not. Good people, good neighbors, helping hands.
To use an old phrase coined by the first President Bush, our area's thousand points of light shined brilliantly last Tuesday.
It was an incredible day of fellowship, sharing, caring and love.
As for me? I just talked.
God Bless Upstate New York.
'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.