The author is the president of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.
Jim Thompson As radio broadcasters, we are a central part of everything that happens in our communities. Everyone in town has driven past the radio tower — that tall spire that transmits essential and relevant information and entertainment. It’s the engineers who are responsible for the tower, the receivers, the transmitters and all the equipment that enables the radio station to broadcast and remain integral to the community, sometimes with life-saving information.
Regardless of radio format, we report on monumental events, and we do what we can to help our community get through the hard times. We see the joy that emanates from parents and their teens when the high school football team wins a home game, and the happiness that radiates from children when the playground in the town’s park is finally completed. We also see the sadness that strikes our community when disaster hits.
We are an industry that cares, and we use the power of radio to do something about it.
But what happens when something tragic occurs to one of us? What about when it’s the radio engineer, the morning show producer or the afternoon air talent that falls on hard times? This is when the Broadcasters Foundation of America steps in.
When the lives of broadcasters and their families are shattered by unthinkable circumstances, leaving them unable to work or support themselves, the Foundation is a lifeline.
For more than 60 years, the Broadcasters Foundation has provided financial assistance to broadcasters whose lives have been shattered by unthinkable tragedies. A 501(c)3 public charity, the Foundation is unique in that we exist solely to help broadcasters. That means that all of our grant recipients are your colleagues.
Hard-working, dedicated broadcasters who had productive lives and vibrant careers in engineering, programming, on-air, production, sales, management, ownership and more, can wind up destitute because of disease, accidents or advanced age.
The Broadcasters Foundation delivers two types of financial assistance: Monthly and one-time emergency grants. Our monthly recipients undergo a thorough screening and application process annually to determine need. Examples of situations where we have provided monthly aid include a 20-year broadcast veteran who died of a sudden massive stroke, leaving behind two children and a wife who suffers from multiple sclerosis; a successful manager paralyzed from the waist down in a tragic motorcycle accident; and an elderly couple with stellar broadcasting careers who lost their home and cannot keep up with exorbitant medical costs.
One-time emergency grants have been disbursed to broadcasters whose lives or homes were affected by natural catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast and tornadoes in the Joplin, Mo., area.
The Foundation has helped these and other broadcasters who have fallen on hard times so extreme that it has rendered them destitute, unable to pay for necessary medications, or even support themselves.
How many engineers have weathered a storm to keep their station broadcasting live? As we all know, when most people are running for cover, radio broadcasters stay on the air to deliver vital information that saves lives. The emergency grants from the Foundation help offset the destruction caused by these disasters.
Here are some of the thank you notes we have received from radio broadcasters that the Foundation has helped:
“MS has managed to slow every part of my life to something unimagined … My new normal contrasts sharply with my old memories of early sales meetings, days on the road and then back to the office. Thank you for your help.”
“My prayers have been answered through the Broadcasters Foundation of America … You have restored my faith in God and man. Your generosity will allow us to find a new apartment and walk away from our current living conditions, which have unequivocally curtailed my recovery from the stroke.”
“There aren’t words enough to tell you what the Broadcasters Foundation of America means to us. On the first of every month, when we get your check, I send up a special prayer to God to give the Foundation many great blessings to keep you going so that you can bless many more ‘old radio’ people like us.”
Reading these stories of these brave broadcasters is a reminder of how much someone we know might be struggling, and how fortunate we are to be working in this great business. Our board of directors comprises some of our profession’s most influential leaders, representing a variety of radio groups from across the country: Dan Mason from CBS Radio, Joe Bilotta from Buckley Broadcasting, George Beasley from Beasley Broadcasting, Jeff Smulyan from Emmis Communications, Jerry Lee from WBEB and more. In addition, the CEOs of our industry’s organizations, Erica Farber from RAB and Gordon Smith from NAB, serve on our board.
The board’s goal is that no broadcaster’s cry for help should ever go unanswered. The requests for aid have more than doubled over the past few years. Next year, we will disburse $900,000 in financial assistance, a 100 percent increase from five years ago.
Right now, there may be a colleague at your station, or even at a station across town, who needs help but they don’t know where to get it. Please, make sure every broadcaster you know is aware of the Foundation and the work that we do. Consider supporting our cause so that we can help those in our industry who need it most.
Annual membership to the Broadcasters Foundation is only $150 per year, and a donation can be made to the Guardian Fund in any amount. Please, at this time of giving, consider making a donation or becoming a member. You can visit our website at www.broadcastersfoundation.org or call us at (213) 373-8250. We hope you are never in a position to need charity. But with your support, we will always be there for a broadcaster who needs help.
Jim Thompson was president of Group W Radio and has served on the boards of numerous industry organizations. Under his leadership, the Broadcasters Foundation has doubled the amount of financial aid it distributes in the past five years from $400,000 annually to a projected $900,000 next year.