The Money Room: Singing for His Supper
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.
Corporate Fund-Raising Begins
I hired Lewis Brown Griggs, then recently from Amherst, as our first corporate and foundation grant-seeker. Lew went around town knocking on doors. After several successful years at ‘GBH around Boston, Lew became a television presenter on diversity issues and relationship dynamics.
Major Donors and Donor Service
Our membership was growing. I hired Nancy England, formerly admissions director at Miss Hall’s School and a member of the successful family that owned England’s Department Stores, as our first major donor researcher and leader.
We also hired Jo Madden, Sandra Scott, Cindy Madden, Sally Foskett, and others to build and run our first-class donor service group. Lo Hartnett and Amy Meyers became staffers.
Ives Sings for His Supper
Never apologetic about asking for money or promoting the notion that WGBH depended entirely on grants and contributions, David Ives and I met with Russ Morash to explore ways to harness David’s special humor and style to on-air fund-raising.
Having the president of WGBH sing for his supper seemed an idea worth trying.
Morash directed an extraordinary fund-raising spot featuring Ives standing in the Cahners Conference Room backed by Tony Saletan on guitar. His employees were seated before him, feigning rapt attention as their boss, clad in his familiar bow-tie, tried out his new on-air fund-raising song. Saletan strummed his guitar while David sang:
“This is the station to watch, folks,
“This is your own Channel 2…
“So send us your kind contributions;
“Help keep your station in view!
“Help keep your station in view, folks,
“Help keep the wolf from our door.
“Send us your kind contributions,
“To Boston Oh—Two—One—Three-Four.
Viewers were wowed that the president of WGBH would sing for his supper. They wrote letters and enclosed their checks.
There were several more versions of that song produced. In one, wearing an Eaton wool suit with a pitiful look in his eye, Ives piteously sang to Jean Marsh who played “Rose” in Upstairs Downstairs on MASTERPIECE THEATRE. He went to one knee and asked her to persuade the Bellamy family to contribute. It made asking for money fun.
Ives Rides an Elephant
Morash even produced a spot in which Ives, dressed in a safari shirt and pith helmet, rode an elephant while saying that he “would go anywhere and do anything to raise the money we need at WGBH”.
Read more entries in The Money Room series.
Special thanks to Gene Mackles for the series wordmark.
Hi John – I enjoyed reading your post. It was always fun working with you and watching you and learning from you. I’m still in pub media and still pitching periodically. I’ve stolen so much from you that I still rely on.
It’s also interesting to think about how much the same it is today. With all the new technology & data that we have at our disposal, it still comes down making sure the phones work, telling people when/how to call (or give online), and offering thank you presents.
Thanks for those wonderful memories.
I can faintly hear the voice of David Ives singing a jingle or two in a shameless bid for cash.
We all have great memories. Mine go from 1956 to 1976, several buildings, many cherished friendships, and a mission to do our best.
Agreed! Working with John Kerr on Pledge breaks was always fun and often a great adventure. I remember one location shoot when we recorded breaks at Franklin Park Zoo. John and I were to deliver our spiels in front of a glass enclosure with an enormous male gorilla on the other side.
When it was my turn, the gorilla was curious but calm, pretty clearly not intimidated by my female presence. But John Kerr is an impressive tall male, and when he walked up to take his place next to me, the gorilla charged forward toward the glass. Yikes!
I miss those days of shooting on location with John, Jayne Sportelli, and our wonderful crew. They are some of my favorite memories from 25 years at WGBH, from 1994 to 2019.
Thanks, John. You were a great host and the best mentor anyone could have.
David Ives was not the only one who did silly things to raise money. When working on the studio crew as a “summer replacement” during my college years, I recall John Kerr’s shameless willingness to do bizarre attention-getting things during live pledge breaks — often cooked up spontaneously in the studio in the minutes before the break. One that sticks in my mind is when we lifted John high on the crane out of the frame in Studio A; as we went live in the seemingly empty studio, he then slowly descended into the frame as if bringing a special message from the heavens.
I laugh today when I see the highly scripted and choreographed pledge breaks on my local public station today; impressive stuff, but not nearly as much fun.