VH1 CLASSIC Battling to Understand Autism


Next month, VH1 will salute The Who at its annual “Rock Honors” Los Angeles concert bash. Proceeds will largely benefit long-standing charities supported by lead singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Pete Townshend, and VH1's own Save the Music Foundation. But there's a fourth charity listed on the menu: VH1 Classic's Rock Autism.

“Autism is one of these [hot-button] topics, and there is a lot of passion there,” says Tom Calderone, executive VP and general manager of VH1.

Calderone also oversees VH1 Classic, which started the campaign last year. “We were looking for a pro-social issue for VH1 Classic, and people who work on Classic kept saying, 'This is important to me.' And our demographic is 30-plus, people who are having families, and unfortunately the numbers for autism keep growing.”

Given the political heat surrounding autism—issues such as vaccines and the different philosophies of families from opposite ends of the wide-ranging autism spectrum—Calderone acknowledges that this was a complex cause to take up.

But the network was not in the least intimidated.

“We know it's complicated and there's no instant gratification,” he says. “But we're in it for the long haul.”

The positive result is it has forced the network to listen to all sides of the issue.

“It has made us smarter and we have taken a groundswell approach,” Calderone says. “We want to provide guidance and help.”

The goal has been for VH1 Classic to support many autism organizations by raising money for supplies and other needs (many autism schools are underfunded, Calderone says), while becoming a clearinghouse of information and a community for parents through an active Website.

The network has also put recognizable faces on the campaign, from Dee Snyder to Daltrey, and plans to film a new round of PSAs at the Rock Honors concert. It is also working with bands on donating portions of ticket sales to the campaign.

“Sometimes people just feel alone and don't know where to turn. We say, 'You may want to try this or that,'” Calderone says. But in addition to giving them information, VH1 also hopes to give them a voice through the social networking side of the Website: “These parents want to be heard, too.”