The Money Room: A Life-changing Adventure

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series The Money Room
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Money Room is a bit of history written by John Kerr, John Carver, and Sam Tyler whose fundraising careers at WGBH spanned three decades.

By John Kerr

The story of how one particular person got so smitten by ‘GBH that he became its main beggar.

Funny Moments

How could you not become an advocate for such radio and television, and for such people who did so much?

There were funny moments, too.

One evening, an elderly viewer called the phone at Master Control after Rose Buresh went home. I ran MC on Monday nights. The viewer explained to me that she couldn’t hear our program very well. “Could you turn it up a little at your end?” she asked me.

It was that kind of place.

Years later, a viewer called me to say that she enjoyed having all of us in her home asking for money on her television, but that we had left the lights on when she went up to bed.

The Fire

On October 14,1961, WGBH’s studios burned. The roof collapsed into the building.

By then, my scholarship internship had ended and I had taken a completely different job in Cambridge.

When I heard of the fire, I rushed to WGBH in my VW bus. Dozens of volunteers and I carried video tapes and scorched equipment from the still-smoking shell of the building at 84 Massachusetts Avenue to temporary studios in Kendall Square.

We were all shocked by the scene. I saw Tom Conley shedding tears when he saw the blackened stack of audio tapes that lay in the rubble where WGBH Radio had once been.

Thank goodness for WGBH’s converted Greyhound bus mobile unit and donated studios and facilities. The station got back on the air almost immediately.

Fund-raising from the Ashes

David Ives, Helen Fox, and volunteers scrubbed soot-covered Address-O-Graph plates that had been rescued from the fire. Ives and Fox then mailed urgent fund-raising pleas to listeners and viewers.

It was then, I suppose, that I learned how important WGBH’s fund-raising efforts were to its success.

It was also at that moment that Ives went on our air for the first time. Standing in front of a camera dressed in his signature bow-tie, David, then the development director of ‘GBH television and radio, asked for funds to rebuild the station. And wow, did viewers and listeners respond.

The Station Grew

Enough money was raised to build a new building at 125 Western Avenue in Allston. I tried other lines of work after my internship ended, but I could never shake the hold that WGBH had on me during those early years as a “scholar.”
During those years, Russ Morash launched THE FRENCH CHEF with Julia Child, the VICTORY GARDEN with Jim Crockett, and THIS OLD HOUSE with Norm Abram.

Rebecca Eaton brought MASTERPIECE THEATRE to life with a million dollar grant from Mobil Oil.

Robert J. Lurtsema’s MORNING PRO MUSICA started each morning with birdsong and his famous pauses, and became a daily essential to listeners. Leslie Warshaw was critical to that success.

Stanley Calderwood, head of Polaroid, became president of WGBH for a short time. And then David Ives succeeded Gunn and Calderwood, and became its president.

Read more entries in The Money Room series.

Special thanks to Gene Mackles for the series wordmark.


  1. Karen Johnson on July 24, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Great memories, John. I recall the stories about the fire and that it was Catholic Television that so generously invited GBH to use its studios after the fire, where the tradition of St. Clare– patron saint of television–posters began. In my early days at the station, 1974-ish, there were quite a few around, in offices and scene dock, and we could still call them and they’d send one over.

    • Prestone on July 30, 2021 at 2:21 pm

      Edit Suites were BIG believers in St. Claire. Especially with everyone getting used to the new 1″ tape editing systems. Make a believer out of anyone.

  2. Leslie Warshaw on July 23, 2021 at 11:42 am

    Thanks so much for the call-out, John. I enjoy remembering MPM funny moments, like RJL’s April 1 “interview” with Marcel Marceau. Robert asked questions and of course no one answered. I was amazed at how many listeners didn’t catch on. The next day, however, Marceau was actually there, and his conversation with Robert was epic.

  3. Rebecca Eaton on July 22, 2021 at 10:54 pm

    Thank you for the mention John, but it was Chris Sarson and then Joan Sullivan who got the Masterpiece Theatre show on the road. I was at home watching it on TV. My turn as E.P. came in 1985/86 when MPT turned 15 and Mystery! turned 6. I do have the distinction of being the Executive Producer on whose watch Mobil DROPPED Masterpiece!
    (Actually it was ExxonMobil…)

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