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TRAVIS MOON MOBILIZES COUNTRY RADIO FOR ST. JUDE
Few charitable initiatives are as successful as the fundraising radiothons that benefit Country Cares for St. Jude Kids.
Since the program began in 1989, nearly 200 radio stations have participated and raised $500 million in pledges for the children of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
And few radio personalities have been as effective at inspiring listeners to donate as Travis Moon. Over nearly 20 years, working at a variety of stations, he has raised more than $16 million by hosting these events live. That’s one reason why St. Jude brought him onboard in May as its first Senior Liaison, Programming/Radio Development. In this capacity, he is already playing a significant role in coordinating the efforts of stations throughout the U.S. to step up their support even more.
Shortly after moving to Nashville and assuming his position with St. Jude, Moon spoke with CMA Close Up about his goals.
Why did you sign up with St. Jude?
People have asked me, ‘Why would you leave radio?’ I had a blast, but at the end of the day something was pushing me toward this position, where I felt I could help multiple stations on a grander scale and help Country Music grow. I had all of these ideas about radiothons, but I didn’t have time. So I’m excited to finally be able to visit some radiothons myself and get ideas from them. There are some fantastic radiothons in America.
I always mention KUSO-FM Norfolk, Nebraska. I’m from Nebraska, and I know that Norfolk is not a really big area. We’re talking no more than 20,000 or 30,000 people. But these guys are bringing in more than $200,000. They’ve obviously found ways to touch their audiences.
What can you offer to these stations from your position with St. Jude?
I could be a resource. I’ve had to deal with all different aspects of what a program director faces when doing a radiothon, which are staffing, motivating your staff, working with the general managers, sales departments and the community, and seeing the benefits of the radiothon down the line. A program director can call me because I’ve been there.
What are your most memorable experiences with radiothons?
I go back to when I was with KEEY-FM in Minneapolis. My first radiothon there was in ’97. First, we did the typical 6 AM to 7 PM. But I wanted to take the fight forward. I tried every single way I could think of to add an hour here or two hours there. I thought, “Let’s take it to midnight.” Then I asked to do three days, and we did that from 2000 through 2007, my last year there. We thought that if we went to three days, we could break a million. Well, we did it on Thursday and Friday and ended it on Saturday, which didn’t help us; we got $875,000 and I was a little devastated. So next year we moved it to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and we went commercial-free in the last hour. I thought I had it all figured out, but we got $939,000. I was in the Mall of America, walking in the basement with my head down like I’d just blown the World Series. I really thought we would do it.
The next year, we were behind throughout the entire radiothon. It was like pulling teeth. But in the end, we pulled it out; we had $1,010,000. And it was like, “Oh, my God, that was hard!” That’s my favorite radiothon because we were so focused on breaking $1 million and we finally did it. It was that “third time’s the charm” thing. We broke a million again the next year, and then it just exploded after that. We built that radiothon up from $360,000 the first year to $2.1 million for the last one, in 2007.
How did you prepare right before launching a three-day marathon?
This sounds silly, but I would go to church the day before the marathon, for one reason: When I really needed the right words, they would be there, especially at the end when you’re tired. You have to find the words to make listeners pick up their phones and call and become a part of the effort. I learned a lot about what didn’t work.
Give us an example.
A lot of it is about simplicity. You have to find the right way to say things, but you can’t go too long because you’re gonna lose people. If I wanted to make the phones ring, I had to get to the point but also be able to paint the picture.
And how did you survive being on the air for days at a time?
The St. Jude radiothon was my Super Bowl. People had to remind me to eat and drink. I was so mentally into it. And it goes by so fast! Before you know it, the first day is over. You would think it would feel like a long time, but it doesn’t, especially when you’re strategizing each hour and there’s so much action. Our three-day radiothon in Minneapolis would start at 5 in the morning and go to midnight, and I was there the whole time. The next day, it was 5 in the morning to midnight again. Then on Friday, it would be 5 in the morning to 7 PM. I couldn’t go to midnight, because it was affecting me at the end. Your brain starts turning to mush.
I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I wanted to make sure I was fighting as hard for those kids as they are for their lives. That was my whole mantra. Even if it looked bleak, like we weren’t going to beat the year before, I wasn’t going to pack it in. We were going to fight for that last phone cal. And if I could find five extra minutes at the end, I’d end with a twist. You just do the best you can and don’t worry about beating last year until next year.
Moon invites anyone interested in Country Cares for St. Jude Kids to contact him at Travis.Moon@StJude.com.
CMA Members: See the Aug/Sept 2014 issue of CMA Close Up for more from Travis Moon.
Travis Moon calls the totals for the 2011 and 2013 St. Jude radiothons here:
Watch the $1 million tote board announcement at the KEEY-FM 2007 St. Jude radiothon: