Radio Raises Its Ante : College Station Offers Prizes to Lure Membership Donations

Times Staff Writer

Luring listeners with prizes ranging from a week on a Mississippi steamboat to lunch at a local Jamaican restaurant, Santa Monica College’s eclectic public radio station KCRW is well ahead of last year’s pledge total for its fund drive.

“This radio station is hot,” said Sarah Spitz, a volunteer who coordinated the donation of prizes with an estimated value of $100,000 from nearly 500 businesses.

The station raises most of its operating budget from listeners through a 10-day fund-raising campaign held every 10 months.

Bicycle Tour Offered


The merchandise and services offered in exchange for membership donations also include record albums that come with a $35 minimum donation, and go up to a $1,500 live performance by a 16-piece Dixieland band.

The band performance was snapped up on the first day of the fund campaign, but a six-day, $1,200 ski weekend in Colorado was still available at midweek.

Other prizes include a weekend bicycle tour of the Napa Valley wine country and passes for an evening for two in a private flotation tank.

The fund-raiser draws dozens of volunteers to answer the 15 telephones in the station’s basement studio at Santa Monica College. The volunteers spend hours jotting down names, pledges, addresses and phone numbers as on-the-air announcers urge listeners to pledge their support.


“It’s easy to write a check, but I felt like giving some time, which is harder for me to do,” said Jerry Rosen, a management consultant who volunteered for the phone bank early Tuesday.

“Don’t get angry at the audience,” the announcers are advised in a publication handed out by station management. “Be cheerful and optimistic. . . . If you’re bombing, don’t flog a dead horse--play music.”

Food and drinks donated by local stores and restaurants help keep the effort going.

According to Will Lewis, who helped organize the event, KCRW’s popularity increased tremendously after a strong new transmitter was erected atop the Santa Monica Mountains in 1981.


Now its signal reaches an area stretching from the San Fernando Valley to Orange County, with an audience estimated at between 150,000 to 200,000.

World News Broadcast

KCRW’s programming includes nine hours a day of national and international news from the Washington-based National Public Radio network.

The fund drive includes an appeal to contribute extra money to help maintain the network’s weekend news shows, which are scheduled for cancellation Sept. 30.


The programming mix also includes radio drama, much of it produced by the British Broadcasting Corp., and other shows featuring pop, rock, reggae, blues, jazz, African and classical music, comedy, gardening tips and cooking lore.

With membership currently around 10,000, organizers hope to add 5,000 more by Monday.

By Thursday evening, KCRW’s phone-in drive had raised pledges of more than $240,000 from 4,960 listeners, compared to $165,000 from 3,450 people at the same stage the previous year.

Organizers attributed the improvement to word-of-mouth reputation, since the station rarely advertises.


The fund-raiser came as KUSC, another public radio station that also broadcasts to the Westside, was appealing to its listeners to help raise $150,000 to balance its budget by June 30.

“It’s coming along and we’re likely to make it if the response continues,” KUSC General Manager Wallace A. Smith said. KUSC specializes in classical music.