Gordon Hastings And The Broadcasters' Foundation: Help For The Hard Times (04/10/06)
By Joe Howard, Editor-In-Chief
For more than six decades, the Broadcasters' Foundation has offered anonymous financial help to broadcasters in need. What was once a small organization that collected donations at industry events has grown into a major fund-raiser - and a lifeline for broadcasters whose lives have taken unfortunate, often tragic turns.
The man credited with leading the group's evolution is its president, Gordon Hastings. A veteran of 50 years in the broadcasting business, Hastings found a new calling when he took control of the foundation in 1995.
Hastings got his start as an on-air talent while still a high school student in 1955. From 1958 through 1965, he worked in radio news, eventually moving into sales, then general management. In 1972, he jumped to Katz, where he was director of new business for its radio division. In 1983, he founded Hastings Broadcasting, which owned radio stations in upstate New York.
After selling those stations, Hastings returned to Katz as president of the radio division. At the end of that second stint at Katz, he was approached about doing something to rejuvenate what was then known as the Broadcast Pioneers.
Founded in 1942 by H.V. Kaltenborn, the foundation has helped hundreds of broadcast professionals and their families. Grant recipients have come from 27 states and have represented nearly every profession in both radio and television, including on-air talent, editors, producers, technical staff, management, news personnel, and others.
Though Hastings spent years aggressively competing with his radio rivals, his mission now is helping broadcasters navigate difficult times. He tells Radio Ink how he and the foundation do it, and how you can help.
INK: Please briefly outline the mission of the Broadcasters' Foundation.
HASTINGS: The mission of the foundation is very straightforward. We provide financial assistance to radio and television broadcasters who are in acute financial need. Individuals served by the foundation have met with misfortune due to illness (either individually or within a family), advanced age, death of a spouse, accident, or natural disasters.
In 2005, the foundation sent over $300,000 to individual broadcasters who personally lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. The grant recipients represented nearly every occupation within the industry. This grant program was greatly enhanced from the beginning with the establishment of a $50,000 matching grant by Broadcasters' Foundation Director Dick Foreman. Broadcast colleagues completed that match within 48 hours. The foundation added an additional $200,000 from its own resources. Applications for help from Katrina victims continue to come into the foundation office.
RI: The Broadcasters' Foundation used to be called the Broadcast Pioneers. When you came on board, you worked hard to change both the direction and the perception of the organization. What are some of the changes you have made?
GH: Eleven years ago, Jim Delmonico and Ward Quaal, both of whom had served as chairs of the foundation, asked if I would consider taking the organization in a new direction. Having just left Katz after its sale, I agreed that it would be a great project, and a chance to give back to the industry. When I took over, two things immediately came to mind.
First, I wanted the organization to focus exclusively on providing financial assistance to radio and television broadcasters in acute financial need. I'd been a broadcaster since 1955, and knew that many broadcast professionals, after laboring in the vineyard for years, sometimes fell on hard times and found themselves desperately needing help - help that, in many cases, they're too proud to seek. I also knew that there were plenty of highly successful broadcasters with the personal resources and big hearts to make a difference in these peoples' lives. They just needed a vehicle through which to offer support.
Secondly, I knew that in order to accomplish the mission, we needed to recruit a board of directors with broad industry representation and willingness to help build the Broadcast Pioneers into a philanthropic organization. That is when it was decided to change the name to the Broadcasters' Foundation, and focus the mission 100 percent on benevolent outreach.
In the first year, the board was increased from six active members to 34, and we inaugurated the first new-generation Golden Mike Award. That year, the award was presented to Norman Knight, himself a philanthropist. Ten years later, the Golden Mike Award is our signature annual event, and the award continues to be presented to individuals who embody the spirit of giving back.
RI: About how many requests for assistance to you receive each year?
GH: We receive about 100 requests per year, over half of which don't qualify for assistance.
RI: What criteria do you use to evaluate each case?
GH: We have a formal application process, which is directed by our grant administrator, Eleanor Matera; and The Broadcasters' Foundation Executive Committee reviews all grant applications. Grants are based upon service within the broadcasting industry, and the size of the monthly grants is based upon individual and family needs. We do everything possible to make the process as easy as possible for the applicant.
RI: For what reasons are requests refused?
GH: We turn down people who aren't broadcasters, or who are seeking money to start a new business or go to school. We will also turn them down if they're employable. This foundation is exclusively focused on helping broadcasters in dire need. That is all we do.
RI: Has there ever been an instance of someone trying to fraudulently acquire funds from the foundation?
GH: It's very easy for us to corroborate people's circumstances, because a vast majority of the people we assist is brought to our attention by other broadcasters. We have a thorough investigation process, so by the end of that, we really feel that we know the person. Plus, this industry is relatively small, so it's rare if we don't already know the person.
RI: Aside from financial donations, how can broadcasters help?
GH: The single most important thing they can do is keep their eyes and ears open for industry people who have fallen through the safety net and need our help. People sometime have pride - foolish pride - that acts as a shield that prevents us from knowing about their circumstances. As long as we have a network of broadcasters who care, they can act as a safety net. Spread the word regarding our mission. Our mission is to make sure that no call for help by a broadcaster in need goes unanswered.
RI: Who would you like to see make major donations?
