the zone: Dr. Alan Chartock on-the-air with Ray Graf
(l) and Joe Donahue (r).
a personal record by broadcasting for 14 1/2 consecutive hours,
Alan Chartock approaches radio fundraising as an endurance
‘What we’re facing is an emergency,” Dr. Alan Chartock
says into the microphone. “Listen to me: What we’re facing
is an emergency and that emergency is deadly serious.” It’s
7 AM at WAMC studios and the makeshift broadcast room is still.
A dozen or so volunteers sit at long folding tables, lined
with ’80s-era touchtone telephones, sipping coffee from paper
cups while Chartock delivers his opening address.
top of Mt. Greylock, there is a five-bay antenna. A giant
piece of ice fell from the tower onto some of those bays.
They were either destroyed or severely incapacitated. . .
Every day we lose now is a day that the tower crew may have
trouble climbing that mountain and getting up there.” He sits
in the corner, at a comically tiny table he shares with Roundtable
host Joe Donahue and news anchor Ray Graf. His hands are folded
motionless before him and it’s hard to tell if his eyes are
open or closed under his trademark baseball cap. Without a
script and hardly pausing to take a breath, Chartock speaks
from some kind of trance.
a week of doing this, we’re all very tired. . . We think we
can set a world record. We think we can end the drive today.
. . I need 1854 of you to speak up and say, ‘Alan, I hear
you; we are not stupid. We understand that this is a light
in the darkness controlled by commercial radio stations.’
. . . Here stands this beacon of light and I just ask that
you light one candle and end this fund drive.”
For the next 14 and 1/2 hours, Chartock will remain on the
air. After nearly 30 years at the helm of WAMC, the Capital
Region’s National Public Radio affiliate, and more than 90
fund drives, this is the longest the 69-year-old radio personality
has gone in front of the mic.
love the drive,” Chartock says a couple days later, after
managing to regain his normal sleep cycle. “Each time they
drain everything I have out of me. [During the drive] you
begin to operate out of pure adrenaline. Adrenaline is a drug,
and at the end, when you stop, the adrenaline leaves your
body and you couldn’t push a marble across the floor with
your nose. That’s how low you get in terms of just tiredness.”
Barring a few masochistic souls, the WAMC fund drive isn’t
the kind of programming that the average listener puts on
in the background for a long drive or weekend cleaning; most
listen long enough to feel compelled to pledge support or
turn the dial in frustration. For those on the inside, though,
there’s a strange over-tired/caffeinated energy that seems
to overcome the room as the drive wages on hour after hour.
Part church breakfast, part sleep-over birthday party, camaraderie
turns to slap-happy silliness, as volunteers invent songs
and slogans to pass the time and Chartock rolls out whatever
he can to get his audience engaged and the phones ringing.
tactic] that works, frankly, is shtick,” he says. “Sometimes
it’s taking the opera prisoner, or maybe the weatherman, and
then the next 20 calls are about ‘save the weatherman.’ .
. . How you run a fund drive is, number one, you put the phones
in the room [with the mic] so that when the phones aren’t
ringing everyone suffers together. That’s nothing to be ashamed
of. As a pedagogue, I learned long ago that if you ask a question
and nobody answers, you just stand there.”
But when the phones are ringing, Chartock’s demeanor crescendos
to a fever pitch. One of his most effective strategies this
drive was playing a rabid sound bite of Glenn Beck to incentivize
the station’s chartered bus trip to Jon Stewart’s Rally to
Restore Sanity later this month. “This country is dumbed down!”
Chartock exclaims after the clip is played and calls begin
pouring in. His hand unconsciously rises from the table to
punctuate his point. It’s almost as if he’s conjuring donations
from the ether, egged-on by the audible feedback loop of ringing
Early Sunday morning, the station finally met its target $800,000
sum, enough to purchase syndicated content for a year, or
in this case, repair the Mt. Greylock antenna that was damaged
during a March ice storm.
have a lot of self-doubt,” he later admits. “People don’t
catch it, but two days before the drive, I’m scared to death.
Pete Seeger once said that if you’re not nervous before a
performance, you’re not going to be that good. I always wonder
if this is going to be the drive when people say, ‘I don’t
have any money because of the economy,’ yet, they’re always
there. My wife always tells me when she gives me the goodbye
hug—I don’t see her for a week—‘Alan, remember, they love
the radio station.’ I don’t fully remember that enough.”