...And the Smell of Gunsmoke

On the Phones

A Volunteering Report

The exciting thing, you see, about answering telephones during a public radio fundraising campaign -- aside from supporting in-depth news reporting, excellent cultural programming, and Gunsmoke -- is the handwriting contest.

Volunteers are given a form for data collection during each phone conversation. The form is structured as a script: Thanks for calling. How much? May I have your address? Can we mention your name on the air? How many cheap tchotchkes do you want for your $100 contribution? The forms are handed off to another team for computer input. The computer folks, alarmed by the inability of our nation's school systems to produce people with penmanship, have instituted an hourly award for the most legible handwriting. The lucky winner gets to host the Styrofoam bust of GB Shaw, is given some prize (like chocolate), and is provided with a tiara.

Now, I'm not generally one to wear a tiara (at least in public), but a contest is a competition, after all.

Fine handwriting takes time. One cannot rush through like an out-of-control Metro car crashing downhill into a station. One must be careful, tidy, and meticulous. (One begins to refer to oneself as 'one' when one spends too much time at public radio.)

"Yes, I'm sure you want to pass good wishes on to Ed Walker, but you're going to have to slow down. Now, how do you spell your name again? T...O...M. And your middle initial?"

Many people wanted to express warm feelings for Ed, who usually hosts the Big Broadcast. The Big Broadcast is Sunday's show that replays radio programs from the '40s and '50s. He's been away having back surgery. These people want to gush about Ed, but they don't realize that the oatmeally bust of GBS is on the line.

The first hour's prize was awarded to a woman two tables over. Now, I'm not one to cast aspersions, but if I were, I might suggest -- much like that FBI guy -- that it might have been reported that she offered a bribe or something. But that would be beneath me. Oh, yeah.

As 8:30 rolled around, we started getting irate callers. Rob Bamberger was doing a fine job, I'm sure, sitting in for Ed Walker, but he failed to start Gunsmoke at 8 on the dot, as Ed is wont to do. It's one thing to be sick, and another to make bad puns on the air, but mess with these people's Gunsmoke and there's heck to pay. When Rob finally got around to announcing Gunsmoke, there was a flurry of activity. Callers wanted to get in their pledges before Matt Dillon got on his horse or whatever. But the process is not quick. Rushing leads to failure in the handwriting department.

And so I missed another opportunity to win.

The phones go quiet during Gunsmoke. It's as if the world has fallen under some sort of old western spell. It's a chance for the volunteers to stretch, and we all took advantage of it. We also get to hear a little more of the show from the speakers mounted on the wall.

I picked up a call toward the end of Gunsmoke. The caller seemed nervous. After we stumbled together through much of the form, I asked if he wanted to be thanked on the air. This made him even more upset. He dithered back and forth, eventually settling on, "OK, but don't use my last name on the air." Each form has a detachable section that is sent over to the announcers, so I wrote something like "Jack from downtown."

Jack's not his real name, of course.

At any rate, when I asked him for his email address (for the email newsletter), his squeamishness suddenly made sense. Pretend, if you will, his email was Jack.Clark@theHeritageFoundation.org. You can imagine he might be embarrassed to be caught supporting public radio. Of course, Gunsmoke brings us all together.In the territories out west, there's only one thing that stands between the Red States and the Blue States... I mentioned the reluctance to the gofer, who ran off with the form as usual.

And so, we approached the end of the final hour, and I was feeling pretty good about my chances. GBS could soon be in my grasp! I even chuckled ominously, I think. I did have to deal with a man who was calling half-asleep from bed. Such is the siren call of the pledge week begging, I suppose, but because he was groggy, he didn't seem to mind my repeating everything he said three times before writing it down.

Then, I caught a little of what was going out over the airwaves. Rob or Steve or somebody was going through the standard thank yous. "Here's another one," he said. "Jack Clark pledged $50. Thanks, Jack Clark."

My hand jerked across the page. Oh, dear. I must have cried out, because my current caller asked what was wrong.

"What's wrong? What's wrong!" I said. "Oh, geez, you really can't understand. It's just that I've blown my chance to win the handwriting contest."

Sorry, Jack.

2 thoughtful messages from friendly readers:

Paulo said...

Paulo loves you.


taleswapper said...

I'm glad to hear it, Paulo, but I don't really believe you.