GH: The Broadcasters' Foundation encourages industry-wide support. Broadcasters always respond to our annual membership campaign in the spring, and individuals contribute annually to our Endowment Campaign each September. Corporations contribute to our annual Angels Campaign. Again, it is all about giving back. An annual membership costs $150, but a $25 donation or a $10 donation is just as welcome. Whatever a person can personally afford is welcomed and appreciated.
RI: Who has made major donations?
GH: We are proud of the breadth of support for the foundation's mission. Annual gifts range from $5 to $100,000. For a complete listing of everyone who supports the foundation through direct contribution or by participating in our events, go to broadcastersfoundation.org and read our Annual Report.
RI: What are the foundation's major fund-raising events?
GH: The Golden Mike Award is held each February, and the Broadcasters' Foundation Charity Golf Tournament is held during the annual NAB Convention in Las Vegas.
The Broadcasters' Foundation Offshore Challenge is being held this year in Nassau, Bahamas. The Broadcasters' Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament, held each fall in the New York Area, takes place this year on September 25th at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Connecticut. Both golf tournaments are sold out for 2006.
RI: Can you share some specific examples of individuals who have been helped by the Broadcasters' Foundation?
GH: Let me tell you about Al Seethaler. Al was actually a latecomer to broadcasting. As a boy, he was drawn into the family business, which was meat packaging. Hot dogs, luncheon meats, ham and bacon, Al likes to say. Handling the marketing as a young man, he expanded to TV advertising, and the more he learned about the medium, the more he liked it. In 1970, at 29, he signed on as a salesman at KUTV. He spent 18 years working for KUTV-TV/Salt Lake City, eventually becoming the station's general manager.
He rose steadily to the top of the station hierarchy. As other Salt Lake City broadcasters will attest, Al became a force in the market in the 1980s, after he was named general manager. With owner George Hatch's full confidence, he aggressively pursued local sports rights and plunged the station deeply into community service. He also managed to erase KUTV's image as anti-Mormon - not exactly a winning position for a Salt Lake City television station, he says.
By 1988, Al was given oversight of a string of TV stations in Kansas and Nebraska. I was a busy guy, Al says. That year, McGraw-Hill lured him away. After three years there, he moved to Katz to run its newly acquired cable rep firm. In 1995, he became a station owner, joining with some venture capitalists to acquire three stations in a $50-million deal. But he and his partners couldn't make the stations successful. After just three years, the investors lost patience and forced the sale of the group.
By 1998, he was riding the dot-com boom as head of sales and marketing for a Web site, but in January 1999, a stroke stopped Al's career, and nearly his life. Just 57, he was lucky to survive, but he was left paralyzed on his left side, and unable to speak.
Although seven years have passed, he is far from recovered. His left arm is useless, and his left leg is weak. Embedded in his abdomen is a device that continually secretes muscle relaxant into his spine to prevent spasms on his damaged left side. He can get around with a cane, and he can speak clearly. However, he must pause frequently to sip water because of chronic dry mouth, a symptom of his condition.
Al continues to improve, and thanks to the Broadcasters' Foundation, he is living comfortably in a Salt Lake City retirement community, near his two children and three grandchildren.
He's willing to tell his story and publicly acknowledge the assistance from the foundation in the hope that it will encourage more contributions. I appreciate what the broadcasters are doing for me, he says.
RI: It's brave of him to come forward and share that story.
GH: Yes, I agree. May I share another story?
RI: Please do.
GH: I'll tell you about John Wyman. Selling wasn't John first choice for a career, but he was sure good at it. He could have sold me on bigger thighs, says his wife, Cheri. He was gregarious, just an incredible salesman. He had a charisma about him that put people at ease.
For the better part of two decades, Wyman worked at a succession of Denver radio and TV stations. On Sept. 10, 2002, while prospecting for business, he collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital with a brain aneurysm.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Cheri was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just two days after John's collapse. He died three weeks later at 47. John Wyman was the sole breadwinner for Cheri and their two daughters, Jessica and Sarah Jane.
Today, Cheri says the family is doing fine. Entercom, John's last employer, set up trust funds to help with the girls' education; his life insurance covered the mortgage; and social security and the Broadcasters' Foundation are covering the bills.
Among those bills is $1,400 per month that Cheri needs for a medication that slows progression of her multiple sclerosis. Medicare somewhat inexplicably declines to pay for this.
I am so incredibly thankful to the Broadcasters' Foundation, she says. If it weren't for them, I would not be getting my medication. I can tell you that for sure. There is just no way I could afford it. I will do anything I can to let people know how generous they are. People need to know what wonderful work they are doing.
Cheri is also grateful to Entercom. In addition to the trust fund, it carried the family's insurance for a year and named an annual management award in John's honor. I'm a very lucky woman, she says. As he lay dying in the hospital, she said John woke up long enough to say he loved her and wasn't afraid. Cheri was also humbled by the turnout at John's funeral. Many of the 400 people were broadcasters, and many had come from out of state.
RI: What message do you want to send to the radio community?
GH: We are here to help. Broadcasters should be willing to be advocates for colleagues who may not be prepared to act on their own behalf.
RI: If someone knows of a broadcaster in need, what should he or she do?
GH: It is very simple: Call me at 203-862-8577.
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