Mary Lynn Roper, the president and general manager of KOAT Albuquerque, N.M., and Karen Martinez, her sales manager, are throwing a baby shower—but it isn’t for a colleague at the Hearst-Argyle–owned station. It isn’t even for one person. This is a baby shower for all the single and needy moms-to-be throughout the entire state of New Mexico.
While this is an ambitious undertaking, it’s nothing new for the folks at this station. And the issue of moms in need is a particularly relevant and urgent one here. “New Mexico has one of the highest rates of single mothers in the country,” Martinez says, “and the first year of having a child is exorbitantly expensive.”
Over the past 15 years, KOAT has established itself statewide as a vital resource for families in need, rolling out and then expanding one program after another and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in on-air exposure promoting the projects. This isn’t even to mention the time staffers devote to the cause.
KOAT’s statewide efforts to aid the less fortunate are needed—and tough to accomplish. New Mexico is big; only four states surpass its 121,000 square miles of territory. But in terms of per capita income, only two states are poorer.
The station began with “KOATs for Kids,” an annual coat drive taking place each holiday season that has brought in over a quarter of a million coats in the past decade and a half.
KOAT even tries to ensure that the kids can keep their donated coats a private matter. “I come from a small town, and I know you wouldn’t want to end up wearing your neighbor Johnny’s coat,” says Roper. So, after the station has it cleaned, a donated coat goes to a recipient in a faraway town. Comet Cleaner in Albuquerque donates the time to clean each coat. The National Guard used to distribute the coats, but since 9/11, a package delivery company called Hot Shots has taken over.
Six years ago, KOAT, recognizing that New Mexico ranks near the bottom in inoculations and immunizations, started “Shots for Tots” to ensure that poor parents get their kids the necessary injections before they start school. And four years ago, KOAT started a school-supply drive, which gives kids in need notebooks, backpacks, pencils and other necessities that so many might take for granted.
The station is proud of its public service, but acknowledges that it’s a tough business, too. “With each one, we look at each other and say, 'Are we crazy?’” laughs Roper. “There are always bumps in the road. But as you do them, they become more manageable— even as we try to make each program bigger and more accessible.”