WVTM Birmingham and its partners raised more than $700,000 in an all-day telethon Wednesday to benefit the United Way Tornado Relief Fund, and address what it calls "the unmet needs of tornado victims in Alabama disaster areas and other states impacted by last week's tornadoes."
WVTM Vice President/General Manager Gene Kirkconnell says the donations poured in from all 50 states, and points as far flung as Singapore and Japan. "It was incredibly inspiring," he says. "We're gonna help a lot of people with this."
One notable participant in the telethon was former American Idol contestant Bo Bice, who saw WVTM's fundraising efforts on the air, and called Kirkconnell to see how he could help. After working the station's phone bank Wednesday, Bice strapped on the guitar and performed for the audience--including a heartfelt version of "Sweet Home Alabama."
The region was battered by a series of lethal tornadoes April 27, and the raised funds will address the most needy. "We know from experience that the survivors of this tornado have a long road of challenges ahead of them," said Drew Langloh, the president of United Way of Central Alabama. "After the first responders, after the financial assistance from government agencies, there will expenses. We can't handle all of every one. But we can be added to those who are helping in their recovery."
The United Way is still accepting donations. Pledges of $10 can be made by texting TORNADO to the number 50555. Those wishing to donate online can do so at uwca.org.
"I commend United Way, all the volunteers, the media outlets who spread the word across the country, but most of all the thousands of people who heard the call, made the call and donated. Together, we will help many Alabamians who will face many challenges in the weeks to come," said Kirkconnell.
The telethon lasted from 4 a.m. May 4 until 2 a.m. May 5. A primetime telethon special produced by WVTM and distributed via satellite time donated by CNN aired on hundreds of television stations across the U.S. The event also streamed online, while some radio stations simulcasted it too.
Other area stations pitched in as well. Birmingham's WIAT offered its satellite truck to help other stations get live shots, and the New Vision station's anchors appeared on WVTM during the telethon. Multiple New Vision stations aired the telethon, which WIAT did on its .2 channel.
NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith saluted WVTM--and all broadcasters--who used their air to assist those in need following the furious weather. "NAB supports the efforts of all broadcasters, including those of Media General stations and WVTM Birmingham, to raise money for victims of last week's devastating tornadoes," he said in a statement. "Local broadcasters have a rich legacy of serving as a lifeline first informer during times of crisis, and radio and TV stations play an unparalleled role galvanizing Americans into charitable giving for those in need. We salute our broadcast brothers and sisters who are continuing that noble tradition."