It is pledge time again…the local public media outlets are filling the airwaves, rolling out their most impressive programming, trying to hook people into contributing or renewing their memberships. Every time this happens, I think back to a potentially scarring incident that occurred in my 10th, maybe 11th year, here on this Earth. Luckily, for MPR, the incident didn’t really affect me, since they count me as a contributor today, but as you will see it so easily could have scared me away from public media forever.
My Dad and I used to stay up late on Saturday nights, taking in the Dr. Who episodes that KTCA, now TPT 2, used to play each weekend. (Back then, they used to run the entire collection of episodes that combined to make one “story”, rather than show them in a serial format as they were originally aired in Britain) Usually we’d watch the episodes together in “The Pit”, this collection of old sectional furniture which could be arranged in such a manner that you literally had one gigantic soft cushion in front of the TV. We’d make popcorn, kool-aid, sometimes drink some pop and watch the fascinating K-9, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Romana, Cybermen, Daleks…ok, you get the idea, right? I was a FAN!
For Christmas the preceding year, I had gotten a small black-and-white TV for my bedroom. The particular night this incident occurred, I somehow found myself alone in my room, watching Dr. Who on the previously mentioned black-and-white TV. It was the membership drive, and while I found it an annoying interruption in my Dr. Who, my Dad always made it a point to explain why it was important for people to contribute and support public TV and radio. When we were watching it together, it would be time to make some popcorn, talk, bathroom breaks, etc.
This particular night, alone in my room, I watched the pledge drive personalities explaining how important it was to give whatever you could to support “your Dr. Who”. Something clicked in my head and I thought, “Hey, I should give them 25 cents. I can afford that!” I snuck out of my room, down the hall, got the cordless phone and retreated back to the safety of my room. I called the phone number on the TV and immediately hung up. I was so nervous. The announcer reassured me that it would be a very straightforward process, that I’d be taken care of right away, and that it wouldn’t take anything more than “a few minutes”. Finally, right before we left the pledge break, I got up my 10-year old guts and dialed the number again.
A volunteer answered the phone, asked for my name, address, etc. I answered each question, and when they asked how much I’d like to give, I said, “25 cents”, completely oblivious to the true usefulness of a quarter for a big TV station. Not skipping a beat, the volunteer asked me how I’d like to submit it, I answered that I’d like to mail it. They gave me the address to mail the donation to, thanked me for my contribution and hung up. In the glow of the TV set, I addressed my envelope, put my quarter in and sealed it up. I was so proud of myself; I was supporting my favorite show! I sat there in my room, watching the remainder of the show that night, content in the knowledge that I was making a difference!
The next day I found a stamp, applied it and put the envelope in my school bag. I was so worried after using the phone so late that I didn’t dare let my parents know what I was doing. The next school day, I put the envelope into the mail and thought that would be the end of it.
I loved (and still do love) checking the mail. Even if it wasn’t ever for me, I got a special thrill out of the daily surprise. One night we had just returned from Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and as soon as the car came to a halt in the driveway, I opened the door and raced out to the mailbox. I looked through the mail, hoping against hope that maybe there would be something interesting. Unlike my usual disappointment, I found an envelope from KTCA in the stack, addressed to me! I had to keep my secret, so I stuffed the envelope in my pocket, pretending everything was normal, and walked back into the house, putting the remainder of the mail in the designated location in the kitchen.
Once I had established the coast was clear after entering the house, imagine my surprise when I ripped open the envelope and found it was a reminder from KTCA that I had offered to donate 25 dollars to the station and asking me to send it in right away. I panicked. I remember counting up all the change I had in my possession, but the total wasn’t even close to 25 dollars! I was so worried…I remember hardly sleeping at all that night.
The next morning, I did what any normal 10/11-year old would do in the same situation. I snuck the note from KTCA, envelope and all, into the trash, thinking that if I ignored it, the problem would just go away. As you might have already guessed, a few weeks later another letter came again, and thankfully, once again it just happened to be intercepted by myself. After hiding that letter, I started to get worried - racing to the mailbox soon became an absolute necessity so that I could hide any additional offending letters from those scary public TV people!
Finally, after dodging the issue for what seemed like an eternity, my Dad checked the mail on one of the KTCA letter delivery days and saw it addressed to me. He asked me what it was about, I started sobbing and explained the entire situation, beginning to end. The stress began to evaporate immediately, he told me not to worry about it and I finally could let it go.
I have no idea what he did…not sure if he called them up and explained the situation, just paid the amount or ignored it himself, but all I know was that for those 6 months, at least, KTCA was $25 below what they thought they had raised during their pledge drive.
As I mentioned at the beginning, there was no trace left when, at 18, I signed up as an MPR contributor. I renewed for more than a few years until money got tight during the house construction and my ex being out of work, but I renewed my membership when 89.3, The Current came on the air. However, I learned my lesson - not only do I give a bit more, I always do it via credit card. ☺